Make the most of International Friendship Day

Published on Tuesday, 28 July 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Learning to make friends and nurture positive relationships are essential skills for a child’s social and emotional development. But sometimes, young children need some extra support in developing the appropriate skills. With celebrations for International Day of Friendship on July 30 we’ve pulled together a collection of ideas to extend the theme throughout the week to promote the understanding and joy of friendships. 

International Day of Friendship was declared in 2011 by the United Nations with the idea that friendship between people, countries, and cultures can inspire peace and build bridges between communities. An emphasis was placed on involving young people, as future leaders, in community activities that include different cultures and promote international understanding and respect for diversity.

Supporting friendship skills

When organising social play activities, it’s helpful to slowly build up the complexity and difficulty of play. Start with parallel activities so the learner has their own set of materials, and then introduce structured, predictable activities with a clear set of rules. Then, as the child learns to engage in these activities, move on to support more interactive play with peers.

A recent article in The Education Hub titled Scaffolding social skills in early childhood listed the following tips for educators to support friendships and collaborative play:

  • Foster children’s social interactions by drawing attention to and showing interest in what another child is playing, commenting on other children’s strengths to their peers, and facilitating interactions. With infants, describe what other children are doing, wearing or holding which can help children to attend to each other. With older children, point out common interests or suggest that children talk with each other. Help children to understand the value of good relationships with peers.
  • Encourage children to use social skills as they play, for example, “you could ask Sarah for a paintbrush”, as providing children with cues, prompts and encouragement for social behaviours is found to lead to increased social behaviours. However, when scaffolding of social skills is highly directive (such as telling children what to do to play with each other, or directing children into teacher-chosen groups), research finds reduced sociability and increased peer avoidance in infants and toddlers over time. It is important then to focus on child-centred strategies such as following children’s leads, talking about other children’s feelings and behaviours, or helping onlookers to join groups of peers.
  • Look for the subtle cues that a child is interested in another’s play, and coach shy or withdrawn children about how to show their interest in playing with other children and to enter play. Infants demonstrate interest in others when they modify their actions to match those of other children, and can be supported to initiate and sustain interactions with peers. Look for ways to bridge children’s play and encourage interaction, such as by giving children social tasks such as “can you ask Priya for some blocks?”
  • Help children understand the social behaviour of others by engaging in discussion about the intentions and feelings of others.  Help them to interpret being approached, touched or spoken to by other children in positive ways, and prime children with ideas about how they might respond.
  • Encourage empathy, kindness and tuakana-teina relationships. Suggest that children teach, lead and help each other, or suggest a child should go to a peer for help, advice or support. Give children responsibilities that require social interactions such as handing out cups at snack time.
  • Support the complexity of play, as complex and challenging play encourages children to develop more sophisticated social and emotional skills and extend their social repertoire. Play, particularly socio-dramatic play, involves children in reflecting before acting, being aware of the emotions and perspectives of others, and cooperation, negotiation and compromise. Appreciate all kinds of social play, including exuberant play with others, as important for children’s social development and for the development of children’s peer culture.

To focus on the understanding, skills and language of friendship here are a collection of fun friendship themed activities:

A garden of friendship flowers: In small groups, brainstorm to make a list of what makes a good friend. Share the lists, combine and create a class list for display. Organise for preschoolers to cut out the flowers and decorate them in bright colours. Provide a collection of printed friendship words from the class list so children can glue one on each flower petal. Create a ‘Garden of Friendship’ display or attach each paper flower to a stick and display them to make a friendship garden outside!

Share kindness stories: Read and share stories about friendship and discuss what friendship means, what makes friendships special and how friends help each other. Read books like Have you filled a bucket today by Carol McCloud, illustrations by David Messing or Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, illustrations by Leslie Staub.

Compliment circle: Teach young children to give and receive compliments as well as create a classroom of respect and kindness. Start by talking about what a compliment is and then sitting in a circle ask each child to turn to their neighbour and compliment them with a starter such as ‘You are good at…’ or I like your…’ The other child should then say ‘thank you’ and then have their turn after a round of applause.

Paint a friendship tree: This could be a large display piece or small individual artworks. Children need a printed or drawn outline of a tree, the using their painted hand or fingertips let them stamp their own tree leaves on their own and each other’s artworks. 

Create a kindness cloud This fun and easy craft makes a great gift for children. As these instructions are for older children adapt them by organising smaller creative groups. Each group can brainstorm the six qualities of an individual child from another group and an educator can write the words on each colourful strip. The children can put the elements together – fun and friendly!

Turn on the music: Being able to share and take turns is fundamental to friendships. Use music by singing songs together, with the children taking it in turns to do the actions or sounds, for example to ‘The Wheels on the Bus’. Or try sitting in a circle and making up a rhythm, with each child beating out their part in turn using shakers or drums.

Friendships play a vital role, they contribute not only to our mental, emotional and overall health, but also to fulfil an innate human need. There is little doubt that having friends is extremely important to children and interactions with peers offers plenty of opportunities for them to learn, practice and refine social skills. The critical role for the educator is to ensure these skills are nurtured and developed over time. Happy International Friendship Day!

Thank you to The Education Hub for their insights that contributed to this article.

Resources and further reading Supporting early childhood friendships

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