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Ask a Teacher: Playground Social Skills

What happens during playtime affects a child's learning.

Q: If a student struggles socially, how does that impact his academic success in the classroom?

– Sherry R., San Ramon

A: What goes on when children are at recess clearly impacts their learning in the classroom. Time and time again, I have seen the aftermath of students getting upset with friends at recess and arriving at my classroom door in tears, just in time for math. There is no way that a child who is upset can focus on the learning task at hand.

When a child gets into an argument with friends at recess or has no one to play with, they frequently cannot move beyond the feeling of being upset. In addition, children often think ahead to the next recess and worry about whether their friends will still be their friends.

As adults, we know that when we have a disagreement with peers, it will blow over. However, no amount of reasoning helps a child who is in that state of upset.  As parents, most of us have heard our children say they will never play with a specific friend again, or we hear the daily saga of who is no longer a friend today only to know that tomorrow is a new day in the land of school friends.

There are several ways we can help our children overcome or deal with social struggles. First, encourage after school play dates. Invite your child’s friends over for informal play dates or meet up at a park. Do this frequently with different friends so that your child has lots of recess choices of who to play with.

Get to know the parents of your child’s playmates, too, so that you can keep communication open between adults in case a recess problem occurs.

Teach your child problem solving skills. All schools in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District use a program called “Second Steps” that teaches children these skills like counting backwards from 10, taking deep breaths, and walking away from difficult situations. 

Help your child practice these coping skills at home. You can do this by role-playing. For instance, ask, “What would you do if someone cut in front of you in line?” or “What would you do if your two best friends both wanted to play with you?”

If your child feels like he or she has no success, is not well liked, and cannot confront playground issues, talk to your child’s teacher about Rainbow Room, a program offered at most of our schools. 

This is a safe classroom where children work one on one or in small groups with a trained teacher who can help them solve problems and interact with peers.

The bottom line is, keep the lines of communication open with your child and his or her teacher.

Happiness on the playground definitely correlates to feelings of success in the classroom!

ABOUT: Sarah Frank teaches first grade at . The mother of three was named "Teacher of the Year" by the Rotary Club in 2009 and started working full time for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in 1999.

Sarah's here take your questions about education. Just submit your queries to teachersar@sbcglobal.net.

Penny August 31, 2011 at 04:05 PM
When my child was in the 4th grade, he was having some social problems. I was a teacher of preschool, and had taken a seminar called "The Magic Circle".. the concept was to help children identify the difference between "feelings, thoughts and behavior".. and learn how to express themselves toward the goal of "conflict resolution". I went to the classroom one day a week and introduced the "Magic Circle" to the children and it was very well received and helped, not only my child be the others as well. Sometimes kids need to be taught these skills, as it does Not come naturally to them.. Even if you are not yourself, a teacher, you may be able to help kids in the social skill building they need.
Sherry Rosso September 01, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Rainbow Room is a wonderful program. It really helps children build social skills, which gives them confidence.
Sarah Frank September 07, 2011 at 11:46 PM
In fact, a parent just asked me about Rainbow Room and what it is, and this will be the next featured question for this column!
Beth September 16, 2011 at 09:12 PM
Great advice, Sarah! Recess certainly does impact the classroom and is important for children's development. I worked at recess in a school that used Second Step. It was great for the students and very helpful on the playground. At Playworks, we've discovered that a great recess can reclaim up to 36 hours of class time a year. (http://www.playworks.org/about)

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