Younger preschoolers might not show interest in other children, preferring instead to play by themselves or to play next to -- rather than with -- their peers. At this stage, peer influence on development is minimal. Around age 3 though, children start playing with each other. With support and encouragement, these early experiences can have positive benefits on development. It's up to parents and teachers, though, to monitor young children and intervene when necessary.
Younger children lack the cognitive and language skills needed to share and take turns, and unsupervised interactions with peers can result in tears and conflict, according to Earlychildhoodnews.com. However, with a little adult support, play groups and casual play opportunities serve as springboards for learning social skills. In most cases, introduce a preschooler to peers gradually. As conflicts inevitably arise, parents can model how to share, take turns and express feelings. As children gain social skills, they get better at solving conflicts and working together. They develop feelings of friendship and empathy.
A young child's first play is usually exploratory. Babies explore toys by touching, smelling and tasting them, rather than playing with them. As children grow though, their play becomes more representational. Toys take on meaning. A car is a car. A doll represents a baby. This stage marks a giant leap in imagination and cognitive ability. Children enjoy pretending together and might assign roles, such as mom, dad, superhero or teacher. When children play together, they learn collaboration, problem-solving and language, according to the book, "Trandisciplinary Play-Based Assessment."
Some preschoolers are naturally adventurous and active, while others take a more cautious approach. A child with strong motor skills might encourage a more reluctant preschooler to take risks such as jumping off logs, climbing trees, or playing rough and tumble games. Both groups of children benefit from these experiences, so long as an adult supervises and intervenes before activities become dangerous.
One of the biggest benefits of peer interactions is language development. A child with strong language skills and a rich vocabulary can model speaking and listening for other children. Parents can support this growth by teaching children how to ask questions and listen for responses.
- Auburn University: Encouraging Social Skills in Young Children: Tips Teachers Can Share With Parents
- Early Childhood News: Fostering Prosocial Behavior in Young Children
- Trandisciplinary Play-Based Assessment; Dr. Toni Linder
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