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Tips to help children make friends in reception

Tips to help children make friends in reception

Thanks to Debbie from Affinity Agency for this guest blog.



Starting school is no easy feat. There are loads of new people, lots of new places and a whole new routine, so it’s common for children to feel anxious and unsure. Making friends quickly is an easy way to help them settle in and feel more relaxed, so here are some ways you can encourage children to make friends in their new class.


Making friends is a great way to help children adapt to a new school, so read on to find some simple tips to help them on their way…


That anxiety and good-scary feeling that comes with starting a new school or going somewhere unfamiliar is something many of us remember and still experience to this day. It stems from changing our routines and the big unknown of a new place, but we usually get comfortable and enjoy it quickly. 


Research from YouGov shows that many early years school starters have trouble with basic speech and cognitive skills and often struggle with socialising and expressing themselves – they are unprepared for school life, so it’s key for primary school staff (and their parents) to help these children catch up.


Quick adaption and progress are usually down to the additional support the school provides, but becoming familiar with or finding something enjoyable about the school can also help children want to be there – this is where making friends comes into play. 


‘How to make friends in five minutes’ and ‘How to prepare your child for school’ are common queries, but the answers aren’t easy with the early years struggling as they are. Teachers need time and funds to focus on improving cognitive development, but small actions can help children make friends and encourage more natural social and emotional development.


Here are some ways you can encourage children to be naturally social and make friends:


1. Encourage Outdoor Play

Playgrounds are a standard part of the school environment, and when designed in the right way, they can be an excellent catalyst for social play. Most providers have special educational play equipment customised for the age group. For instance, a lot of early years and reception kits include pieces like pirate ships, trains, storytelling chairs, and more – all designed to encourage group play and cooperation between those involved. 


Inspiring kids to play on these pieces and giving them hints and ideas to progress their creative thoughts and storytelling is a great way to get them talking and playing with each other, which will help natural friendships and social skills develop.


2. Mix up your groups in class

When doing lessons that require groups working together, make sure to mix up the groups so the kids aren’t only socialising with the same children. 


Mixing them up with others will help them learn to better cope with any shyness or anxiety around meeting new people. It could also help them get to know everyone in the class better, which can lead to a more friendly and less scary environment for them.


3. Consider your class culture

The scary part of school is the unknown, so creating classroom rules and routines is a great way to help children feel more secure – this works for social and emotional learning, too. 


If you have class rules about being respectful, listening, sharing and more, then it will help create an ideal culture to make friends. 


Be sure to gently call out any behaviour that is against the rules – for example, if a child snatches or is not sharing. Teaching them simple rhyming rules and phrases like, ‘Taking turns is how we learn’ or ‘Don’t demand, raise your hand’, can help them be respectful – especially if you ask the class to repeat the phrase when someone isn’t following it. 


For lessons on teaching relationships education or tips on setting up your classroom, check out our Top 10 FreeBees.


4. Be aware of the class social structure

Cliques and friend groups are bound to generate naturally in your classroom, so it’s a good idea to watch out for these and make note of any potential tensions or kids left out. 


If you notice any unwelcome behaviour, mix up the groups or seating arrangements, consider buddy systems for walking around school, and if you need to, consider talking to the parents or carers to let them know what’s happening.


5. Talk about it

Many other cognitive-based lessons also have social and emotional implications. Reading together, for example, is a great way to combine them.


Why not try class reading books about friendships or sharing? This will help them with their listening and speaking skills and help them understand some more about making friends and how others feel.


While helping the children in your class is a great idea, it’s important to remember that not all reception friendships last and that some fizzle out quickly. 


According to a 2017 study, friendships between the ages of three and seven are momentary and based on proximity. Between ages four and nine, there are one-way friendships to help us achieve goals. And from ages six to 12, there are reciprocal friendships. The idea is that all these friendships may only be down to their environments and conditions – they may not last long as their interests and lives grow apart. This just means it’s even more important for children to learn how to navigate social situations and be confident making friends, especially considering loneliness is a common issue amongst the older generations.


Helping the children learn how to be friendly and make friends will allow the school to be a less scary place. This enthusiasm can also lean into their learning and development, making their adaption and learning curve go faster as they want to be there.



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