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Early Childhood Activities to Improve Social and Emotional Awareness

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 9/11/2012

As a teacher of toddlers or preschoolers, you would likely love to teach children how to understand each others’ emotions and behave respectfully. These social and emotional early childhood activities can help students learn how to relate to each other respectfully.

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    Stop the DVD

    Some social and emotional early childhood activities break down complicated social skills into manageable pieces. For example, many young children may find it difficult to recognize facial expressions and to connect them to emotions. One fun way to help them understand the differences between various expressions (a skill closely related to empathy) is to play them a DVD and freeze it at the point where a character shows a distinct expression. Ask children to point out details about how the character’s face looks (e.g., raised eyebrows, red eyes, lines on the forehead) and to think about what the character might be feeling. Children may also want to discuss what happened in the DVD to make the character feel that way. This emotional exercise can help children understand how to identify other people’s emotions based on their facial expressions

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    Social Charades

    You can use charades to help children brainstorm different ways they could react to a situation. With very young children, the teacher will probably have to do most of the acting. For example, you might pretend to go up to a child and accidentally knock down a tower that she has made. Ask children to discuss how they would react if they were the child who had built the tower, as well as how they would react if they were the child who had accidentally knocked it down. This social activity allows students to step back and think about how they should react to various situations, without be emotionally involved with the situation.

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    Sharing Activities

    There are many activities you can do with children that can help them understand the concept of sharing. For example, give several students a box of crayons to share, tape a large piece of butcher paper to a desk or table, and encourage students to decorate the paper with the crayons. This works well at many stages of early childhood, as even toddlers will be able to draw pictures side-by-side on the same paper. Constantly reinforce the fact that they are sharing by pointing it out to them. For example, you might say, “Wow, Cara and Ava are sharing the crayons so nicely. They’re creating a beautiful picture together.” As students become accustomed to this activity, you can replace the crayons with finger paints, stamps, or other craft materials.

    You may also want to provide large boxes filled with other materials, such as trains or small plastic people, for children to play with together. You may need to facilitate this play, but many children will be able to “share” the box together without much prompting, as long as the various pieces are virtually identical. Make sure to emphasize the fact that they are sharing, and to focus on the positive aspect of sharing. For example, you might say, “Because Simon and Paula are sharing the trains with each other, they’re able to make such a long line of trains on the track!”

    These social and emotional early childhood activities can help toddlers and preschoolers learn various social skills. Children in a preschool setting will benefit greatly from activities that allow them to discuss how they can get along with others more easily. This article includes more examples of sharing activities.

Early Childhood Activities

This series of articles describes different types of activities for toddlers and preschoolers. These early childhood activities can enrich the child's environment, whether in playgroup and school or at home.
  1. Early Childhood Interactive Activities for Parents and Teachers
  2. Early Childhood Activities to Improve Social and Emotional Awareness