Play and Social Thinking in Kindergarten

When our Kindergarten program shifted to full day, we had the opportunity to re-imagine the school day for our youngest students. Over the past 4 years, our teaching staff created a developmentally-appropriate program that meets the academic, social and emotional needs of students. Opportunities for structured and unstructured play were woven into the curriculum.

Our Kindergarten team presented at the Illinois ASCD Kindergarten Conference two years ago. It was a fantastic experience. Willowbrook staff are back at the conference this week to present on our implementation of a social thinking curriculum.

We have borrowed from the work of early childhood expert, Michelle Garcia Winner, and her study of Shared, Collaborative, Imaginative Play (SCIP). Kindergarten age children are entering into complex play that requires negotiation skills, communication, understanding shared goals, reading the intentions of others, etc. As you can imagine, these skills form the foundation for social learning and success in school.

Social thinking lessons are introduced via our daily specials block (P.E., music, art, library) and practiced within the classroom. All teachers and instructional assistants share a common language with the students. It begins with teaching the students that other people have thoughts and feelings. When people have different feelings than us, it is because they are thinking different thoughts than us. Later lessons involve following the group plan, thinking with your eyes, and whole-body listening. One of our favorite lessons is “expected” vs. “unexpected” behavior. The size of the problem lesson is delivered around this time of year. Sharing an imagination with others is the final lesson and most sophisticated level of interactive play.

Winner, M., Tarshis, N., Palmer, K., & Hendrix, R. (2016). We Thinkers! GPS. Santa Clara, CA: Think Social Publishing, Inc.

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