Unit 5: Teaching Social & Recreational Skills

5.1 Role of social and recreational skills

5.2 Age-appropriate social and recreational skills

5.3 Social competences across life-span stages

5.4 Individual and group – social and recreational skills

5.5 Adapted physical education










5.1 Role of social and recreational skills

Social skills are the skills we use everyday to interact and communicate with others. They include verbal and non-verbal communication, such as speech, gesture, facial expression and body language. A person has strong social skills if they have the knowledge of how to behave in social situations and understand both written and implied rules when communicating with others. Children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) and Asperger’s have difficulties with social skills.

Social skills are vital in enabling an individual to have and maintain positive interactions with others. Many of these skills are crucial in making and sustaining friendships. Social interactions do not always run smoothly and an individual needs to be able to implement appropriate strategies, such as conflict resolution when difficulties in interactions arise. It is also important for individuals to have ’empathy’ (i.e. being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and recognise their feelings) as it allows them to respond in an understanding and caring way to how others are feeling.

Recreation consists of activities or experiences carried on within leisure, usually chosen voluntarily by the participant – either because of satisfaction, pleasure or creative enrichment derived, or because he perceives certain personal or social values to be gained from them. It may, also be perceived as the process of participation, or as the emotional state derived from involvement.

Various studies have shown the importance of recreations on one’s life specifically in three aspects- physical health, mental health and improving quality of life.


Social integration of children and adults with disabilities into community recreation programs offers the chance to develop a positive self-image through successful experiences and satisfying relationships with peers. McGill (1984) reports that integrated play opportunities are stimulating and highly motivating experiences for disabled children, offering them opportunities to imitate and model the play behavior of nondisabled peers. Social integration also enhances relationships between family members. We've all heard of the old adage, “The family that plays together stays together." This adage infers that leisure experiences promote family satisfaction and stability. Recreation activities provide opportunities for couples and families to interact and negotiate individual and collective interests. 

In fact, recreational activities in an educational set up will be academically more enriching for the student in many ways:

Overall it can be said that, recreational activities help in overall development of a student’s physically, mentally, and emotionally. It not only helps to gather knowledge but to use it ethically to lead a healthy and better life. It teaches one to think with reason and live with a more practical approach to life. It also enhances ones all round development, thus helping to achieve success in ones endeavors.

5.2 Age-appropriate social and recreational skills

Determining the Stages of Social Development

In general, kids will have developed certain social skills and social cues by these ages:

2- to 3-year-olds: able to seek attention from others, initiate social contact with others both verbally (saying "Hi" and "Bye") and physically, look at a person who's talking, have the ability to take turns talking, and laugh at silly objects and events.

3- to 4-year-olds: are able to take turns when playing games, treat a doll or stuffed animal as though it's alive, and initiate verbal communication with actual words.

4- to 5-year-olds: are able to show more cooperation with children, use direct requests (like "Stop"), are more prone to tattling, and pretend to be Mom or Dad in fantasy play.

5- to 6-year-olds: are able to please their friends, say "I'm sorry," "Please," and "Thank you," understand bad words and potty language, are more strategic in bargaining, play competitive games, and understand fair play and good sportsmanship.

6- to 7-year-olds: are able to empathize with others (like crying at sad things), are prone to sharing, use posture and gestures, wait for turns and are better losers and less likely to place blame, joke more and listen to others tell their points of view, and maintain and shift/end topics appropriately. At this age, however, they still can't understand the clear difference between right and wrong, and may not take direction well.

To enhance your child's social development further, Lawrence Balter, Ph.D., child psychologist and parenting expert, suggests the four strategies below.

Teach empathy: Run through different scenarios by asking your child how other people might feel when certain things happen, and substitute different situations each time.

Explain personal space: Tell your child that it's important for everyone to have some personal space to feel comfortable, and practice acceptable ways to interact with someone during playtime.

Practice social overtures: Teach kids the proper way to start a conversation, get someone's attention, or join a group of kids who are already playing together. These are all situations that can be discussed and brainstormed at the dinner table, or in the car on the way to school or activities.

Go over taking turns: Sit with your child for at least an hour a day and play with him to explain what it means to wait, take turns, and share.


