Learning how to act and interact in a group is one of the most important tasks of early childhood. In fact, one of the major purposes of preschool is to help children figure out how to exist as part of a large social group. When we try to stay present with our children, spending time helping them navigate social situations at home, at the playground, at Strong Start, and everywhere else, we are equipping them with the understanding and skills they need to become kind, friendly, and successful participants in society. We are helping our children learn how to be a good friend, and how to elicit friendship in others.
One of the most satisfying moments for myself and other parents is watching as your child makes their first friendship, and gains a deeper understanding of what friendship means. Having a friend to lean on in times of trouble, and to share joyful moments with, is indeed an important part of life. It really does make quite a difference in your life journey to have the support of friends. By encouraging healthy friendships in these early years, we are setting our children up for a lifetime of positive relationships.
In addition to trying to find that balance between letting children explore independently and being present to guide them through new and difficult social situations, there is another way to help children learn about friendship. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again – books are an amazing early learning tool!
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I like to use it as an opportunity to talk about friendship as a form of love in my preschool classes, and at home. Here are some my favourite books that I have found and use to support early learning about friendship.
10 Books That Teach Kids How To Be A Good Friend
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I put this one first because it is my absolute favourite book for getting children thinking about why and how to initiate play with a peer. There are very few words in this book, but the ones that they do use pack a serious punch of a message.
When I read this in a preschool class at circle with a group of children, I dismiss them one by one from the circle by inviting the children to say “Yo?” to another child at the circle as an invitation to play. The child they choose to say “Yo?” to has the responsibility of saying “Yes!”, and leaving the circle together. I usually find that the children who have left together enter immediately into an activity together. Such a lovely way of setting up interactions!
This is adorable, easy read, that’s made better if read with different voices for Piggy and Bunny. (Tip: Interesting voices for characters in books always makes for a more engaging story.) This is another book I should really invest in as part of our at-home collection.
In the story, Piggy and Bunny express what they admire about the other, and wish that they were just like them. As they go on, they add accessories and otherwise change their appearances to try to be more like the other, but realize at the end that they like each other best when they are their true versions of themselves. The book ends with “I am me, and you are you. That’s why we love each other, me and you.”
P.S. This is also a fantastic book for talking about difference with young children.
Another adorable story about friendship by Genevieve Cote. In this book, Piggy and Bunny let their differences get in the way of being together, deciding that they can do what they want to do without the other one around. Of course, by the end of the short and sweet tale, Piggy and Bunny are reunited with the realization that life is sweeter when you have a special someone to share it with – even through your differences.
This fun story explains how friends shape who we are. It revolves around the characters of a rectangle, triangle, circle, and square. The book explains why we want to have friends, how they make us feel, and what friends do – basically a great guidebook for learning how to be a good friend.
I was tickled to find this interesting kids book about friendship, which I shared with my preschool class recently. In this book, stick and stone are on their own, then find themselves at a playground where Stone is being picked on by Pinecone. Stick stands up for stone, and their friendship begins. When times get rough, stone returns the favour and helps stick out of a bind. The main thread of this story is that life is better with friends to enjoy it with, and to help us in times of trouble.
This is one of those stories that you pick up, not knowing exactly how perfectly it fits with a topic you didn’t expect it to. When I read this at home to my 3-year-old, who is very interested in exploring “fears” right now, I was delighted at the way it fit into our current investigation of friendship.
In this board book, Bear goes out into the forest, but loses his way and doesn’t make it back before dark sets in and a storm starts to howl. Bear is scared out there on his own. What he doesn’t know is that his friends are worried about him not being home yet, and have set out to find him and bring him back to where he feels safe.
I use this story as a beautiful example of how friends look out for each other, and help to keep each other safe.
This is another new find that my daughter has asked me to read over and over again. The “spooky part” is extremely interesting to her, and I’ve enjoyed listening to her play out this story, recounting that friends help each other to not be afraid.
The essence of the story is that mole ventures out of his hole, is afraid of the light and can’t find his way home. In the dark night, he meets a wolf pup who is afraid of the dark, and together they pass the night together, making each other feel safe. In the morning, the wolf pup helps the mole find his hole, and a lasting friendship has formed.
Eric Carle, a staple in childhood literature, presents us with this story of friendship. This is a repetitive story, in which different animals are asked where they are going, to which they reply “To see my friend”. When asked what their friend is like, they offer different strengths their friends have (ie. “My friend is a good singer”), and when asked if the curious animal may join them, they are told to “Come along! My friend is your friend.”
I have heard my daughter use that last phrase – “Come along! My friend is your friend!” – many times since reading this with her, and I like that she has such a positive phrase to use to invite others to join in on friendship. I believe this story is useful in helping children understand that friends are not possessions to be kept safe and not shared, but rather that friendship is something to offer to many people – not just one! This can be a very valuable lesson in preschool, where children are beginning to form friendships and might feel hesitancy to let anyone else share the attentions of their friend.
Another awesome book in the Llama llama series! If you haven’t read any of these gems by Anna Dewdney yet, I encourage you to check them out.
Since this story heavily illustrates unfriendly and negative behaviour in the first half, I would use caution in breaking out this book with little ones. As wonderful as books are for helping discuss concepts, they can also add to problem behaviour if the child being read to decides to engage in the negative behaviours in the book. For this reason, I probably wouldn’t share this book with a toddler, but wait until they are more able to see the consequences that come from such behaviour, and focus instead on the positive message.
In this book, there is a “Bully Goat” at his school, who does all kinds of disruptive and unfriendly things. Llama llama and a friend finally stand up for themselves and others by telling the goat to “Stop it, or we’ll go away.” Simple strategies for dealing with bullying are offered, and after a time out, the teacher invites the goat to try being a friend. Surprise, surprise, the day goes on much smoother and friendships are made.
P.S. Instead of time outs, early childhood experts actually encourage “time away” as a more beneficial solution to problem behaviour.
This picture book offers a very realistic look into the ups and down of early friendships, which may help children to better relate with the story and message.
Two girls who go to preschool together are introduced as best friends. They hug, sit together, play together, and do other things that friends do. When one of the girls has a birthday, she gets special treatment and the other feels left out, saying something mean. The girls argue and express their anger, then call off their friendship. After some time apart, an apology drawing is given to the birthday girl, and their friendship is renewed.
I have seen this exact situation many times in my preschool classes, and am glad to have this kids book available to gently share that friends don’t always agree, and when friendships seem to fall apart, we can do our part to rebuild our relationships.
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