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7 activities that teach preschoolers + toddlers social skills

These games teach toddlers + preschoolers about sharing, taking turns, making conversation and showing empathy.

social skills activities
Motherly

It's never too early to start teaching your children social skills. As your little one grows, they need to be able to express their thoughts and emotions with confidence, while showing respect and empathy for friends and others in their world.

Because play is the primary way children receive and process information, games that introduce and model social concepts are wonderful ways to introduce social skills and cues. This kind of play doesn't just teach good manners, it encourages emotional intelligence in children of every developmental stage.

Here are 7 fun activities that help toddlers + preschoolers develop their social skills.


Game: My Turn

Best for: Toddlers aged 12-24 months
Social-emotional skills + concepts: Sharing, along with saying "Please" and "Thank you"
Materials needed: Any household object your child likes—a toy or blanket, or something "grown-up" your child likes to hold, like your phone or the remote.

Process: Say to your child "My turn please" with your hand placed out in front, ready to receive the object. Gently guide your child's hand to place the object into your hand, providing positive praise and a "Thank you" as soon as they do. Then, say "Your turn" and hand them back the object. Practice it a few times. This can be done throughout the day with any item. Don't forget to always say "Please" and "Thank you."

Game: Mimic Emotions

Best for: Ages 12 months+
Social-emotional skills + concepts: Recognizing and naming different types of emotions, as well as empathy.

Process: Cover your face with your palms; remove your hands from your face, and make a face that expresses an emotion: happiness, sadness, confusion, worry, anger. Encourage your child to mimic the emotions you are making. Make sure to describe the emotion to help build their vocabulary words.

As your child gets older, you can show them how to offer comfort when the emotion is not happy. For example, when you show your child a sad face, guide them into giving you a hug, and saying, "everything will be okay." Make sure to provide the same empathy when your child is expressing those feelings themselves.

​Game: Feelings Hop

Best for: Age 2+
Social-emotional skills + concepts: Identifying what feelings look like, what causes certain feelings and even what to do about them.
Materials needed: Create large print outs of faces making different emotions and tape them to the floor.

Process: Call out a feeling—"frustration!" or "joy!"—and encourage your child to hop to the face that shows that feeling. Once they are standing on the feeling card, encourage them to make the face, and explain why a person might feel that way: "Sometimes we get frustrated when we have to wait." Take the game to the next level by asking the child how they can help a friend who may be feeling this emotion. Play until all feelings are identified.

Game: Working Together

Best for: Age 2+
Social-emotional skills + concepts: Turn-taking and patience, as well as working together. In addition, this game helps with identifying colors and shapes.
Materials needed: A set of blocks and a set of index cards with images that match the colors and the shapes of the blocks.

Process: You and your child take turns drawing a card and finding the matching block. Then, work together to build a tower based on the cards that are drawn. See how high the tower can go. If it falls over, it's okay—just try again!

​Game: Listening Course

Best for: Age 2.5+
Social-emotional skills + concepts: Listening skills.
Materials needed: Pillows, stuffed animals, hula-hoops and other toys and items from around the house that you can use to set up an obstacle course.

Process: Encourage your child to listen to your directions as they move through an obstacle course or maze you both create. For example, you can say: "Jump into the hula-hoop and then step out of the hula-hoop, turn right and step over the teddy bear." Change up the obstacle course to enhance listening skills.

Game: Animal Play

Best for: Age 2.5+
Social-emotional skills + concepts: Turn-taking, listening and manners.
Materials needed: Your child's favorite stuffed animals or toys

Process: Playing with stuffies may not be your favorite game with your little one—in fact many parents of toddlers and preschoolers come to dread "stuffie time." But stuffed animal play is a great opportunity to model manners, friendship and the natural back-and-forth of conversation for your child.

Ask a question (such as, "What do you think is the best season, and why?") and let every stuffed animal in the circle offer their answer. Or let a stuffed animal "introduce" your child to all the other stuffed animals in the circle, demonstrating how to make sure everyone feels included.

You can also introduce the idea of finding solutions for problems through stuffed animal play: Perhaps one stuffed animal is always interrupting others when they try to speak. How can the other stuffies express their feelings about being interrupted, and how can the animal work on improving their conversation skills so everyone gets a turn?

Naming and acting on emotions is another way to use "stuffie time" to teach social skills. What should the cow (or the bunny, or the turtle or bear) do when they feel angry? Allow the stuffed animals to provide solutions to help your child learn how to appropriately express their wants and needs.

