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Advice for Teachers About a Child Not Playing at Preschool

written by: Mary Beth Adomaitis • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 7/12/2012

As a teacher, how can you help when you observe a student not playing with others at preschool? By taking the initiative to communicate with the child, encourage one-on-one peer interaction, and express your concerns to parents, you can aid in determining if the child needs additional interventions.

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    Identifying a Child Who Doesn't Play with Other Children

    Be observant of a child who seems isolated at preschool. During the preschool years, many children enjoy the opportunity to play cooperative games with their classmates. Activities involving multiple children, such as playing house or building a fort with blocks, allow kids to form friendships and learn the "norms" of social etiquette. Since preschool teachers typically plan their classes in a manner that encourages collaborative play, concerns sometimes arise when a child does not interact with others at preschool and seems shy, withdrawn, or uninterested in making friends. What should a preschool teacher do when encountering such a child?

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    Assessing The Issue: Strategies For Teachers

    One method that preschool teachers can use in regard to a child who won't play with classmates is to perform an informal assessment of the child's maturity level, personality traits, and behavioral patterns. A teacher can better understand the child's motivations for avoiding play by:

    • Conversing with the child about his or her interests. By spending one-on-one time with a shy child and asking about favorite toys, activities, and games, preschool teachers can get to know the child on an individual basis and can find ways to include the child's interests within classroom play centers. For example, a young girl who likes butterflies may be motivated to play with other children in a dramatic game about flying insects.
    • Observing and taking notes on the child's communications with classmates. Whenever possible, a preschool teacher can carefully observe a socially withdrawn child in the classroom setting in order to determine possible causes for the behavior. The teacher may find that the child is intimidated by certain peers, has not yet grown out of the "parallel play" stage, or is unwelcoming toward offers to play due to emotional or behavioral deficits.

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    Discussing Intervention Options With Parents

    When a preschool child's refusal to play with others persists throughout several months and is accompanied by indicators of a behavioral disorder (such as an anxiety or autism spectrum disorder), a teacher may wish to confer with the child's parents about seeking professional assistance in the classroom. During this conference, the teacher can share concerns about the child's issues at school, seek input from parents about home behavior, and suggest options for testing and support services. Depending on the results of an evaluation by early intervention specialists, the child can receive in-school help with peer interactions from professionals such as:

    • A therapeutic staff support worker, who works one-on-one with the child in the preschool classroom setting. This type of specialist aids a child with social delays in tasks such as interacting appropriately with others during playtime and learning to approach other students with an invitation to play.
    • A play therapist, who provides a child with certain toys (manipulatives, puppets, stuffed animals, etc.) and observes the ways in which the child expresses feelings and emotions during playtime. Play therapists often work with children who are anxious or distressed in an effort to help the child become more comfortable in his or her environment.
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    Encouraging Play Within The Classroom

    In the preschool classroom, teachers can use several strategies to ease a socially-impaired child into engaging in play with others. Exercises such as the following can be introduced gradually at a pace that is comfortable for the student.

    • One-on-one play time with a peer: A teacher can arrange for the child to play a game or do a fun craft with a classmate who shares common interests and has a friendly, outgoing personality. If the child gains a good friend, he or she may become more confident in joining others for play.
    • Small group activity involving a favorite interest of the child: A shy or isolated boy who loves dinosaurs, for example, may respond well to a teacher-planned activity in which he and a few other children play with dinosaur figures, draw pictures of dinosaurs, or pretend to be dinosaurs.
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    Offering Support

    Teachers can also encourage a child who plays alone at preschool by offering supportive comments when social interactions are attempted. Refrain from criticizing a shy or socially impaired student, and keep positive lines of communication open with the child, his or her family members, and any support personnel. A preschool teacher who makes the effort to assist a child in play participation with friends can help to reduce the possibility of further social, emotional, and behavioral problems throughout the student's school years.

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    References

    Langoni, L.S. et al. "Children and Play", http://www.creativityinstitute.com/earlychildhooddevelopment-childrenandplay.aspx

    Gurian, Anita and Pope, Alice. "Do Kids Need Friends?", http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/do_kids_need_friends

    Allen, William. "Building Social Interaction in Shy Preschool Children", http://www.parent-childservices.com/handouts/building_social_interaction_in_s.htm

    Image Credit: phaewilk, http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/132139