The Social Engagement in the Twos

By Rinna Sanchez-Baluyut, Head Teacher 

Carter pulled up a chair, sat down, and vertically propped a long rectangular hollow block in front of her and then announced that she was driving a bus. 

I asked if I could ride the bus and Carter answered, “Sure. Here’s your seat.” She picked up a hollow block and placed it flat on the floor for me to sit on. Other children wanted to ride the bus, so Carter got more hollow blocks for them to sit on. When all the passengers were finally seated, I asked where the bus was going. “We’re going to the zoo!” she said. 

Carter drove for a few moments and then announced, “Everyone out, we’re here!” All the passengers got off the bus and walked around the patio area. I asked if they saw any animals in the zoo. “I see a pig!” said Olivia. “I see a cow!” said Will. 

Carter then called out, “Everyone get in the bus! We’re leaving.” All the passengers got on the bus. I asked where they were headed next. “We’re going to the park!” said Carter. Soon, she announced that we had arrived; all the passengers got off the bus again, pretending to swing on swings and go down the slide until Carter called out, “Everyone get in the bus! We’re leaving!” 

Dramatic play episodes like these started to unfold in our Monday/Wednesday/Friday AM and Tuesday/Thursday PM Twos classes in the spring quarter. Social engagement among children started to increase as they became more comfortable in our classroom and more familiar with their peers. Children had to stay home due to shelter-in-place for several months, unable to go to the parks or plan any play dates with their friends. It was, therefore, quite fascinating to witness how the children who had limited play interactions with their peers prior to attending school eventually became highly interested in engaging with other children in our classroom. We saw a growing interest in the children’s desire to be together in play. They would often gravitate together to areas in the classroom and begin playing next to each other. Initially, the children would play in parallel—playing near one another with the same materials or engaging in the same activity but with little direct interaction. Children gradually became curious about their peers and sought out each other in the same area. 

In the spring quarter, we saw many scenes of group play like the bus ride described above. The children were able to respond to prompts from teachers, understand the theme, extend the play and collectively join the pretend scenario. For example, Max pretended to fall down in the sand area and looked to see if anyone noticed. Teacher Quan Ho saw the child’s attempt to engage with other children and announced, “Oh no! Max, are you hurt? Uh-oh, you need a doctor. Is there a doctor who can help?” Coco, who was playing nearby, overheard teacher Quan’s plea and answered, “I’m a doctor. I can help!” Coco went over to the sand area and helped Max get up. The teacher’s prompt clearly gave children an opportunity to make a social connection, promote role-play situations, and foster care and empathy. After this play scenario occurred, children began enacting similar play schemes, helping each other in various play situations and areas. Starting with a few children, the numbers grew, and eventually more than half the class started helping each other collectively. It became natural to see children pretending to fall and see other children helping them get up.

As children became more experienced in these play scripts, they needed less support from teachers to initiate and sustain similar play schemes. For instance, Atlas and Max were sitting on two long blocks and driving with the attached steering wheels. Atlas announced that he was driving a motorcycle while Max announced that he was driving a truck. Atlas then pretended to fall down by tilting his long block down on its side and shouting, “Help! I fell down!” Max got a flat board from the hollow block area and called out that he had a forklift and pretended to lift the steering wheel. The increase in dramatic play has given children many opportunities to practice playing within a theme, assuming different roles, and finding creative ways to help each other, this time by using a tool—a flat board—and lifting the steering wheel to rescue the motorcycle.

The children’s growing interest in pretend play also gave them many opportunities to practice prosocial skills. They had to learn how to take turns, share materials, self-regulate, talk to each other, problem-solve together and take the perspective of others. The motivation to interact with one another was evident, which later assisted them in building caring relationships and enabled them to empathize with the other person. For instance, while pouring water in the sand area, Aya accidentally splashed water and got Mila wet. Aya tried to help Mila change, eagerly seeking to get Mila’s backpack and asking which set of clothes Mila would like to wear. As consideration of others began to develop, it became quite common to see children showing affection toward each other. The physical connection seemed to be a way to assure the children that they were there to support and take care of each other, and that they were friends. As children socially engaged in the classroom, the community became more caring and loving, which created a culture of kindness in the classroom.

The social engagement witnessed in our Twos classes was especially significant since this school year was a pandemic year. It was quite remarkable to see how they grew in playing socially with each other. And though wearing facial masks while at play made reading full facial expressions and social cues challenging, the children found multiple ways to communicate, socially interact and make those connections. For instance, following and staying proximally close to their peers gave some insight to the other children that they were willing to engage in play. Showing physical affection, such as holding hands, was one way to reassure each other that they were friends. This pandemic year illustrated the importance of play in children’s lives and that it is essential for them to play with each other. As Bing Director Jennifer Winters wrote in last year’s Bing Times, “Although much has changed this pandemic year, the need for young children to play has not.” We look back on this year with gratitude in our hearts as children took great pleasure in playing and caring for each other.