Fostering Social Skills Through Play: A Guide for Preschool Teachers and Parents


By: Trevor Newton


As a dad and current preschool teacher with 14 years of experience who believes in a social-emotional and play-based curriculum, I’ve seen how play can significantly impact children’s social-emotional development. In this blog, we’ll explore practical strategies for fostering social skills through play for preschoolers. Whether you’re an educator or a parent, these activities can help children build important skills like communication, cooperation, and empathy.

The Importance of Play and Social-Emotional Learning

When children engage in play, they naturally develop crucial skills such as sharing, empathy, and cooperation. Through imaginative play, they learn to understand and express their emotions, which is vital for their emotional growth. Additionally, play provides a safe space for children to navigate social interactions, resolve conflicts, and build friendships. By encouraging play, we are not just supporting their immediate enjoyment, but also laying the foundation for their future emotional well-being and social competence.

Let me share a story about Zane, a bright and curious 4-year-old who, like many children, missed crucial opportunities for socialization due to COVID restrictions. When Zane first joined our class, he was shy and hesitant to interact with his peers. He had spent much of his early years in isolation, and it showed in his reluctance to engage with other children. Given his lack of experience, our staff spent several months directly teaching social skills like getting a friend’s attention, turn taking, sharing and how to enter a play group.

Over time, Zane began to thrive. One day, during a play session where the children were pretending to run a grocery store, Zane took on the role of cashier. He started interacting with his classmates, taking turns, and even helping others with their “purchases.” This simple act of play was transformative; Zane’s confidence grew, and he began forming meaningful friendships that lasted for weeks to several months.

Through these play experiences, Zane developed essential social-emotional skills. He learned to share, cooperate, and empathize with his peers. Seeing Zane blossom in a supportive play environment was a powerful reminder of the profound impact play has on a child’s social and emotional development. By providing children like Zane with opportunities to engage in play, we help them build a strong foundation for their future emotional well-being, social competence and reduce the learning gap caused by COVID.

Activities to Foster Social Skills Through Play



Activity: A Nature Building Challenge

Take the children outside with Imagination Playground Small Blue Blocks and collect items like sticks, leaves and rocks. Provide each child with a nature building challenge, such as creating a structure using natural materials found in the environment. Guide the children to work collaboratively, fostering teamwork and problem-solving skills. Afterward, gather the children to discuss their creations and how they feel about their outdoor play experience, promoting empathy and communication.

Cooperation & Empathy

Activity: Turn by Turn Castle Challenge

To build cooperation and empathy, consider using a whole group building activity with the Big Blue Blocks and loose parts materials. Present a challenge to the class that requires them to build a castle one block at a time. As a teacher, encourage the children to offer suggestions to their peers and facilitate building as one child at a time adds to the castle. When it is complete, bring out fairy tale costumes and encourage the children to role play as a knight, prince or even a mighty queen!

Supporting Educators and Parents


Educator’s Role in Facilitating Play

As educators, we play a crucial role in supporting children’s social skills development through play:

  • Setting the Stage: Create a safe and supportive environment where children feel comfortable exploring different social roles and interactions. Take time to include materials that a child may see at home to bridge the gap between home play and school play. For example, I like to add real pots, pans and cooking utensils to our kitchen.
  • Modeling Behavior: Demonstrate positive social skills like sharing, taking turns, and listening actively. The most natural way to model behavior is to play alongside the children. Take a balanced approach that includes both active role playing and supervising.
  • Encouraging Reflection: Ask open-ended questions that encourage children to think about their feelings and the feelings of others. Intentionally begin interactions with sentence starters like, “I wonder…”, “Tell me about the work you did here…”, “What will happen next if…”.

Parental Involvement in Play-Based Learning

Parents can also play a vital role in fostering social skills at home:

  • Encouraging Playdates: Organize playdates with peers to give children opportunities to practice social skills in a relaxed setting. While the children play positively reinforce the social behavior that you want to see more of. For example, “I like the way you took turns with the sand shovel.”
  • Role-Playing at Home: Use everyday scenarios as opportunities for children to practice empathy and problem-solving. What everyday activity can be turned into play? For example, I bet your children would love to pretend to be head chef while they assist with snack prep or pretend to be a delivery driver while you unload groceries at home.
  • Setting Limits: Establish clear rules for social interactions, such as taking turns with toys or using kind words. It is okay to end the play! If your child is demonstrating behavior that would cause another child to leave, use that moment to teach. Offer a positively phrased redirection, state the behavior you are looking for and continue the play. If the challenging behavior continues, state that you are done playing and state your reason. This creates a safe opportunity for children to learn and reinforces acceptable play behavior that they can use while playing with classmates or peers at the park.


I encourage you to look for play opportunities that can be embedded throughout your day. By integrating play-based activities into a preschooler’s daily routine, educators and parents can foster essential social skills like communication, cooperation, and empathy. The point is that moments for play simply require an awareness of the play opportunity and willingness to allow your preschooler to engage in the play. Set the stage for their play, jump in and play alongside your adventurous learner!

Meet Trevor Newton – a dedicated father, husband, and seasoned preschool teacher with over 14 years of experience and a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education. As a preschool teacher, brand ambassador and educational speaker, Trevor is passionate about sharing valuable insights and resources to empower parents and early childhood educators in navigating key issues and fostering optimal development in young children. Follow Trevor for insightful early childhood content and tips for parents and educators on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn @TrevorTNewton.