Social Skills: School Play ideas

School Play (Lunch and Recess)

These ideas are particularly useful for children in the junior primary and primary years. Once children reach the later primary, years 5+, then they there are often more cognitive strategies that can be employed. Some simple ideas for school play include:

  • Social stories around lunch and recess play are very effective strategy for many school aged children, but also for those in a kindy setting and at home. Stories can be about the child, or can be created to talk about ‘children’ in general. For ways to develop effective social stories, have a look at our blog on Social Stories.
  • Another useful tool is to understand the differences in children’s abilities and interests. In this way, there is not a reliance on ‘physical’ play and children can engage in other activities (e.g. some children have a great interests in Lego – and ‘lunch time Lego’ groups have known to be popular and provide social interaction for many)
  • Alternatively, for those that are more anxious or have difficulty regulating their arousal during school, regulating activities supported by older peers or school staff (e.g. supported games in a gym or oval, rather than just being in the playground and managing their anxiety), can help with a positive social environment during school.
  • In addition to this, teaming up a child with a small group of kids with similar interests would certainly support further social interaction.
  • Always use the strengths of the child (e.g. language and current social skills). A child that has difficulty with language and social interaction may be well supported by a visual schedule of activities to engage in at recess/lunch, as well as being teamed up with a few peers that can support play. In this, it can also be an effective strategy to team up ‘good players’ and those who find it ‘more challenging’. Essentially, some children are more confident in play and those children can often be patient and supportive of others who find the unpredictability and social requirements of play with others difficult.
  • Engaging in OT, for specialised support, or other general community based activities to further support gross motor skills (home and school) can increase confidence in gross motor skills, ability to engage in simple sport and overall play development. This can support a child’s social skills and their ability to interact with peers.
  • Visual guides and timers at recess and lunch time can give a ‘gauge’ of how long these unstructured times are. As some more anxious children do struggle with the unstructured nature of recess and lunch, visual guides and timers can provide a predictability and structure.
  • Particularly for children that may be overwhelmed by the noise and commotion of recess and lunch, having a ‘quiet space’ or designated ‘safe area’ for children to retreat to, if overwhelmed, is very important. Furthermore, if a child is consistently seeking this, look at other way to increase engagement in recess and lunch play, so they can have success, without the constant need to ‘retreat’.
  • It is also Important to have some structure for many transitions during the day, whether it is ‘relaxation’ or ‘specific regulation activities’, to support after recess and after lunch transitions. These are often difficult times for many children, so the more structure and predictability, the better. This can also support self-regulation and independence in routines.

We will look at some further Social Skill ideas for older primary school children (i.e. ages 10+) in our next blog. While some of these strategies about are also useful for that age group, some cognitive based strategies can be employed more successfully.


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