As we all prepare this summer for new teaching ideas in the fall, I’d like to recommend that you all include a plan for teaching children social skills such as sharing, making friends, and solving conflicts. We now know that many children with difficult, challenging behavior are lacking in these skills – and other children will benefit from direct instruction as well.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to introduce social skills is through children’s literature. Here are some of my favorites that you can add to your classroom book collection, and plan on introducing during the first days of school:
Hands Are Not for Hitting. Younger children (ages 4-5) and older children who need more individual tutoring will benefit from this book which reinforces the good things we can do with our hands. It explains why we don’t use our hands for hitting and provides simple illustrations. Not great literature, but it’s an effective way to begin to talk to children about social rules. There is also a simpler board-book version of this for toddlers.
We Are Best Friends. This book by Aliki presents the problem that Robert has when his best friend moves away and he is all alone. At first he has a lot of difficulty adjusting, but eventually he learns to make a new friend at the end of the story. It’s a great book for children who are shy. Most first graders and some kindergarteners will be able to read this themselves.
Rosie and Michael. Primary grade children who need some help understanding what friendship is all about and how to be tolerant of their friends’ idiosyncrasies will benefit from this book by Judith Viorst (she’s the author of the Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day that I also recommend). Rosie and Michael are best friends and the book chronicles their ups and downs. I also like that the friends are of different gender.
I Want to Play. This book is from the series of problem solving books by Elizabeth Crary. Danny wants to join the other children in play, but he needs help. You get to decide what strategies he can try and what will happen with each strategy. This is an interesting way to present the information and a different kind of book. Also in this series is I Want It which relates to two children fighting over a truck.
The Social Skills Picture Book. This book is designed for children with autism but will be helpful for primary grade children who need more help in learning appropriate behaviors. The strength of the book are the many photos which show the “right” way and “wrong” way to do things. I really like the focus on self-talk, like telling yourself that you did a good job learning from your mistakes.
Is It My Turn Yet? This book from the Little Bill Series (started by Bill Cosby) resents a scenario in which Little Bill is not getting the attention he wants from his family. It is a good book to open up a discussion about children who feel they are not important because they don’t always get the attention they want. It might help them to have more realistic expectations of getting attention.
It’s My Turn! Toddlers will relate to this book with bold, colorful illustrations. It shows various scenes in which Oscar the dog and Tilly the cat argue over who will go first. My only suggestion in using this book is to stop at every page and have the children tell you what would be a better way for them to share and talk to each other. Except for the last page, the two children argue and are selfish, so the book itself doesn’t present enough information on what sharing should look like – but it will still be helpful in giving you a context to discuss better solutions.
Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal: A Tale of Tattletales. Teachers of K-2 will appreciate this book which shows piglets in a classroom tattling. The teacher gets them to understand that sometimes they need to work out problems themselves, and only in emergencies do they need to get the teacher involved. You can use the episodes in the book as teachable moments for what to do in your own classroom.
Too Loud Lilly. Perhaps because I was too loud as a child, I relate to Lilly the Hippo who is too loud throughout the day. This silly, creative book is great for teaching preschool and kindergarten children about the times of day when they need to control their voices. The message is that there is a time and place for all behavior.
No Biting! What can you bite? Apples. What can you hit? A drum. This simple book for young preschoolers and toddlers uses clear basic language and colorful illustrations to get the point across. Be sure to focus on the positive behaviors rather than the page that tells what NOT to do. This would be a good book to help redirect a child who is biting in an effort of exploration. Serious biters may need more support and you’d need to understand what they are getting from the biting besides just exploration.
Book editors are now very aware of the potential of teaching social and emotional skills through children’s literature so there is a wide array of books available. I have only scratched the surface. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning also has helpful resources. Please share your favorite books for teaching social skills in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
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