How to Help Children Make Friends In Reception Class

It’s not easy to suddenly be around loads of new people and have a brand-new routine disrupting what you know. Yes, starting school can be intimidating - the strangers can be scary, and the learning can be a bit too much for some children. However, having a positive experience and making friends at school can help with a lot of these negative feelings, so here are a few tips and things teachers can try to quickly improve their pupil’s social skills and adapt to the curve. 

Adapting to a new environment is easier when you look forward to it, so read on to learn some small and easy changes that can help children feel positive about starting reception… 

Children starting in reception may exhibit symptoms of anxiety, fear and unhappiness at the thought of school. This could be down to the fact they are leaving their parents and going into a space filled with new things and people for hours at a time. You could also consider the YouGov survey of teachers that noted most young children are unprepared for school, have trouble with cognitive skills and struggle to socialise. 

Bearing in mind all this, it’s easy to see why children may not adapt and enjoy school quickly. It’s a complete disruption to the routine they know and love and puts them in a position of learning they may not be used to.

Alongside their parents, primary school teachers and staff can make a massive difference in these children’s lives. The key is to find some reason for them to enjoy going to school and want to be there – in this case, we’ll focus on making friends.

Many parents may have read articles about ‘How to make friends in five minutes’ or ‘How to prepare your child for school’, but making friends isn’t a quick thing, and teachers can’t focus on it all the time. Instead, here are some small actions that you can incorporate into the school day that can help encourage the natural development of social and emotional skills in children while you support their cognitive development:

1) Start With the Class Culture

Setting clear rules and defining your classroom as a safe and respectful place is a great way to begin a child’s emotional and social development while ensuring everything is in place for optimal cognitive learning.

Make sure to be clear and share the class rules about sharing with others, listening, being kind and more with the class as soon as possible. You should gently reinforce this whenever someone does not follow the rules, for example, if you notice someone snatching or not sharing.

Sometimes, using fun, catchy and rhyming phrases can help them remember and follow the rules – for example ‘Raise Your Hand To Be Heard’ or ‘Sharing Is Caring’.

Starting on the right foot is very important, and rules like these can create a more welcoming environment where the children feel safer and more open to learning.

2) Make the Most of Break Times

Break times help children in reception let loose and release their pent-up energy from sitting in class for hours, so encourage them to run free and enjoy it. Urging them to get involved in outdoor play on the age-specific educational play equipment is a great idea, too.

Often, the play equipment is customised for the age group to include creative and imaginative play where working together is encouraged. Pieces like ground-level pirate ships and trains are great for safe and communicative group play, which can help children make friends and develop their cooperation skills.

Teachers and playground monitors can help more by offering hints and tips to help the kid's games go further and create more advanced stories as a team, which is ideal for social development.

3) Don’t Have Defined Working Groups

It’s great to give children clear-cut routines to help them adapt, but that doesn’t mean they always have to work with the same children. For your group projects, why not split them up differently each time so they are getting to know more of their classmates and aren't stagnating with a singular friend. 

This can help them adapt to new people, increase their social skills, and even gently experience rejection. 

4) Check for Cliques

Friend groups, cliques, and bullying can develop anywhere, no matter how hard you work to the contrary. However, you can mitigate these phenomena by assessing your class's social structure.

Look out for kids being left out or playing alone, and check any tense situations or upsets for common instigators or victims. If you notice regularities, mix up the class seating arrangements to separate anyone who needs it, perhaps introduce buddy systems or give left-out children class responsibility so they are involved in group life more.

Of course, if problems persist, speak to your colleagues and the parents of those concerned if necessary. 

5) Include Social and Emotional Themes in Your Lessons

Introducing social and emotional learning in your cognitive teaching is incredibly easy, especially when you are storytelling and reading together.

Reading books that discuss friendships, bullying, caring, and more helps their cognitive and emotional development combined, so it’s a no-brainer to go this route.

Hopefully, all these little additions and assessments will encourage natural social and emotional development and help the children make friends quickly. Enthusiasm for going to school for any reason can help with their cognitive development, so why not implement these tips into your every day in the new school year?

For some children the transition back to school after the long summer holiday can be very challenging, for others they are ready to get back, meet friends and engage with learning. It is important for schools to provide support with transitions so read "Supporting Children As They Return to School" to find out how you can put transitions support in place in your classroom.

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