​Game: Silly Conversations

Best for: Age 3+
Social-emotional skills + concepts: Listening and engaging in conversations

Process: Give your child the opportunity to pick a silly or imaginative topic of conversation and to ask questions—and no matter how wild the question, both of you get to come up with an answer. If they need help, start the conversation with a question like, "Would you rather fly like a bird or swim like a fish?" Then encourage them to verbalize their answer. Allow them to be silly while still engaging with the question.

You can demonstrate how to continue a conversation by adding "also" statements such as, "I would also have long blue wings to fly." This keeps the conversation open-ended while encouraging further exploration of the subject.

There are a lot of fun activities to do with your child to build on social skills. As they continue to grow, their social skills will grow as well. Add social-emotional play into their daily routines and have fun with it!

Mary Lauderdale is a certified Infant Toddler Developmental Specialist (ITDS) with years of experience working one-on-one with families to help toddlers reach developmental milestones. As a Curriculum Specialist with The Learning Experience, she creates hands-on learning activities, educational materials, and social interactions for the preschool franchise's curriculum and specializes in ages 6 weeks to 3 years old.

14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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This post is brought to you by Staples. While this was a sponsored opportunity, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

One of the biggest changes in my household once my daughter started homeschooling was that, suddenly, everything and everyone in our home had to start pulling double duty. While I was used to wearing a lot of hats (mom, wife and WFH employee, to name a few), suddenly our dining room was also pulling shifts as a classroom. My laptop was also a virtual teacher. Our living room hutch was also a school supply closet.

If I didn't want my home to be overrun with an abundance of clutter, I had to find products that could multitask. Here are 10 products that are saving this WFH + homeschooling mama right now.

Stylish storage cabinet

Whether I need a place to keep the printer or just want to keep crayons and colored pencils organized, this pretty cabinet provides a mixture of exposed and hidden storage without clashing with my living room decor.

White board calendar + bulletin board

With so much on our plates these days, I need a visual reminder of our daily schedule or I'll forget everything. This dry erase version makes it easy to keep track of Zoom meetings and virtual classes—and I also love using the corkboard to display my daughter's latest work from art class.

Natural Recycled 3-Ring Binder

From tracking our curriculum progress to organizing my family's paperwork, I can never have enough binders. Even better, this neutral version is pretty enough that I can display them on the bookshelf.

Bamboo storage drawers

The instant you start homeschooling, it can feel like you're suddenly drowning in papers, craft supplies and more. Fortunately, these simple bamboo drawers can be tucked into the cabinet or even displayed on top (seriously, they're that cute!) to keep what we need organized and close at hand.

Laminated world map

I love this dry-erase map for our geography lessons, but the real secret? It also makes a cute piece of wall decor for my work space.

Rolling 7-drawer cabinet

When you're doing it all from home, you sometimes have to roll with the punches—I strongly recommend getting an organizational system that rolls with you. On days when both my husband and I are working from home and I need to move my daughter's classes to another room, this 7-drawer cabinet makes it easy to bring the classroom with us.

Letterboard

From our first day of school photo to displaying favorite quotes to keep myself motivated, this 12"x18" letterboard is my favorite thing to display in our home.

Expandable tablet stand

Word to the wise: Get a pretty tablet stand you won't mind seeing out every day. (Because between virtual playdates, my daughter's screen time and my own personal use, this thing never gets put away.)

Neutral pocket chart

Between organizing my daughter's chore chart, displaying our weekly sight words and providing a fits-anywhere place to keep supplies on hand, this handy little pocket chart is a must-have for homeschooling families.

Totable fabric bins

My ultimate hack for getting my family to clean up after themselves? These fabric bins. I can use them to organize my desk, store my oldest's books and even keep a bin of toys on hand for the baby to play with while we do school. And when playtime is over, it's easy for everyone to simply put everything back in the bin and pop it in the cabinet.

Looking for study solutions for older children? Hop over to Grown & Flown for their top picks for Back to School.

Work + Money

My son was 6 months old when I found out I was pregnant again—and I was devastated

How dare I feel this way when other women yearned for biological children?

When the two lines popped up on the third dollar store pregnancy test I took that morning, I prayed that it was wrong, that I was seeing things. Well, technically I was. I was seeing two clear lines that could only mean one thing: I was pregnant.

My mind felt like it was stuffed with cotton and simultaneously like it was about to explode. I wasn't even a year postpartum after having my first child and here I was, pregnant again.

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