Early Childhood Education and Care services represent one of the first and most important socialisation contexts for young children. A core factor influencing how children participate in these learning environments is their ability to interact positively with peers and educators. The development of prosocial skills necessary for these interactions is closely linked with children’s developing self-regulatory skills. These skills allow children to engage in cooperative play, reciprocal conversations, to recognise and respond appropriately to the feelings of others, and to develop strong relationships. Educators can support these emerging skills by creating a sense of community within the service whereby children are encouraged to adopt the perspective of others and collaborate in decision making.
Scenario: A number of children in the preschool room have become very interested in playing in the home corner, which has recently been converted to a Veterinary Surgery. The children have enjoyed playing out scenarios around going to the ‘Vet’ with many bringing sick animals and pets. Educators have begun to notice that one child in the group consistently insists on playing the role of the ‘Vet’ and refuses to switch roles with other children. This child is also acting as a gatekeeper, deciding who can and cannot play.
Leverage routines such as meal times as an opportunity for children to engage in social interactions. Organise the eating area so that meals are eaten in a manner that promotes social engagement. For example, children sitting at small tables of four wherein they all face in to each other. Where possible, sit with the children during meals and model and scaffold conversational skills. Support children to take on various roles during meal times (setting the table for everyone, cleaning the area once everyone has finished) and make explicit how their role supports others.
Engage children in activities that require them to develop a collective vision. Facilitate experiences that require small groups of children to work together in planning. This may involve brainstorming around roles and resources for play scenarios. Another way to do this is to engage children in role-play around a prescribed story or scenario, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Where plans deviate, help children to understand others’ motivations for these changes and how they can respond or adapt to continue the interaction.
Engage children in pretend play where they may further explore social conventions. During imaginative play, children are able to take on the role of others and engage their perspective-taking skills. Using the example illustrated in point 2, you can extend children’s understanding by getting them to consider this story from the perspective of the different characters. For example, you might ask ‘How do you think the Three Bears felt coming home to see a stranger in their bed?’ or ‘Do you think that Goldilocks really meant to break the chair?’
Utilise small group activities that promote peer interactions and collaboration. Activities where success depends on the cooperation of all children in the group are an ideal way to foster children’s ability to negotiate and collaborate. An example of this might be a puzzle activity, in which four children are assigned the same number of pieces and each child has to contribute their piece to the construction of the puzzle.
This principle and associated practices are referenced in the following sources of evidence in the EYLF: