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Teaching Peer Communication in Preschool

teaching peer communication in preschool

Preschool is often the first time that young children are leaving their home environment and trying out a classroom setting with a group of other children. They may have played with some cousins, neighbor kids or others at the park. But, preschool is often a time when they are confronted with the need for peer to peer communication. This can be hard for children who have not had many opportunities to practice these types of interactions before. As educators, it is our job to help them navigate these peer relationships. And it starts by teaching children peer to peer communication.

How can we teach peer to peer communication in our preschool classrooms? Let’s start by breaking down the skills children need to effectively communicate with their peers:

  • Using your Voice: Expressing to others how you feel and what you would like them to do.
  • How to get someone’s Attention: How to appropriately get others to listen to you.
  • Listening to Peers: Looking, listening and responding to what others are saying.
  • Conversational Turn-Taking: Knowing when to talk and when to listen.
  • Talking it Out: Trying to solve a problem using words.

Ways to Teach Peer Communication to Preschool Children

The most important way to teach children social-emotional skills is right there in the moment (if everyone is calm and willing, of course). The most learning is going to happen when the child is in need of the skills – and that is usually during free play. Free play gives children the freedom to move about and choose their play. This often leads to the necessity of communicating with peers.

But, we can also be pro-active in teaching peer communication. This helps set our preschoolers up for success by arming them with tools to use when issues do arise.

Here are some ideas of activities to help our children learn how to communicate with peers:

Using Your Voice:

  • Model how to use a ‘big voice’ to tell others when you want them to stop doing something that is hurting you. Try using a puppet and acting out using ‘big’ and ‘little’ voices. Have children decide if the puppet was using their ‘big voice’.
  • Play emotions charades by pretending to be sad or mad. Have students guess what you are feeling. Then, ask them to guess why you are feeling that way. Most likely they will not know. Explain that we have to tell others what is making us feel sad or mad, because they don’t always know.

How to Get a Peer’s Attention:

  • Explain that sometimes when we want to tell a friend how we feel it can be hard to get their attention. Sometimes they are playing and they don’t see us or hear us. Ask children for their input on some ideas you have. Throw out ideas like yelling their name, getting in their personal space or yanking them by the arm. Talk about how those ideas would probably make the child upset, then it will be even harder to tell them how they made us feel. Then, model how to appropriately get someone’s attention. First, start by saying their name or ‘excuse me’. If that doesn’t work, try gently tapping them on the shoulder. Model this and practice this as a group.

Listening to Peers

  • Ask students a question like ‘What is your favorite color?’ and tell them to shout out their answer. Notice how it was hard to hear anyone’s answer because too many were talking. Ask them how they felt about me not being able to hear their answers. Drive home the idea of how not being heard can be frustrating because everyone wants to be heard.
  • Explain that when someone is talking to us, we can show respect to them by listening to what they have to say. Model with a puppet how to look, listen and respond to someone talking to you. For example: Have the puppet tell you about their favorite food. Model looking at the puppet, listening to the puppet and responding to the puppet by saying something like, ‘Oh, I love that food too!’.

Conversational Turn-Taking

  • Pose the question to the children: Did you know that we have to take turns when talking, just like we take turns to {insert real-life example here}? Explain that if both people talked at the same time, neither of them would be heard. Model how to take turns talking a talking stick. Whoever has the stick, it’s their turn to talk. This helps children see the back and forth of conversations.
  • You can also address interrupting by taking the talking stick while someone else is talking. Talk about how it makes the person who was talking feel. Did they feel like they were listened to? Did they feel angry with me for taking up their turn? Discuss how we have to wait until the other person is done before we start talking.

Talking It Out

  • Give students different scenarios to consider when trying to work out a problem with a classmate. Start by acting out a problem (use puppets, toy animals or real children to act this out) like, someone took a block I was using. First brainstorm different ways for the character to solve the problem. Example: They could take it out of their hands, they could hit them, they could scream and cry. Then, discuss how all these option wouldn’t help solve the problem and would make the problem worse. Explain the best way to handle it is by talking it out.
  • Layout what to do when you need to talk it out. Consider drawing pictures on chart paper to help drive this idea home. First, tell the child how you feel and what is bothering you. Then choose a way to solve the problem. Add a ‘menu’ of choices to the chart of ways that children could solve problems. These solutions might be to take turns, play together, ask the child to wait for a turn, trade toys or if nothing is working, ask the teacher for help.
  • Keep in mind that talking out problems can be complex for children. So, while helping them understand solutions is important, it is equally as important to be ready to support them when problems arise in the ‘wild’.

Do you want some done-for-you lessons to help you teach these important peer communication skills (and more)? Check out the Social Emotional Bundle – designed for intentional social emotional learning for preschoolers:

Learn more about how I use these Social Emotional Lessons in this blogpost!

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