by Kara Coleman

The days of summer are no longer stretched out before us with long vacations, fewer rules, and flexible bedtimes.  A new school year has started and the pace has changed.  Whether you are a parent, teacher, or both, your plate is probably overflowing.  But isn’t it like that every September?  Isn’t it fascinating how quickly we are able to switch into our old efficiency-driven modes?  Hectic morning routines, carpools, long meetings, extra curricular practices, parent-teacher conferences, and homework battles quickly become the norm and we often don’t look back.

Children, especially those in elementary school, are not as experienced with this jarring switch to systematic chaos.  With the hustle and bustle of fall, it is easy to forget that students may need a “brush up” on social skills to navigate new and unfamiliar settings with peers, teachers, coaches, and school staff.

Building and maintaining healthy relationships with others should be a priority for teachers and their students.  Sure, everyone spends time on rules in those first few days, such as respecting others, but how often are students given the opportunity to practice and refine relationship building skills throughout the school year?

Teaching children relationship building skills not only helps them accept and get along with others in their classroom settings, it makes them more comfortable communicating with the various teachers and adults they encounter throughout the school day.  

How are relationship building skills taught?  The key is to use a variety of tools and strategies throughout the school year, not just at the beginning.  Consider incorporating these into small pockets of time throughout your day:

Role Play

Role play is a powerful teaching tool because it is entertaining, can be done on the fly, and doesn’t take up a lot of time – something every educator is short on!

Be sure to have students act out examples of both appropriate and inappropriate behavior to help reinforce concepts taught. Walk through different scenarios:

  • giving compliments

  • learning how to disagree respectfully

  • apologizing

  • learning to forgive

Children will be more successful applying these skills in the moment if they have practiced the fundamentals outside of a heated setting.




Although sometimes hard to find time for, character building games that are focused on a need among your students are well worth the time investment.  Once you’ve modeled how to play a particular game for the class or a group of students, it can then be used on a rainy recess day, as a choice activity after the morning routine is followed, or possibly with a lunch bunch support group.


Games can model:

  • making and keeping friends

  • controlling impulsive behaviors or emotions

  • preventing bullying

  • being honest


Many teachers have creative and entertaining ice breaker activities in the first few days to help students get to know one another. Don’t underestimate the power of a read-aloud focused on building relationships to help reinforce those skills all year long.  Children don’t just make friends and move on, they often need help navigating friendships as they grow and change throughout the year.  Also, book clubs are a great way to address the particular need of a small group of students who may need further support with building relationships.

Check out the following authors for inspiration:

  • Julia Cook

  • Cheri J. Meiners

  • Sue Graves

  • Trevor Romain

Some children will need additional support with particular behaviors or skills.  Empower parents by talking to them about what you are doing for their child in the classroom and giving them clear strategies and suggested tools to use with children at home.  Consider offering to let parents “check out” certain games, books, and activities that you are using in the classroom to help provide them with some appropriate tools.  Encourage parents to incorporate role playing and character building games and activities into normal playtime with their child to give them more opportunities to practice the skills being taught.  

Kara Coleman is the owner of Making Playtime Count, a company devoted to promoting quality products that help develop character in young children.  A former elementary school teacher, she has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction.