Social skills for preschoolers and toddlers are critical to their happiness and well-being. As essential tools children use to interact, communicate, and build relationships, social and emotional skills also play an important role in a child's development. We have compiled 17+ social-emotional development activities for toddlers and preschoolers.
Play And Social Development
There is an incredible link between play and social development. As it turns out, all types of play are valuable to the social and emotional development in early childhood, including block play. Through block play, children build skills not only in social-emotional, but also the physical, language, and cognitive development domains. Read our detailed post on the benefits of block play.
Kids love to play! Therefore, what better way to build their skills than to provide fun and interactive social skills activities for preschoolers and toddlers. Explore this post on "What Are Social Skills? & Why Are Social Skills Important?" for a deep dive into social and emotional development in early childhood.
Like little sponges, children learn best with hands-on activities. Additionally, through engagement and modeling, you demonstrate socially acceptable behavior. Kids need free time to play and develop their imagination and creativity. Be flexible. Start with a plan, but let your children lead the way. Let them be imaginative!
At first, keep things simple. As their skills develop, you can add more complex activities. Such as, adding a twist to a classic game like Simon Says. Turn routine play into enhanced experiences and keep it fun and interactive!
Let's look at some simple social-emotional activities for toddlers and preschoolers you can incorporate into your child's daily play.
Ideas For Social Skills Activities For Preschoolers And Toddlers
Read one of these on good manners:
- Thank You and Good Night by Jon Gordon
- Richard Scarry's Please and Thank You Book by Richard Scarry
- Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller
- My Mouth Is a Volcano! by Julia Cook
- Penguin Says "Please" by Michael Dahl
Songs work wonders for kids. They love to sing and remember things so much better when put to music. It also works as a fun and gentle reminder; when your child begins to use bad manners, you can start singing the song.
Sample one of these Good Manners Songs from The Child Care Lounge.
- Manners (Tune: I'm a Little Teapot)
- When You're Talking to a Friend (Tune: If You're Happy and You Know It)
- Good Manners (Tune: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star)
Or this one from Let's Play Music.
Finally, try a classic like, "Your Happy And You Know It"
Playing games together, whether board, card, or outdoor games, encourages following directions and taking turns. Children have to learn how to play fairly by the rules. Additionally, it provides opportunities to handle winning and losing like a "good sport." Practice taking turns with your child by saying "my turn" and "your turn." Most important, focus on having fun while playing together.
Create a list of things to say and then "role play". For example,
- How to introduce themselves, i.e., "Hello, my name is…"
- How to join in playing with others, i.e., "May I play too?"
- How to nicely negotiate with others, i.e., No, thank you, I do not want the blue car. May I have the red truck, please?"
Social and Emotional Learning Skills
We will look at communication skills and some social-emotional development activities for toddlers and preschoolers to build effective communication.
Effective communication is one of life's most essential skills. Children need to be able to understand and express their emotions while also recognizing the feelings of others'. The need for positive interactions and connections with others is vital to our well-being. Below are just a few of the skills used in positive communication:
- Active Listening
- Following Directions
- Making Eye Contact
- Using Good Manners
- Having A Sense of Humor
- Not Speaking Too Loudly
- Speaking Clearly
- Telling The Truth
- Using Kind Words
Good listening skills require children to be active listeners. They must hear and understand what someone else is saying. As the foundation for effective communication, being an active listener is a skill that is essential for healthy relationships throughout life. Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, said, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." What wise words!
Practice is the name of the game! Try reading a book, stopping regularly to ask your child to recap the story. For instance, ask them, "What has been happening in the story?" Encourage them to continue listening as you read.
Following directions and listening are two skills that work closely together. Often, kids have a hard time following directions if they are not using their listening skills.
Younger children can get distracted or forget what you asked them to do. Use this time as an opportunity to practice their skills. For example, practice regularly with simple requests like "Please pass the butter to me" then give praise immediately for following directions.
