There is a park near our home that has a spectacular public sandbox. Public sandboxes are fun places to play and learn because the high quantity of children and sand-toys present many opportunities for preschoolers to develop life-long social skills.
As parents, we sometimes forget that our children are not born with social skills. Children learn how to behave appropriately in social settings through direct instruction, observation/role-modeling, reinforcement, and empathy. As your child navigates new social situations, it is important to gently guide him and frequently give him the opportunity to practice new skills. Here are five important Sandbox Social Skills for preschoolers to learn, practice, and understand.
1. Ask before taking. I have been astonished this summer by the number of children who take toys from others without asking. Just last week, a boy took my son’s shovel right out of his hand! His mother saw him do it, yet said nothing about it. It is important to teach children to respect other people’s property. Polite words like “May I use your shovel?” or, “Are you playing with this truck?” should be used before taking a toy. Sometimes the other child will say yes, but sometimes they will say no. Help your child be prepared for both answers.
2. When you share with others, they will share with you. Sharing is a difficult social skill to learn, but a rewarding one! Owen was fortunate enough last week to have an experience in which he and another boy traded sand-toys, reinforcing to him that when he shares with others, they will share with him. I have taught my boys that if they do not want to share a toy because they are actively using it, they have the right to politely say, “Not right now because I am using it.” and then offer the other child a different toy to play with.
3. Do not throw sand. No one enjoys playing with a child who throws sand, so teach your child not to. Sand throwing isn’t nice and can lead to severe eye injuries. If your child is throwing sand and will not stop, please take action by removing her from the sandbox. When you feel she is ready, bring her back to the sandbox to try again.
4. Respect other kids’ sand creations. When Owen was one, we jokingly called him Owen the Destroyer because he impulsively wrecked just about every sandcastle and block tower that Colin built. Fun for Owen, but not so much for Colin who had put much time and effort into his creations. Since then, Owen has learned more self-control and now asks before wrecking. If the other child says no, he walks away from their creation or asks if he can play too. If he forgets our rule and destroys someone’s creation, he is expected to apologize and right his wrong by offering to rebuild it.
5. Use kind, strong words. Encourage your child to use kind, strong words to stand up for himself or ask for what he needs in the sandbox. If someone takes a toy that he was using, refrain from swooping in and retrieving it for him. Instead, help him find the right words to ask for it back. If your child wants to join other children in their play, encourage her to ask, “May I please play with you?” When I worked as a School Counselor, I often told my elementary students, “We don’t say you can’t play.” I have since taught Colin and Owen the same phrase. If another child asks to play with them, they include them because we don’t say you can’t play!
Social skills instruction is always a work in progress and can vary from situation to situation. With practice and your support, your child will be able to navigate the sandbox, make new friends, and happily play with others.
Do you have any additional Sandbox Social Skills that you would add to this list?