1. Why are social skills so important for elementary students?
Positive Social Interactions:
Social skills are critical for elementary children. The ability to get along with others in life – I think the word we can call it is ‘social intelligence’ – is a major factor in success in life. These skills are absolutely critical.
For children to develop these skills to get along with others, they have to have a number of positive social interactions. In the school setting, children have to negotiate with children and adults all day long, so we really need our children to do that in a positive way.
It’s critical for learning, if children don’t have those positive interactions, they are going to be under stress. Their self-esteem is going to be affected. If they aren’t feeling good about themselves, about coming to school, or are worried about what’s happening in the classroom, they are not going to learn. In my role, that was essential. Learning is number one.
So the first thing in elementary school is we’ve got to make sure that children want to be there, know how to be there, and are happy there.
2. Are there any specific skills that are crucial to succeed at elementary school?
Taking Turns, Personal Space:
There are many specific skills and some are very basic skills like taking turns, knowing where your personal space is, knowing how to deal with objects that are around the room – what are mine, what are yours, what can I touch, what can I not touch, where are the boundaries in a classroom?
More Complicated Skills:
I guess I would call those more concrete skills, but then there’s other skills as well that are essential. Can children ask questions? Can they find out what they need to know? Can they speak to a peer? Can they use an appropriate tone, use appropriate words to ask another child, perhaps, to move a little bit?
If you could see our classrooms today, children sit together. They sit at tables, they sit with partners, they sit in small groups. Teachers are working with small groups as well. So these children today have to be able to negotiate around the table. If you’re encroaching on my space or you’re touching my pencil, for some children that’s huge.
Children have to be able to say things in an appropriate way, look at another child in an appropriate way, read body language of what’s happening with that other child. Be able to know that when I’m in a group and I have to follow instructions and maybe that’s not happening, to be able to reiterate those instructions, to speak to another child not as if they’re the teacher, but maybe to remind another child “we’re supposed to be playing this math game this way.” So we have a lot of concrete skills, but then a lot of more subtle skills that children have to have to be successful.
3. What would you recommend for preschool children to help prepare them for elementary school?
Real Life Experience:
I think that children have to have a lot of real life experiences to be ready to come to school. If you have children who are isolated, who don’t get to be around other children of various abilities from different circumstances and they arrive in kindergarten, they could be in a situation with 20 other children, two or three other adults. I would just imagine that would be an unbearable, overwhelming situation.
I think children need to have experiences with small groups of children, large groups of children, have to do real life interactions with them. Role-playing is one thing, but actually having children do skills in a real life setting is essential. I think children should be prepared to do basics like use scissors and hold a crayon, and know how to play a little bit as well.
But to function initially in a classroom, they’re going to have to be prepared to know how to deal with a group of children. Real life situations, I think, are critical.
Some more specific skills that would help children be prepared and to be successful in elementary would be to be able to understand and go through a transition time. What does it look like, what should I do when it’s time to get up and line up and go to another class? What does it look like when I have to go out in the hall with everybody and put on my snowsuit?
Transitions can be a big struggle and an issue for a lot of kids because they have to deal with not just the group they know, but now they suddenly have to deal with a much larger group. Now they have possibly three other classes that are in the hallway. There are other children walking by that might come close, might even touch them. So transitioning, that would be a very helpful skill, if children had practice on how to manage that.
Another one would be boundaries. That would be another important one for children to understand. Where boundaries are. That could be physical boundaries, but it could also be social boundaries as to “This is an adult; how do I speak to the adult? This is a child; how do I speak with the child? All of these different relationships that children will, at some point in time in their elementary education, have to deal with.