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Social development in the wake of the pandemic

June 8, 2023
4 minute read

All this time on from the start of the pandemic and young children’s social development skills remain impacted. As early years leaders we need to keep this in the forefront of our teams' minds when they are planning activities and creating resources, or developing areas of provision. Embedding the development of social skills into our curriculum, will continue to support children and close this gap before it impacts their future learning.

Without developing social skills in the early years, children could go on to struggle to interact with their peers, communicate with others, partake in class discussion and, most importantly, make friends.

Areas of Provision

Let’s consider how we can develop these skills through the nursery environment. Incorporating activities that include turn taking and working with a partner, could initiate other skills such as eye contact, communication skills and building friendships.

Two-seater bikes, and other two-people resources, are sociable in their very nature. Large building objects that need to be transported from one area to another can encourage teamwork, whilst creating opportunities for sharing a glue stick for example, will encourage patience and confidence to ask for a turn. Your team could try incorporating these types of resources into every area of provision.

Interactive Displays

Enhancing your settings with interactive displays, with a social and emotional wellbeing focus, can be an inviting way for children to develop their skills.

For example, a large weaving area where one child pushes a ribbon or piece of fabric through a grid to another child, who pushes it back again through another hole, requires eye contact, patience, confidence, concentration and communication skills. Children could access this in a way appropriate to their ability too; a child who struggles socially may be happy to do this alongside another child, whereas a child with more developed abilities could ask questions and talk to the other child about the activity. Or how about a large mirror at child-height with prompts for children to explore how they are feeling, or what their face and other children’s faces might look like when feeling a particular way; thus, developing an awareness of their own feelings and emotions, and developing empathy for others.

Friendship games

Planning some games where two children sit facing each other, such as ‘row, row, row your boat’ is perfect for friendship building. A staring contest is also a good face to face activity which is obviously useful for developing eye contact, and usually breaks the ice when hoping to build friendships.

Follow My Leader, Simon Says and the Hokey Cokey, all offer fun opportunities to conform to rules and play in a structured way. If your team are looking for calmer options though, then drawing a portrait of a friend can give a quiet alterative for friendship building.


Think about how we can implement opportunities into setting routines. Maybe children who are less confident can be called upon to take on age and ability appropriate responsibilities, such as passing the story book to the practitioner at story time, helping to serve the snack at snack time, or handing out resources as needed.

An early years setting is an opportunity in itself for children to develop their social and emotional abilities, with lots of children and resources to play with. However, if we don’t remain vigilant in our focus on this vital area of learning, the pandemic is going to continue to leave its mark on those children who were delayed in this area as a result. This can have a long-term impact on their learning as they get older. How do you encourage social development in your setting? We would love to hear your ideas.

If you have enjoyed this article, perhaps you would enjoy this article too; How Social Relationships help My Nursery.

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