Learning with and alongside others.

Contribution/Mana Tangata in the NZ early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki, is about children’s growing capacity to develop relationships with other people who are different from them in diverse ways. Relationships between teachers and children provide models for the social skills and attitudes that support this capacity. With the continuing push and pressure for our teachers to timetable more of the “three r’s”,we have to press pause and reflect on the importance of the “harder to measure” competencies and how we can support our children to become connected, relational and relate well to others.

In the early years of ECE and school, social skills are incredibly important skills our children  need to interact and communicate effectively with others. These include skills and behaviours important to the development of friendships and interpersonal relationships, communication skills and an understanding of the societal ‘rules’ of behaviour across a range of social settings. Having good social skills helps our learners to develop healthy relationships with others, which is vital to emotional health and well being.

Whatever their age or stage, our children are honing their social skills. When they are little, we watch them as they learn to share and take turns, actively supporting their development of social skills whenever they run into difficulty. As they grow, so does the outer boundary of their social world, and with it the skills and behaviours necessary for them to navigate social situations successfully, often without us as close (at least physically) offering the same level of practical support.

Relating to others/making a contribution is an important skill for children to develop. 

Some examples of what this skill looks like in practice are:

  • Sharing and explaining their ideas with others
  • Respecting and understanding different perspectives and feelings
  • Standing up for themselves and their peers when needed
  • Learning to develop a positive sense of self and recognising their own strengths
  • Taking turns and sharing with others
  • Learning to empathise with others

As educators, we can support children to develop this skill by:

  • Getting to know our learners, their backgrounds, preferences, strengths, and interests, and honouring their diversity and individuality
  • Creating and maintaining positive relationships with children, and helping them to do the same with their peers
  • Listening to and respecting children’s feelings, opinions, and needs, and encouraging them to express themselves
  • Appreciating and acknowledging children’s contributions, and providing feedback and encouragement
  • Helping children to resolve conflicts and negotiate with others in positive ways
  • Supporting children’s interests and passions, and using them as a basis for planning and assessment
  • Providing a stimulating and varied environment that sparks children’s curiosity
  • Offering play materials that are open-ended and sensory, and that allow for creativity and imagination

As mentioned in a previous blog, dramatic play can help to foster and develop many social skills which will support children through life.  Through dramatic play, children can act out different scenarios and pretend to be someone with feelings other than their own. They have an opportunity to talk through what kinds of feelings or emotions the character might be experiencing. For children who are more shy or introverted, dramatic play can also be a powerful tool for helping them to come out of their shell and express themselves. 

I reflected on a quote recently which stated “If a child can hold a pencil, write their name, count to 100 but doesn’t know how to manage their emotions, make friends and have self help skills, then none of the other stuff matters”.  Of course other “stuff” matters, however, we must pause ourselves more often and ponder on the absolute importance of these foundational social and emotional skills and what we can do as educators to prepare our learners for success in all areas of learning.