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Traditional school education, from science equations to literary rules, maybe a must for children to achieve all they want to academically. But when it comes to the real world, the rules are a little different. The ability to communicate, work with others, and develop relationships are crucial to success beyond school.

For students that learn excellent social skills, the world can be their oyster. We take a look at some of the top social skills for kids to learn – the perfect way to bulk out your lesson plan with soft skills that are just as essential as more academic pursuits.

Read on to find out ‘what are social skills?’, including the different types of social skills you should be teaching your students. We even cover social skills activities to help you cement those abilities and give your class a leg-up in life. Social skills for kids are exactly what you’ll find here:

What are social skills?

If you’re wondering exactly what defines a social skill, you’re not the only one wondering. As a fairly ambiguous term, a list of social skills can be defined in many different ways. To keep it simple – which is necessary for most students – we can look at the foundations of what social skills are. Broken down, social skills could be considered:

  • Any skills we use to communicate directly and indirectly with other people
  • The ability to ‘read’ another human based on their language and behavior
  • The capacity to have relationships that benefit both or multiple people at once
  • All forms of communication with others, from parents and teachers to classmates and siblings

Social skills are just about any skill that involves interacting with other people, whether they are on the same level as you are not. These skills include direct communication, such as our speech and the way we talk to others. It also includes indirect communication such as our body language or facial expressions and our gestures. When someone has strong social skills, it means they can behave appropriately in different social situations, based on the rules of our culture.

Why are social skills important to us?

Social skills are vitally important in Western society, and as such, it’s important that children understand these invisible cues and implied rules from as young an age as possible. No one bats an eye at a two-year-old having a temper tantrum, but the same couldn’t be said for a thirteen-year-old. Maintaining and building positive relationships and communication with others is one of the significant advantages of well-developed social skills. While some people – such as those on the autistic spectrum – struggle with social skills, the majority of children can grasp these concepts well with a little practice and reinforcement.

While academic skills have a great deal of value for students, without social skills, they will struggle in many real-life situations. This is especially true when it comes to future workplaces, where managing all kinds of relationships is essential. Having empathy, being able to resolve conflict peacefully, and even understanding emotional cues from others can all contribute to making a child a better member of society. Even outside of the workplace, children with better social skills are far more likely to become adults that are better able to cope with friendships and romantic relationships in healthy ways.

Social skills are related to just about every communication we have with any other person. As a social species, it’s no wonder that these abilities are so important. Read on for some examples of the social skills your students should be developing, as well as a few methods and activities to implement them into your lesson planning.

Examples of social skills your students should be developing

Now you have a better understanding of the importance of social skills, what are some of the examples of social skills that your students should be developing? Here are just a few of the foundations of great social skills you should keep an eye out for in your class:

  • Cooperating and collaborating: Students should be able to ‘play their part’ within a group. This includes sharing, taking turns, and working in tandem with others to reach the same goal. These skills can often be observed in group work, allowing you to monitor a student’s abilities when undergoing teamwork activities.
  • Helping and empathizing: Depending on the age of your students, you may see the first signs of this social skill in your class. Comforting an upset friend, helping another student that doesn’t understand an assignment or simply understanding how others feel are all positive signs of empathy and helping that you can observe.
  • Patience and listening: Another vital part of being an excellent communicator is the ability to listen to what someone is saying patiently and calmly. As students get older, they develop these skills naturally in many cases. Attentive listening to fellow students and the teacher, as well as patiently waiting their turn to speak, are good signs of these skills.
  • Politeness and Manners: Children learn these necessary social skills from practically as soon as they can talk. With parents often requesting ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ from their offspring long before they understand what it means. Manners extends to being aware of those around you, for example not talking when eating or apologizing if you bump into someone – skills that can be easily observed in student’s interactions.
  • Respect and resolution: These are particularly advanced skills from students, and often some of the last to develop as they become older. Respecting others, and accepting responsibility, is often a hard concept for children. It goes against survival instincts and is generally a learned skill. Similarly, having respect for others requires a strong understanding of those silent rules of modern life – which are often taught by parents and in the classroom.

Once you have a firm understanding of what some of the most meaningful social skills are, you’re far better placed to monitor and observe them in your students. You’d be surprised how many children have these social skills inbuilt, while others may need additional support and care to get them there. Keeping an eye out for social skills is also an excellent way to spot abnormal behaviors or a failure to develop common childhood social skills. For students that struggle to grasp even necessary social skills, there may be a need for further investigation and potentially diagnosis over time. Child Development AU lists a whole host of difficulties to look out for to get you started.

Activities to enhance and improve social skills

With a list of social skills available to you, the next thing you can do as a teacher is to support your students to evolve and develop those developing skills into something that works in society. For some in your class, this process will be easy and natural, while others may need a helping hand. Here are just some of the activities you can use to explore social skills and support them in improving and developing these vital soft abilities:

Pretend Play

While it may seem far-fetched, for younger students and pre-schoolers still developing their sense of socialization, pretend play can be a gateway to improved social skills. At least, according to Parenting Science. Encourage students to engage in fantasy play scenarios with fellow students, and they have a way to test those boundaries and display empathy simply by ‘being’ someone else. Children are far more likely to interact on a deeper level when allowed to get as dramatic as they like, as opposed to more classic activities such as teacher-led play.

Cooperative Games

In cooperative games, students have to work together towards a common goal to achieve a win. There are no individual winners or losers, but the better the cooperation, the faster your students will get results. This kind of game rewards collaboration, working together, and communication by introducing a goal into the equation. Your students aren’t forced to work together, but they will be able to see a definite advantage to doing so – which will leave them far more likely to use those social skills instead of going their separate ways.

Back-and-Forth

As we’ve mentioned, communication is vital for children to build their social skills. So, what if you let your students talk about something they really enjoy? This incentive to speak, especially when paired with a student that’s just as excited about the subject, can make back-and-forth far more relaxed and more natural. Correct and encourage students to listen as well as respond actively, and they’ll be building two skills at once. The real challenge is when you add more and more students to each group, while still maintaining that active conversation. As for topics, whatever is particularly popular at the moment – whether it’s a show, video game, or book – is an excellent place to start.

Should social skills be a part of the curriculum?

The big question is: as a soft skill, should building social skills be a part of the curriculum? Based on the vast advantages that the ability to socialize appropriately brings, we certainly think so. Research has shown that students with empathy, excellent communication skills, and the ability to connect with others are far more likely to be successful in their future – not to mention happier. For children with little to no social skills, leaving school can be challenging enough. But forming their own bonds can be even more complicated, whether it’s personal or in further education or the workplace.

By teaching social skills, little and often, we can ensure students have the best possible start in life. Not to mention, it can provide teachers with the opportunity to communicate with and listen to their class more effectively. Do you consider social skills to be a vital addition to your school curriculum? Let us know how you’ve integrated these soft skills into your lesson planning in the comments below.