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Social Skills 2This is the third post in a series designed to discuss social cognition groups for children aged 3-8. The first, titled Social Skills Groups 101 by Karen Head M.S. CCC-SLP shared the fundamental components of successful social skills groups (from our perspective). The sequential post highlighted groups for 3 and 4 year olds  as well as began to outline the acronym of IMAGINE, which serves to frame the various goals that we address. My focus is on social cognition groups for 5 and 6 year olds, and the goals of Advocating and negotiating, and Getting and staying regulated.

What are Groups for 5 and 6 Year Olds Like?
Five and six year old groups are often our most popular, as the social demands of kindergarten and first grade tend to be significantly different than those of pre-school. All4MyChildSocial contexts are new, with less structured settings such as recess, the cafeteria, even the bus.

These contexts often require a new set of social skills, that often move beyond basic initiating and maintaining of interactions (however, it is noted that these goal areas are required across ages and skills levels). In order to effectively maintain interactions with others, children must be able to share their ideas, as well as be willing to adjust their plans to fit the needs of the “group.”

The concept of “teamwork” and “roles” within a group becomes a focus in our sessions. This teamwork concept requires the fundamental concept of flexibility.

Advocating and Negotiating (A of IMAGINE)

Children who struggle with this concept of flexibility often can’t handle ideas, comments or suggestions from others. The following activity gives children lots of practice letting others contribute, and often results in a new collaborative idea.

Not a Box Pictures:

  • Read the story Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. Don’t have the book, check out the Youtube clip that reads the story

  • Have each participant use a different colored marker or crayon.

  • Provide each child with a piece of paper with a simple shape (box, circle, anything) drawn on it.

  • Give them a short period of time (5-20 seconds) with instructions to make the shape into something.

  • When time is up, children exchange papers. Another short period of time is given during which children add to their friends’ drawing.

  • The adult can encourage children to ‘check in’ with their peer as to what they were drawing or children can interpret themselves and take their best guess.

  • Children present the end result and discuss the difference between what they had originally envisioned vs. what the picture turned into.

  • Discuss ‘different pictures’ in our head and the beauty (and fun) of collaboration.

This activity allows us to continue to plant the early seeds of Theory of Mind (that we all have different thoughts, feelings and ideas) as well as begins the early stages of compromising.

Getting and Staying Regulated
An underlying component to all of social skills, is the ability to keep one’s body in control. The challenge in this task, again, is the understanding that with changing social contexts, often requires changes in arousal state. Helping children understand that their body’s arousal level at recess is different than their body’s arousal level in the classroom is an important social concept. Additionally, teaching children how to effectively manage their arousal state is often a focus in our groups.

One activity that highlights the need to change arousal states as well as impulse control and body/space awareness is Rabbit, Turtle, Teacher:

  • The adult presents 3 stuffed animals or pictures to the kids. One animal is a turtle, one is a rabbit, and one can be any other animal called the ‘teacher.’

  • The turtle represents moving slowly, the rabbit represents moving fast, and the ‘teacher’ animal represents moving at a regular pace. A ‘magic word’ is also chosen by the kids that fits the mood of the group. It can be silly like ‘meatballs’ or thematic such as ‘swimming’ or any other word the kids and adult agree upon.

  • As kids play, when they hear the ‘magic word’ they need to stop and immediately look to the adult who is holding up one of the three animals. The kids must then adjust their body movements to fit the pace of the animal. If they are moving quickly like the rabbit, they have an additional challenge of not moving recklessly and crashing into other kids.

  • The body and impulse control this game requires helps kids gain confidence that they really can exercise self-control when necessary.

  • It’s always helpful to ‘set the stage’ for a group by helping kids understand they need to look to the adult for instruction. See Lori Lite’s curricula for stress relief which includes a similar activity and accompanying stories.

Stay tuned for the the next and last post in our series on social skills, focusing on social groups for 7 to 9 year olds, and the the goal areas of Interpreting nonverbal cues, Negotiating space, and Experiencing humor.