Friendship is a necessary skill that children need to learn and cultivate. Although making friends might start off naturally, over time children will be required to listen, share, encourage, and support one another. The friendships that we are able to build as adults are all based on what we learned as children about making and keeping friends.
The UK Government requires children to recognise the understand the values of healthy positive friendships and how to respect and trust one another. Friendship skills are included in the PSHE curriculum to help children think about ways they can form meaningful connections with those around them. Beyond becoming a functioning member of society, friendship skills are also important for happiness, confidence, and wellbeing. Here are some activities that help primary school children understand friendship.
1. Create a good friend guide
One of the best ways to learn is by teaching. This activity will get children thinking about what they interpret as good and bad friend behaviour. You could carry out the activity as a group by writing headers on the board for ‘good friend behaviour’ and ‘bad friend behaviour’ and having the children contribute ideas like ‘sharing toys at playtime’ or ‘listening to worries’. Alternatively and out templates and have each child make their own guide to be compared at the end. A desktop easel is great for activities like this, allowing children to write up their ideas together in small groups so that everyone can see.
2. Organise a scavenger hunt
Get children to pair up for this activity which will help them build confidence and teamwork skills. Arrange a scavenger hunt around the classroom or the playground and send the pairs of students off to collect all the answers. You could use this as an opportunity to reflect on other topics the children are learning by choosing a relevant theme for the questions in the hunt. Get the children excited about the scavenger hunt by handing out equipment like magnifying glasses and. These will give them opportunities to practice sharing. Scavenger hunts are a great end of year activity that helps kids expel some of that end of year energy while you focus on tidying up loose ends before the summer holidays.
3. Emotions game
Use tokens with different facial expressions on them (these Jumbo Emotion Stones are ideal) and put them together in a bag. Get the children to sit in a circle and pass the bag around. When the bag is passed to each child have them take out a token without looking and then identify the emotion shown. Ask the child to think of something a friend could do that would make them feel that way. In doing this you will help children to imagine certain situations and how they might affect other people. Conclude each round by having everyone think of something they would do if their friend felt this way. For example, ‘I would be angry if my friend didn’t share snacks’, then the conclusion could be ‘I would ask my friend why they were angry and then apologise’.
4. Make friendship bracelets and bag tags
Let children get crafty and create something for each other. Bring in materials to help them create their own friendship bracelets, key fobs, and bag tags to give to someone they are friends with. There’s no pressure to swap these in class, let the children know they can take their creations home for someone special outside of school if they want to.
5. Circle time activities
Circle time is essential in early years and early primary school as it provides children with highly social communication opportunities and allows them to discuss and play out ideas and learnings together. Circle time also gives teachers the chance to speak to children on their level and solve problems together as a team. Consider including a short activity in circle time that addresses friendship every day, even if that is as simple as discussing a hypothetical scenario and what the children think they would do to help their friends.
6. Co-write a story, or draw a scene
Pair students off to put their heads together and come up with a story together. Thoughtfully pairing up a more advanced literate student with someone who needs a bit of extra support to encourage helpfulness and confidence. Make this into a fun library activity by giving each pair a topic or setting for their story that they have to research together. Provide each pair with a plain exercise book to write their story up or give them flashcards to write each section on. If the children are too young to write a story of their own, you could read them a story and have each pair draw a scene from the tale.
7. Red Rover
This is an energetic and active game that will have kids running around and laughing. If you’re leading PE or games outdoors, Red Rover is a perfect game to break the ice, get children to know each other’s names, and build confidence. Have the children split into two groups with each group forming a link with arms interlinked. Each group takes a turn to call on a player (Red Rover, Red Rover, send __ over!) from the other group to run over and try to break the line. If they are successful they ‘capture’ the two players who broke the line. If he’s not successful he joins the team.
8. Blindfolded obstacle course
On the surface, this sounds like a trip to the nurse, but if played correctly it shouldn’t end up with any injuries! Set out an ‘obstacle course’ on the playing field made up of space markers, you could create a wiggly pathway for example. Elect one child to go through the obstacle course and blindfold them. Then call on the rest of the students to guide their classmate through the wiggly path without crossing or touching any of the space markers.