Also, with young children, you want to give just one direction at a time. Instead of saying, "put on your shirt, wash your hands, and come to the table for dinner," pause until they have put on their shirt before you give the next request.
Furthermore, how you frame the direction makes a difference. You want to avoid phrasing it like a question. This suggests your child has an option and can say "no." Instead, ask them to repeat back what you said once you have given your direction, additionally reinforcing their listening skills.
It is important to praise your child when you see they are following directions. Say things like, "Thank you for putting your blocks away the first time."
Making Eye Contact
Some kids may be shy and struggle to look at a person when speaking with them. However, making eye contact is imperative to effective communication, and children need to practice. Highlight the importance of making eye contact and model the behavior.
If your child finds it difficult not to look up, gently remind them by asking them, "Where do your eyes go when someone is talking to you? Always look for times to praise them when they remember to look at people when they are talking. You want to be kind and positive; shy children can often feel anxious.
Practice making eye contact with you first in a safe and loving environment. Have your child describe a story while you play with a toy, close your eyes, or look around but NOT at them. Then, have them share another story; this time, make eye contact while they are speaking. Afterward, talk about how it made them feel in each instance.
Using Good Manners
Good manners are more than just minding your "Please," and Thank you." It is about being polite and courteous, like not interrupting or talking with your mouth full. Using good manners, whether while eating and speaking, at home, or in public, is also about respect. Greeting people like family, friends, or visitors with a "Hi" or "Hello" makes them feel welcome and appreciated. Let's not forget the importance of "I'm sorry" and Excuse me."
We realize that teaching good manners can feel like an endless battle. However, when your child is polite and courteous, it makes others want to be around them. Furthermore, they are more likely to be invited places if they are respectful, gracious, and well-behaved.
Once before a trip to France, we were reminded that Americans are often considered rude by other countries. We can be loud in public, but the thing that struck me the most was that we forget to say "Hello" before asking for help or directions. What a concept, a simple greeting of "Hi. How are you?" before asking, "Where can I find the bread" goes a long way.
So, we tested it out while we there and what a positive response and experience we had. We also started practicing it at home and WOW! what a difference it makes. Such a small effort with a huge impact.
Now that was easy for us adults, but how do we teach our children good manners? Model them! Always saying "Please" and "Thank you" to your children, as well as others. Give gentle reminders and praise them when they remember to be polite.
Better yet, practice with these fun social-emotional activities for preschoolers and toddlers below.
Emotional and Social Development Activities For Toddlers
Social skills activities for toddlers are usually quite simple. Typically, before the age of three, toddlers rarely play cooperatively, but instead, they play alongside one another, enjoying each other's company. They are just beginning to engage in pretend play and like to imitate friends and adults. You see an increase in their independence, but they may still have some separation anxiety. For successful interaction, keep these general guidelines in mind when planning your social-emotional learning activities for toddlers.
Hands Are Not For Hitting
Not hitting, is a vital skill to learn, especially for toddlers. You can create a song about what hands are for, including hand motions. Add things like Hands are for waving, clapping, drawing, hugging, and more. Look for more ideas in the "Hands Are Not For Hitting" book by Martine Agassi Ph.D.
Red Light, Green Light For Toddlers
This childhood classic requires listening and following direction skills. For toddlers, you may want to use signs to help them understand the directions initially. For example, you could make a round yellow "light" with a picture of hands clapping as a visual cue. As they become more proficient, you can remove the signs one by one and let them play by listening only.
To play, one toddler is the "stoplight," and the others are bikes or cars. Let the kids decide. Next, the "stoplight" says "green light," and all the bikes come running towards the light. When the light calls out "red light," they all have to stop. If they fail to stop, they return to the beginning and start over. The first one to the "light" wins and gets to be the next "stoplight."
Follow My Clap
This game can expand as your child grows. For a toddler, start with a simple clapping pattern, have them listen, and then copy the rhythm. As the child gets older and more proficient, you can add other hand motions like slapping their knees for more complex patterns.
