Helping Children Learn Play Skills

November 13, 2023

All children know how to play, but some children need more support in learning how to play with other children. Social skills such as how to invite another child to play, ask for a turn, or share toys can be difficult for some children. This might be true for any child, not just only children or children with disabilities. Every child can use the support of a caring adult to help them learn and practice the social skills necessary for developing friendship skills and engaging in successful group play.

The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) has some great resources to help support teaching of these skills for teachers and families.


Peer Mediated Skills

"Peer Mediated Skills" provides strategies to help teach these skills.

Children need to see adults modeling these skills, but also need the opportunity for direct teaching of these skills.

  • Describe the skill.
  • Demonstrate the skill the "right way" with an adult.
  • Demonstrate the "wrong way" with an adult.
  • Have a child practice the skill with an adult.
  • Have a child practice the skill with another child.
  • Provide positive feedback and support for the children attempting and successfully using the skill.



"Stay-Play-Talk" is a peer-mediated intervention using peer buddies to support a targeted child who has social delays. It encourages a child to help another child learn to stay and attend to an activity, play with a child engaged in similar activities, and talk with the child during play. When children don't have these skills it can greatly affect their ability to learn in a preschool environment.

A child with strengths in these skills can often be a very motivating teacher to another child. After all, having friends is a great reinforcer!

This four step process includes:

  • Identify a target child and collect baseline data.
  • Select peer buddies.
  • Train the participating children.
  • Implement Stay-Play-Talk, collect progress monitoring data and make changes as needed.


The Backpack Connection Series

The Backpack Connection Series helps teachers and families work together to support social and emotional skills and reduce challenging behavior. These friendly, one-page handouts are simple to use and come in many languages. If you are going to share these with families, be sure your classroom is implementing the Practice at School strategies.

Backpack Connection Series: How to Teach Your Child to Take Turns

Backpack Connection Series: How to Help Your Child Learn to Share

Want to learn more ideas of how to use play to support Friendship Skills in the classroom? Read You've Got to Have Friends. This article will help you plan out specific strategies to enhance children's play skills using cooperative toys and intentional planning to support their use.