Friendship, like sharing and learning how to use a fork, is a skill that kids need to learn.
In preschool, they’re discovering what a friend is. In middle school, friendships both deepen and become more challenging. Learning how to get along with others is an essential part of a child’s day-to-day life.
As with most things, the best way to teach kids is to make the lesson fun. A vast number of friendship games and activities for preschoolers and middle schoolers can be found online. These are some of our favorites.
As adults who know how difficult it can be to make friends, the ease with which preschoolers develop friendships is amazing. At this stage, friendship is more about proximity and interests: Who is around me and do they want to play the same thing I am playing? That’s all it takes to make a friend.
For example, preschoolers can go to the park for an hour and come home and tell you about the new best friend they made, but whose name they can’t remember.
Friendship activities for preschoolers are focused on the building blocks of relationships: knowing someone’s name, seeing that different people can have things in common, and learning that other people have different points of view.
1. The Good Friend List
This is a simple, straightforward activity in which children are asked to list what qualities make a good friend. For example, someone who shares toys, someone who doesn’t yell, etc.
2. The Matching Game
Every child gets a marble and has to find the other kids who have the same color marble. They then link arms and stay together until all groups are complete.
This is a fun way to get different kids together and to reinforce the idea that different people can have things in common. It’s also a good way for preschoolers to work on naming colors.
3. That’s Me!
One person stands in front of the group and shares a fact about themselves, like their favorite color or favorite animal. Everyone who also shares that favorite thing stands up and yells, “That’s me!”
Kids love this game because it’s interactive. They get to share their favorite things, there’s fun in not knowing what each child is going to say, and there’s yelling.
It’s a win all around.
4. Red Rover
This is a classic game that’s great for preschoolers to learn their classmates’ names when they ask to “send so-and-so over.” They’ll practice teamwork by holding hands and trying to stop the other person from breaking through. This also gives active preschoolers a reason to get up and move around.
5. The Compliment Game
This game can be done a number of different ways. Kids can sit in a circle and toss a beanbag to each other, or they can just name the next person to get a turn. Regardless, the point is for each child to get a chance to compliment another child in their class.
This teaches kids how to pay compliments, and how nice it is to receive them. It also helps a group of kids get to know each other and become closer.
In middle school, friendship becomes more complicated and more important. Between mean girls, peer pressure, and hormones, there’s a lot for kids to deal with at this stage.
Friends become more important, typically replacing family members as confidants. Kids develop some of their first deep, intimate friends. They also struggle to be accepted, and must learn how to deal with social hierarchies and cliques.
Friendship activities for middle schoolers tend to focus on teamwork and breaking down barriers between kids. They’re also a great way to work on how to handle peer pressure and how to treat other people.
1. Blindfolded Obstacle Game
Sometimes taking the talking out of an activity makes it easier for self-conscious middle schoolers to get involved.
For this activity, you put kids in small groups of three or four and blindfold one of them. The rest of the group must then guide that person through the obstacle course.
You can also blindfold the entire group. They’ll need to work together to figure out what the obstacle is and how to get through it.
2. In Common
This game is a great activity for breaking down barriers. Kids are put in small groups, ideally with a mix of kids they aren’t already friends with. That group then has to find seven (or whatever number you want) things that they all have in common.
Kids not only learn a lot about each other, but also find out that they have more in common with kids from different social groups than they thought.
3. Face Time
In Face Time, kids try to identify moods based on facial expressions. By either cutting faces out of magazines or using pictures printed out, groups need to identify what they think that person is feeling and put the faces into piles based on different emotions. The more subtle the expression, the more interesting the conversation.
This is another classic children’s game that teaches a great lesson about gossip. Children sit in a circle. The starting child picks a sentence or phrase to pass around the circle via whispers. The last child says the sentence out loud, and the whole group laughs about how much the wording may have changed.
Even the simplest piece of information can get garbled and confused as it passes from person to person. This reminds kids not to believe everything they hear, and to go to the source if they want the truth.
5. Friendship Chain
Each child is given a slip of construction paper. On their paper, they write what they think is the most important quality in a friend. Those slips then get taped together to form a chain, which can be hung in the classroom and referred to throughout the year.
Meredith Bland is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Brain, Mother, Time.com, The Rumpus, Scary Mommy, and many other publications.