Follow The Leader
Another classic perfect for all ages and learning to follow directions. Choose one person to be the leader. With younger children due to language barriers, it might work best to be the leader in the beginning or just use physical cues. Have the leader "call out" or "act out" movements the kids must follow exactly.
Not only, one of the best games for teaching listening and following directions skills, but also fun for all ages. You know how it goes, right? Someone gets to be "Simon" and gives directions to the other players. Let your child use their imagination and creativity; they could also be "Spiderman" or "Batman." How about "Anna" or "Elsa"? Maybe they want to dress up and get into character.
Next, they have to listen to see if they are supposed to follow the instruction. For example, when "Simon says…" before the direction, the child follows the direction. However, if they give an instruction without saying, "Simon says…" first, then the child does not follow the direction. If you do, then you are out!
Remember to keep the directions age-appropriate. Start slowly and be sure they understand the instructions. For younger children, you may want to give visual cues. For instance, if you say "turn around," then physically turn around.
Loud Or Soft?
Here is another easy game to fine-tune your child's listening skills. It requires them to focus and to understand loud versus quiet sounds. Which is helpful for down the road when you are asking them to use "soft voices." Start by making loud or soft sounds with various items, like loudly banging two blocks together. Then ask the child if the noise was loud or soft?
In another version, you can have all the kids make noise, such as stomping their feet. First, have them do it loudly, and then the leader says, "soft," and they stomp quietly.
Social-Emotional Activities For Preschoolers
As your preschoolers' skills increase, their social and emotional learning skills will become more complex. At this stage, they enjoy playing with other children, rather than alone. They are more creative and like to pretend, so now is a great time to add dress-up clothes and props for more imaginative play. Also, they want to try new things, so be creative and use your imagination when planning your social-emotional learning activities for preschoolers.
This one can be a lot of fun to watch children express different sounds. First, have children sit back to back. One at a time, have them make a sound (like an animal sound) and see if the other person can guess the sound. Then switch.
Follow The Rhythm
Create a pattern of sounds using musical instruments like drums or even pots and pans with wooden spoons. For instance, you bang on the drum three times. Then have your child repeat what you did. As the child increases their proficiency, you can make rhythm patterns more complicated.
Listening Activity With Blocks
Here is an easy and fun activity for one or more preschoolers, to reinforce active listening. Start with a large container of magnetic tiles in a variety of colors. Ask the first child to add "a blue block to the tower." Next, ask the second child to "add two green blocks to the tower." Continue until you run out of blocks. You can increase the difficulty if the children seem to be listening well by adding more complex instructions. For example, "add one red block, one blue block, and two green blocks."
Kids love them! Not only do kids reinforce their listening and following direction skills, but they build gross motor skills too! It is important to start small. Depending on your child's age and ability, begin with 3-5 obstacles or tasks.
Here are some ways to focus on listening and following direction skills.
- Give them the exact directions on how to move through the obstacle course. For instance, if you use giant building blocks, tell them whether to go over, around, or knock them down.
- Try incorporating a station where they have to stop and listen for the directions like "Simon says..." Once the task is completed, they can continue.
- What about including a magnetic blocks station where they must build a pyramid.
Games To Enhance Social And Emotional Skills
Playing games offers many benefits. They encourage early learning, paying attention, and increase language development. They provide opportunities to connect, to step away from our screens, and teach the value of teamwork. Most importantly, they focus on having fun.
Red Light, Green Light For Preschoolers
A classic childhood game for preschoolers, with a twist. Once your child understands red means stop and green means go, you can increase the complexity by adding additional "light" colors. For example, "yellow light" for clapping, "blue light" for turning around, and "orange light" for jumping in place.
Or reverse the colors with "red light," meaning go and "green light," meaning stop. These simple variations force them to listen more carefully.
Mother May I?
