In recent months, I had proposed that we look more carefully at the issue of whether or not social skills should be taught in school. I’ve discussed a few strategies for working with the younger set, and I have since spent time exploring social skills training for older elementary and middle school students, kids who might be a bit more difficult to impress. (When people find out I teach children with autism, they comment about the patience I must have, and how honorable my career choice. My response is consistent…..middle school teachers are the true heroes out there!) Anyway, I wanted to share something that I stumbled across in my effort to learn more about what happens out there regarding social skills instruction for older children. I decided to ask some of my middle school friends about what goes on in their schools. I checked in with friends in Arizona, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. All had pretty similar responses….. in their school, there is not much formal training happening, although they are aware of small group get-togethers, which target a handful of students with a specific purpose. In some schools, they might call it a “lunch bunch”, a group that meets at lunchtime to discuss and support students dealing with a specific issue, e.g bullying. Although these kinds of groups certainly have merit, there is a downside for some participants. Some kids may worry about how they are perceived by other students. Generally speaking, there is no time that is more socially challenging for our students than middle school. Some students may not want to participate in a lunch group that sets them apart from the rest. Unfortunately, other students may tease kids who are part of a separate group. So, with the good, comes the potential for bad.
Continuing on my quest, I found that there are schools out there that utilize a formal social skills intervention program on a school-wide basis, but this is typically found in urban settings with many “at risk” students. The programs are funded by outside sources, and do take time to implement. Most schools may not have the money or time to invest in a formal social skills curriculum or project. So, back to the drawing board I go……until…….
In a rare moment of lazy magazine perusing on the couch one day, I stumbled across an advertisement. The line that caught my eye was, “We have failed our children if we do not teach peace”. What? Could this be? Somebody with enough money to buy a full-page ad feels the same way I do? This is the moment I learned about “Peacefirst”, an organization that has developed an entire curriculum to help teach children the skills necessary for “peacemaking”. When I looked more closely at the program, I realized that this is the “stuff” I’ve been seeking……foundational peacemaking skills are social skills! As I went deeper into the website, I discovered the Digital Activity Center, which shares lessons and activities with any teacher or individual who wants to access the ideas. Although I didn’t read every lesson, I saw enough to know that the lessons target students of varied age levels, and many of them can be used up through middle school. Most seem like fun activities that wouldn’t take up a lot of instructional time. The beauty of it is that all students in a class would get to participate and therefore, nobody is singled out.
I decided that what I had stumbled across was worth sharing with other educators. Yes, these ideas will take time to implement in the classroom, but it may be one of the best investments of time. Please take a look at the website one day, and consider adding this resource to your “bag of tricks”. If you happen to try any of the suggested activities, please comment on this post, and let us know how it goes! www.peacefirst.org