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Start Right Away
The initial day of school and, by extension, the first week, truly set the pace for the rest of the year. Children develop a pecking order, and the weak ones are subconsciously identified and separated from the natural born leaders. Introverts may keep to the back and the edges of the more boisterous extraverts. Icebreakers designed to get the kids off to a great first day of preschool will go a long way to nip teasing and bullying in the bud, and they make it easier for preschoolers to create a feeling of belonging, which in turn makes it easier to let go of mom’s hand.
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Retell Aesop’s fable about the “Lion & Mouse." If you have puppets, this is a wonderful story to act out in front of the children; in the alternative, you my play the story via the computer from Penguin Group site. It only takes about three minutes, but is a great icebreaker to discuss friendship. The moral of the story of course teaches the kids that each and every act of kindness has value, and -- no matter how small -- no act of friendship is ever wasted.
Lead a discussion – perhaps during circle time – how the children can be great friends to one another. Give each child an opportunity to share a specific suggestion for how s/he can be a better friend. Next, go around the room and ask the children to share how others can act in kindness toward them. For example, little Judy might share how she likes it when someone asks her to play, while she will pledge to include others in her games.
Pair up the children by seat assignments. Take care to separate siblings and children who are already friends outside the preschool classroom. Provide multicolored beads and yarn. Ask the children to pick a bead in keeping with their hair color; next, ask them to select a bead in keeping with their neighbor’s hair color; finally, ask them to select a bead in keeping with your hair color.
You may vary the color choices to also incorporate eye colors or favorite colors, if you like. Identify the beads by placing the initials of the appropriate child on their respective bead, as well as your own. Place these three beads on the friendship bracelet. Offer some smaller beads for decoration or to add smiley faces to the bracelet. Tie the ends of the yarn together.
Next, ask the neighbors to exchange their friendship bracelets. This little gesture of making a craft for someone else -- and then exchanging gifts -- is a wonderful way of starting out the preschool year.
Keep the pairs you just formed intact, and ask each child to introduce their new friend. In a mini interview, the children should learn their new friend’s first and last name, favorite color, favorite food, and whether or not s/he has pets in the home. This icebreaker forces the children to interact, ask questions of one another, and also encourages the quieter children to take a brief moment in the spotlight.
These introductions are perfect on the first day of class, but you may do them throughout the first week of preschool by mixing and matching new pairs of friends and varying the questions. For example, if initially the formal introduction includes the children’s name, favorite food and family pet, subsequent introductions may revolve around a favorite candy, whether the children like spinach or broccoli, and a favorite game.
Character Building Lessons
Friendship centered activities that focus on the various attributes of good friends may be discussed throughout the school year. For example, you may start out by discussing “sharing," “taking turns," or “asking permission," and then also move on to “being honest," “being polite," and “helping others." These are mini lessons in themselves, and while they most likely come up in different curriculum lessons, you may refer back to the first few days of preschool and the friendship lessons learned then. Helping the children connect desirable characteristics to the concept of friendship reinforces the early learning.
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These friendship activities foster a sense of belonging that goes deeper than merely interacting graciously in the classroom or on the playground. Before long, preschoolers learn what kinds of behaviors harm friendship and which ones keep it strong and healthy. The bead work is perfect for strengthening small motor skills, while the formal introductions make it possible to emphasize the need for taking turns and also gathering and delivering information. You may be surprised to learn – down the line – just how many of your former preschoolers keep their friendship bracelets all the way into adulthood and still remember their very first day in preschool and the friends they made that day.
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Penguin Group. "Fables from Aesop" (retrieved April 15, 2011)