Teaching Students How to Make Friends

At the beginning of the year, it is essential to teach routines/procedures, but it's also important to start to build your classroom community. Here are a few read alouds and activities that I used to help students start to make those lasting friendships with their peers. This post does contain affiliate links.

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister is one of those classic books that many early childhood teachers read the first few weeks of school. It is a great story of a beautiful fish who has sparkly scales that all the other fish admire. At the beginning of the story, the Rainbow Fish loses many friends due to his selfishness. After learning a lesson about friendship, he starts to share his scales and notices how much happier he becomes when he shares, and in turn, he makes friends again. 
After reading this book, we make our own rainbow fish using tissue paper. Each student also receives a shiny scale (piece of foil), which they get so excited about!! Here's a bulletin board I made one year with our Rainbow Fish craft. You can get a FREE fish template from  Meaningful Mamma
It's Okay to be Different by Todd Parr is a great way to introduce the fact that we are all different. Some of our friends may wear glasses, be a different skin color, a different height, in a wheelchair, etc. This book helps students see that no matter who we are, we deserve to be treated the same. 
Hunter's Best Friend at School by Laura Malone Elliott is a great book to teach about friendship and peer pressure. Hunter and Stripe like to do everything the same. One day Stripe starts causing mischief, but how does Hunter react? I like that this book teaches students about still being their own self, even when they have a best friend. It's also a great lesson when talking about behavior and to not always do what your friend tells you to do, but to always make a good choice.  
I used my Building a Classroom Community bundle at the beginning of the year to talk about friendship, positive behavior choices, getting to know you activities, etc. I don't like to tell me kids they are "bad", so if they don't do the right thing, I like to say they made a "poor choice". As a whole group, we sorted these cards into the 2 categories and discussed each card as to why it is a good/poor choice. We also discussed what to do if someone made a poor choice. 
When I noticed someone being an awesome friend, I gave them one of these cards to take home. I would call them up in front of everyone at the end of class, and make a big deal of them being a fabulous friend. They were so proud to show this to their parents!
Lastly, give students time to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere, not always structured lessons. Students need time to get to know each other and build those relationships. I was fortunate to have 20 minutes of "free play" at the end of every day for students to work on social skills and use their imagination through play. I would play games with my students during this time and observe how they interact with each other. It's another way to model team building skills and provides an opportunity for you to get to know your students better as well. Sometimes we have too much pressure to fit in all the academics, that we lose that valuable time of just getting to know our students.
I refer to my students as "friends" instead of students, kids, class, etc. By getting down on their level and having fun with them each day, it shows them that I do want to see what they are interested in and be their friend.