5.3 Social competences across life-span stages

Social competence is the condition of possessing the social, emotional, and intellectual skills and behaviors needed to succeed as a member of society.

Social competence refers to the social, emotional, and cognitive skills and behaviors that children need for successful social adaptation. Despite this simple definition, social competence is an elusive concept, because the skills and behaviors required for healthy social development vary with the age of the child and with the demands of particular situations. A socially competent preschool child behaves differently from a socially competent adolescent. Conversely, the same behaviors (e.g., aggression, shyness ) have different implications for social adaptation depending on the age of the child and the particulars of the social context.

A child's social competence depends upon a number of factors including the child's social skills, social awareness, and self-confidence. The term social skills describes the child's knowledge of and ability to use a variety of social behaviors that are appropriate to a given interpersonal situation and that are pleasing to others in each situation. The capacity to inhibit egocentric, impulsive, or negative social behavior is also a reflection of a child's social skills. The term emotional intelligence refers to the child's ability to understand the emotions of others, perceive subtle social cues, "read" complex social situations, and demonstrate insight about others' motivations and goals. Children who have a wide repertoire of social skills and who are socially aware and perceptive are likely to be socially competent.

Social competence is the broader term used to describe a child's social effectiveness. It defines a child's ability to establish and maintain high quality and mutually satisfying relationships and to avoid negative treatment or victimization from others. In addition to social skills and emotional intelligence, factors such as the child's self-confidence or social anxiety can affect his or her social competence. Social competence can also be affected by the social context and the extent to which there is a good match between the child's skills, interests, and abilities and those of peers. For example, a quiet and studious boy may appear socially incompetent in a peer group full of raucous athletes but may do fine socially if a more complementary peer group can be found for him, such as children who share his interests in quiet games or computers.

Behavioral indicators of social competence at different periods of development.

Developmental changes and social competence

The key markers of social competence listed in the previous section are consistent across the developmental periods of the preschool years, middle childhood, and adolescence. Across these developmental periods, prosocial skills (friendly, cooperative, helpful behaviors) and self-control skills (anger management, negotiation skills, problem-solving skills) are key facets of social competence. In addition, however, developmental changes occur in the structure and quality of peer interactions that affect the complexity of skills contributing to social competence. That is, as children grow, their preferences for play change, and the thinking skills and language skills that provide a foundation for social competence also change. Hence, the kinds of interactions that children have with peers change qualitatively and quantitatively with development.


During the preschool years, social competence involves the ability to separate from parents and engage with peers in shared play activities, particularly fantasy play. As preschool children are just learning to coordinate their social behavior, their interactions are often short and marked by frequent squabbles, and friendships are less stable than at later developmental stages. In addition, physical rough-and-tumble play is common, particularly among boys. During the preschool and early grade school years, children are primarily focused on group acceptance and having companions with whom they can play.

School age

By grade school, children begin to develop an interest in sports, structured board games, and group games with complex sets of rules. Being able to understand and follow game rules and being able to handle competition in appropriate ways (e.g., being a good sport) become important skills for social competence. Children play primarily in same-sex groups of friends and expect more stability in their friendships. Loyalty and dependability become important qualities of good friends.

During the middle to late grade school years, children begin to distinguish "regular" friends from "best" friends. The establishment of close, best friendships is an important developmental milestone. That is, in addition to gaining acceptance from a group of peers, one of the hallmarks of social competence is the ability to form and maintain satisfying close friendships.

During the preadolescent and early adolescent years, communication (including sending notes, calling on the phone, and "hanging out") becomes a major focus for peer interactions. Increasingly, social competence involves the willingness and ability to share thoughts and feelings with one another, especially for girls. When adolescent friends squabble, their conflicts typically center on issues such as gossiping, disclosing secrets, or loyalty and perceived betrayal. It is at this stage that friends and romantic partners consistently rival parents as the primary sources of intimacy and social support.

Many of the positive characteristics that promote popularity (such as cooperativeness, friendliness, and consideration for others) also assist children in developing and maintaining friendships. Friendships emerge when children share similar activities and interests and, in addition, when they develop a positive and mutual bond between them. Group acceptance and close friendships follow different timetables and serve different developmental functions, with the need for group acceptance emerging during the early grade school years and filling a need for belonging and the need for close friends emerging in preadolescence to meet newfound needs for affection, alliance, and intimacy outside the family. Key features of close friendships are reciprocity and similarity, mutual intimacy, and social support.

