Top Playground Fail

"Can I Play with You?" is one of the top social faux pas on the playground. Right alongside hijacking and dominating the play group.

As adults, we may prompt children to join ongoing play by asking, “Can I play with you?” but this is not how children naturally join their peers. Children comment on the ongoing play and then just straight up join in the play activity. If our goal is for children to play and have the same skills as all the other children, then we need to teach them to interact like the other children do. We do not want to unintentionally set a child up for failure when it comes to playing with their peers. Prompting a child to say "Can I play with you?" is like an adult approaching a group and saying "Can I talk with you guys? What are we talking about?" Saying this makes an obvious awkwardness and disintegrates the formerly ongoing conversation. The 3-Stage Model of Social Competence explains how children enter a playgroup. The three stages of entering play are 1) Surveillance 2) Entry and 3) Maintenance.
  1. Surveillance
    1. A child observes the play behaviors of peers.
    2. Allie stands near her peers and listens to their conversation. They are talking about dinosaurs. Allie loves dinosaurs and continues to listen.
  2. Entry
    1. A child determines how he/she is going to enter the ongoing play.
    2. After listening briefly to her peer’s conversation, Allie thinks up a comment on her peers’ ongoing play. A comment she could use is, “Hey! That’s my favorite dinosaur, too!”
  3. Maintenance
    1. The child keeps playing with the group.
    2. After entering the ongoing play, Allie keeps playing by continuing to make comments and showing interest in what her peers are doing and saying.

Teach the social strategies that your child's peers use to set your child up for success. Click To Tweet


Brown, P., Remine, M., Prescott, S. & Rickards, F. (2000). Social interactions of preschoolers with and without impaired hearing in integrated kindergarten. Journal of Early Intervention, 23: 3, 200-211. Image Courtesty of People image created by Pressfoto -

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