How Teachers Help Facilitate Children Building Friendships in Preschool

“I want my child to learn to be part of a group; I hope my child will make friends”. That statement reflects one of the top reasons that parents choose to send their child to preschool. Now that the process of “settling in” is well underway the children are beginning to open their eyes and minds to the process and experience of developing new relationships. They are starting to navigate the world of friendship in preschool.

Often during the first weeks of school children play independently, seek out teachers for companionship, play with familiar peers, or tentatively play with someone new. The class is developing a sense of identity. Children with similar interests are finding one another. Children are stepping outside of their familiar “friend groups” and including new acquaintances in their play. For some children everyone in the group is new. They are exploring friendship for the first time, or for the first time in this setting.  Through a series of interactions, friendship develops.  The definition of “friend”, especially when it comes to the “friend” definition for a child, reminds us that it takes time to make a friend:

 friend (frend) n. 1. A person that someone likes or knows.  2. Somebody emotionally close: somebody who you trust and are fond of.

In our classroom at The LEAP School, teachers have begun the process of helping children realize their desire to make friends. In a world where an hour is an eternity and tomorrow can feel like a galaxy far, far away, a friend can be someone who sits next to you at lunch. A friend can be someone who likes to run with you on the playground. A friend can be the person who you feel comfortable with as you move through your day at school. Children may believe a friend is a person who will follow their lead, or their demands. A child may believe that someone who will not give them what they want, when they want it, is definitely not a friend.

When you are young, friendship can vanish quickly over problems like tumbled block towers, an unwillingness to share a treasured toy, or sitting in the wrong seat at lunch time. In the beginning, preschool friendship is similar to New England weather – just wait a minute and it will change. 

From our toddler classrooms, where children often name their teacher as their favorite friend, to the lower preschool where teachers act as referees as they help children navigate their friendships, to the upper preschool where friendship is a roller coaster ride spanning the range of “best friends” to “you can’t come to my birthday party” in the matter of minutes; teachers are helping children to navigate their world of friends. 

Through their actions, children demonstrate that they share our definition of a friend. They take their time getting to know each other. What is different is the way they experience friendship. Sometimes it is fleeting – a moment spent sharing an activity together. Sometimes it is lasting – continuously enjoying time spent together.

In preschool, children are always learning about friendship. They learn how to play with a friend, how to talk to a friend, how to share a friend. They are learning that their words and actions impact friendship. In every class, every day, teachers are sharing in this process of learning how to be a friend and how to have a friend.  Helping children learn about and experience friendship often presents the greatest teaching challenges, however it also provides the greatest rewards. As your child begins their exploration of friendship, listen to their stories, share stories of your friendships, and through this process you can help your child develop their own definition of the word “friend”.

– Tricia Wilson
Program Director, LEAP School Sudbury                                                                                                          

If you have any questions about friendship in preschool or how our teachers help children build friendships, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our caring staff is here to help!