Another childhood classic that requires following directions. One kid is the "mother" and stands far away, facing the line of children. "Mother" then chooses one child at a time and gives them a direction. Typically, these directions follow a standard, such as "Luke may take three giant steps forward" or "Hannah, you may take four baby steps forward." The child then asks, "Mother may I?" and "mother" replies yes or no. If the child forgets to answer, "Mother, may I?" then they have to go back to the beginning. The first child to get to "mother" wins.
Simon Says (try a twist of "Listen To What I Say And Not What I Do")
You know how it goes, right? Someone gets to be "Simon" and gives directions to the other players. For preschoolers, you can add complexity by providing more than one-step instructions. For example, try "jump two times, clap your hands, and turn around."
Remember if they give an instruction without saying, "Simon says…" first, then the child does not follow the direction. If they do, then they are out!
Here is a fun twist on the game for older preschoolers. This version "Listen To What I Say And Not What I Do" requires kids to focus their listening and NOT uses visual cues. For instance, "Simon says...,: "run in place," but he is jumping in place. Then the correct action is to "run in place."
Here are a few fun commands to get the game started. "Simon says…"
- Play air guitar
- Waddle like a penguin
- Act like a monkey
- Bark like a dog
- Meow like a cat
- Start singing
- Start dancing
- Cry like a baby
- Pretend to climb a ladder
- Walk backward
Build It! (a variation on the "Teacher Says" game)In this version, you play with blocks.
- Gather a bunch of wooden building blocks as props and place them in the middle of the room.
- Choose one child to be the "builder" and explain the game.
- Next, you are the "contractor" to model how the game is played. Continue in this mode until the kids fully understand how to play the game. Then one of the kids can be the "contractor."
- Finally, give the "builder" a set of 2-4 directions, such as "line up two wooden square blocks, add one rectangle block on top, and one triangle block to the top." As you play, show useful listening methods, like making eye contact with the speaker, repeating the directions, waiting for all the instructions before starting, and creating a picture in your mind.
"Please" And "Thank You" Game
This game is a fun way to practice table manners before a special dinner like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Create make-believe food dishes to pass. Have your kids draw pictures of various dishes, such as mashed potatoes, broccoli, or pie on the plates. Also, you could simply cut them out of magazines or print them from the internet. Then glue the pictures to paper plates for passing.Here is how to play:
- Start with the first "dish."
- Have the child name the food. Ask if they like it?
- If they do not like it, have them say, "No, thank you." If they do, "Yes, please!"
- Afterward, they pass the plate to the next child, asking, "Would you like some________?
- The child can then respond with a "No, thank you" or a "Yes, please."
- Continue until you have passed all the "dishes."
Music and Dance Activities
Dance and music are not just fun for toddlers and preschoolers, but they are beneficial too! Music cultivates communication and allows kids to express themselves. Furthermore, it contributes to imagination and creativity.
Let's Have A Dance Party!
This one starts with some music. Next, either an adult or a child may be the "dance leader." The "leader" starts dancing, and everyone must follow the moves exactly. Make it fun and silly! After about 30 seconds, but no more than a minute, the "leader" calls out another child's name, and they become the next "dance leader." Continue changing places until everyone has had a chance to be the "dance leader." Beware if you are caught not making the moves exactly, you will have to take a seat.
Kids love nothing more than music and dancing! This one is simple and fun. Play some music, and the kids start dancing, once the music stops, they "freeze." You can also add some variations like having them dance to the beat of the music, for instance, dancing slow motion to slow music and dancing fast to fast beat music. Or reverse it, dancing slowly to fast music and fast to slow music.
Easy social activities for toddlers and preschoolers are a fun way to help children learn how to listen, follow directions, and use good manners. For more development activities, check out our "Simple Block Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers" post.
Check back soon for an upcoming post on more social-emotional activities for preschoolers and toddlers, focused on exploring their feelings, cooperation, and how to make and keep friends. Until then, we hope you enjoy your time together playing and practicing.