Heading back to school or OSHC with restrictions easing is similar to heading into the classroom after a long summer holiday. There’s excitement and apprehension, combined with a little nervousness associated with reconnecting with friends who haven’t been seen for a lengthy period of time.
It’s natural for children to have forgotten some of the basics after having a break from using their social skills at school. Let’s be realistic, social skills training is possible. Being equipped with the confidence, however, is where it all starts.
Let us introduce you to one of our passionate staff members at Camp Australia, Vicki Dobson. It is during Vicki’s early career that she saw firsthand how social skills were developed from a young age. Vastly knowledgeable, having been in the industry for over 20 years, including running her own childcare centre and holding various positions within the company, from Regional Manager to Operations Manager, Vicki is now the National Quality Manager.
In her current role, Vicki leads a team that focuses on continually improving how we support families and children by working with services on equipping educators with the right resources to deliver service excellence every day. We explore with her how having a suite of social skills can promote happy children and the role that adults play in providing children with the right tools to develop good social skills.
Why Social Skills are Important for Children
Children use social skills every day when interacting and communicating with others. A child has strong social skills if they know how to behave in social situations. This includes verbal (e.g. speech) and non-verbal (e.g. body language, facial expression, eye contact, gesture) communication. Displaying empathy is also important to maintain strong friendships.
Social abilities enable children to feel connected to others and maintain positive friendships. Vicki emphasises that, “When a child is able to connect and communicate, they feel a sense of purpose and the confidence to become a meaningful contributor to the society.”.
OSHC is an important place for children to learn and gain social skills training. Vicki explains how it is the responsibility of educators to empower children to advance at their own level. “There is no such thing as normal,” she points out.
Understanding each family and their culture allows educators to know more about children to identify opportunities for them to build on their own social abilities. According to Vicki, acknowledging the fact that children have a prior learning of social skills before attending OSHC is vital in getting to understand what is valued by families.
Creating Positive Relationships by Being Aware of Social Skills
Developing meaningful relationships helps children to live safe, happy and fulfilling lives.
Building resilience from a social skills viewpoint, means that children need to be aware of their own emotions at any given time. They also need to understand how others feel. In addition, when one is feeling upset, knowing the process to follow will create calm as opposed to pushing the blame onto others. Finally, it’s a good idea for children to know their own personal values and how they want others to remember them.
Anxious minds stop children from learning, and it is important for them to build confidence in social interactions so they can develop sustainable relationships. Educators tailor programs to the children attending OSHC and a major component is guiding children how to interact with others on a social level.
How Social Skills can be Developed
As adults we are role models and Vicki states that, “Children are always watching and absorbing.”. She stipulates that how we guide them has a direct impact on them. OSHC is a unique setting, whereby children learn from other children, both younger and older. We learn from Vicki that this exposure that they get to other children of varying ages and stages drives their understanding of social development.
Gaining Confidence with Social Skills when Heading Back to School
Heading back to school is a big thing and Vicki’s recommendations are aimed at assisting your child to settle back in seamlessly:
1. Develop Conversations
Asking your child how they feel about going back to school will allow you to understand their thoughts and concerns. Remember that active listening is all that is required so that your child can talk through their feelings. You do not need to solve their problems, but simply let them own their own progression.
You may have a child who is an introvert, for example, and found it difficult to build friendships beforehand. If this is the case, they may need support in determining how they engage with others to develop real and meaningful relationships.
2. What is Your Child Looking Forward to?
Asking your child what they are looking forward to will build positivity around going back to school. Perhaps they are worried about something, and if they are then let them come up with their own solutions.
As adults, we have to keep open to communication with children to enable emotional intelligence and a sense of identity. Be honest with your feelings as well, as you child will most likely have the same feelings. It’s important to acknowledge their feelings and ask how we can help.
3. Easing Back into a Routine
Heading back to normality will require some form of routine and it would help to talk to your child about the activities they can do to feel connected and engaged. Give your family time to find the new normal again. You don’t have to feel obliged to fill the diary with social outings, give everyone time to ease back in.
Building on Social Skills at OSHC
For many children, OSHC it is the only time that they will actively engage with children from different ages and classes. It is a place where older children can learn both leadership and empathy, just as younger children learn more about turn taking and engaging with others.
The learning philosophy behind the educational framework for OSHC is based on the concept that school aged care is a social learning environment. The focus is not based on 1 2 3’s or a, b, c’s but instead the life skills associated with being with others. How to enter a game, how to lead others, how to be a follower and how to express your emotions are just some of the skills your child will develop and practise as a result of being in an OSHC service.
Why Family Communication is Important
OSHC educators spend a lot of time getting to know the children in their care. They learn quickly who the confident children are, those who have some level of anxiety when in groups and those who need clear rules and boundaries to help them feel safe. They also know that any of these skills or emotions can be upset by a bad night’s sleep or shattered with a poorly timed comment.
Communication from families is incredibly important when it comes to building this picture of a child. Knowing how your child interacts with others outside the OSHC service can illuminate educators on what or how to support your child. Vicki advised that this conversation needs to be two way; a regular touch base with your educators to talk about how your child is developing while in the service, which can be a very different progression than the classroom, will only help educators to ensure they provide your child with the right support.
Vicki is the voice who provides wisdom and instils confidence in our staff. Our educators are experienced with all aspects of social skills training and understand the importance of continually building a child’s confidence to be able to develop strong relationships. Our educators are continuing to work with children and families to ensure social skills at OSHC are further taught and developed.