Last year, Peach obtained funding from the toy company Mattel to be able to offer a number of different social skills training initiatives to some of the children on our programmes. We recognised the need for our clients to continue with their intervention over the summer, when regular tutors may be away and when many local authorities are funding term time only programmes. The pilot projects included social play groups and playdate training for families, to allow us to use some of the time over the summer in a beneficial way, whilst still allowing the children to have a different holiday experience than their regular session structures. The criteria for the funding was children aged under 6 years old, although some pilot studies have included older children to illustrate to Mattel the potential for future expansion.
We had several clients involved in social groups and playdate training run by our case managers. These are an ideal way to develop a child’s social and play skills in a small, structured environment, where skills can be practiced ready for nursery or school. It also provides parents and tutors with better skills in running groups like these or running successful playdates. We hope to offer more of these opportunities this year.
Each initiative is play based and structured around individual targets, such as communication, pairing, parallel and cooperative play, turn taking, imitation, responding and joint attention. Structured social skills teaching also occurs where appropriate.
Social play groups
A group took place over the May half term in 2014 in Warfield for local children on Peach programmes age 4-6. In addition to this, 2-4 typically developing peers attended the group (including siblings of some of our clients).
Each child came to the group with a tutor and the group was run by a Peach case manager, who designed targets for each child to be shared with tutors, designed a schedule of activities and ran each activity. Some of the targets included requesting to peers, playing turn taking games with a peer, giving each other a ride in a sledge (working on engagement and joint attention), playing alongside peers, tolerating singing in a group and responding to peers initiations. Of course our main priority was for the children to learn to enjoy each other’s company!
The range of activities included free play with toys such as trains, hexbugs and marble runs, pairing activities such as sledge rides, seesaws and bubbles, turn taking games and a story.
The groups were very successful, with positive feedback from families and more groups are planned for the summer holidays. There were some lovely instances of interaction between the children as can be seen from the pictures!
Play and social skills are some of the most critical skills a child can learn. First and foremost they have a huge impact on the individual’s quality of life. Being around peers can also facilitate language when systematically programmed for. It allows for learning in a more natural way and children are far more inclined to vocalise when they are relaxed and having fun! As children grow up, friends typically become increasingly important and a far more powerful influence than adults and it is important to help children learn that their peers are reinforcing as soon as possible.
There can be some resistance to teaching social and play skills and the emphasis on language development and catching them up with peers can occur at the detriment of spending time teaching children to socialise.
Social skills are harder to teach as they consist of many components overlapping with each other. There are many grey areas. There are fewer opportunities for repetition in the natural environment. Social opportunities can be fleeting and over before a child has had the opportunity to practice their skills.
However research indicates that children learn more natural language from peers than from adults and time spent on carefully structured social skills practice is well worth the effort.
We have been encouraged by the uptake and positivity of parents and success of the projects so far.
As the project drew to an end we were looking at ways to expand this further should more funding become available, so that we can reach a wider age range of children and in more areas.
And of course as any good provider, we have learnt a lot from each experience, and endeavour to improve on the structure and running of each part of the project.
Most of all, we want to teach our clients that being around other people (and not just those amazing and creative tutors who come to play) is fun!
Many thanks to all the participants so far! Look out for further Social Skills initiatives from Peach this year…