5.4 Individual and group – social and recreational skills

Like culture and art, recreation, leisure and sports activities play an important role in communities. Their many benefits include improving the health and well-being of individuals, contributing to the empowerment of individuals, and promoting the development of inclusive communities. Recreation, leisure and sports activities may involve individuals, small groups, teams or whole communities and are relevant to people of all different ages, abilities and levels of skill. The types of recreation, leisure and sports activities people participate in vary greatly depending on local context, and tend to reflect the social systems and cultural values.

Recreation, leisure and sports in the community

In many low-income countries where people work every day just to survive, the concept of leisure time is not always well understood and nor is it a priority. Indeed, many activities that are considered recreational in high-income countries are considered a means of livelihood in low-income countries, e.g. fishing and handicrafts.

In most communities the type of recreational and sporting activities people participate in are determined by age, gender, local context (e.g. rural vs. urban) and socioeconomic status. For example, children in poor communities are likely to play games using natural materials, such as sticks or stones or using discarded manufactured items like tyres and rope. Leisure time is also likely to be based around cultural activities, such as traditional dance, storytelling, religious festivals and events, and visiting entertainment troupes.

In many poor and rural communities there are no designated places for people to spend their leisure time, such as community centres and sports stadiums, so it is common for people to gather in places of worship, tea shops, houses and open spaces.

Communities in low-income countries often have pressing priorities and limited budgets. As a result the development of formal recreation and sports activities/programmes is usually dependent on donors. It is important that external funding is carefully managed to ensure that the programmes/activities introduced are appropriate to the local context.

The benefits of participation

Participation in recreation and sports activities can have many benefits for both the individual and community. These include:

5.5 Adapted physical education

Physical education is an integral part of our school education system. Research has also proven that physical education is necessary to develop motor skills and aid in a wellrounded development of a student. Physical education in schools gives students a chance to learn to work as a team, develop interpersonal relations and it also helps them release any kind of stress that they may be holding on to.

For differently-abled students (mental/physical), participating in a regular PE class along with other students may become a challenge altogether. That is when the idea of adapted physical education comes into play. Adapted physical education (APE) is the art and science of developing, implementing, and monitoring a carefully designed physical education instructional program for a learner with a disability, based on a comprehensive assessment, to give the learner the skills necessary for a lifetime of rich leisure, recreation, and sport experiences to enhance physical fitness and wellness.


Adaptive Physical Education (APE) is an adapted, or modified, physical education program designed to meet the individualized gross motor needs, or other disability-related challenges, of an identified student. The program can be provided one-on-one, in a small group, or within the general physical education setting. The APE instructor needs to be trained in assessing and working with special needs children. Lesson plans, rubrics, and worksheets need to be adapted for the needs of the children.

Adaptations or modifications can be made in four areas:

1. Instruction. Rules, lesson plans, strategies, etc. can be modified or included to help the child be successful in physical education. For example, a down's syndrome child may respond to one word signs as reminders for doing a summersault correctly.

2. Rules. A rule can be adapted or changed if it allows the special needs child to be successful. For example, if the students are working on volley ball skills, a wheelchair bound student is allowed to serve the volley ball from four feet ahead of the serving line.

3. Equipment. Standard gym equipment can be replaced with other objects that vary in shape, color, size, etc. For example, when playing kickball, provide a large bright orange ball for a visually impaired child to kick.

4. Environment. If need be, change the size of the playing area or use tape to define the area. For example, if the general education students are pitching softballs back and forth, work with a severely mentally handicapped child on rolling a ball back and forth by starting out being two feet apart and gradually increasing the space.

For some special needs students, Adaptive Physical Education may be needed every school year. For other students, as they continue to make gains with their gross motor skills, APE services might be tapered back and at some point no longer needed. APE students need to be encouraged to do their best. Programs, such as the Special Olympics, have provided a wonderful and positive opportunity for APE students to experience competing just like their non-disabled peers.