Group work might seem like little more than play, but play is critically important in the kindergarten classroom. According to child psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek in her book "Einstein Never Used Flashcards," children who learn in a fun, group-based setting are more likely to develop into independent learners. Mastering working in a group can help children understand basic kindergarten concepts in addition to teaching them skills that will improve their achievement in later grades.
Group projects can help children develop better self-control, because children have to react to the feedback they get from their peers, not just from teachers. According to neurologists Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang in their book "Welcome to Your Child's Brain," impulse control skills are more strongly correlated with good grades than any other early childhood trait. Teachers can further encourage the development of self-control in groups by assigning specific roles to each group member and ensuring that students take turns.
Group work teaches children basic social skills such as compromise, communication and empathy. For children who don't attend school prior to kindergarten, many of these skills are new and require some practice to master. A 2006 study by researchers at Stanford University found that children with strong social skills in kindergarten are more likely to be strong readers by the time they get to third grade.
Learning in Context
Group work gives children an opportunity to learn in a new context, and this approach can work well for students who have trouble learning by listening or reading. Group work can help students with different learning styles master new material. It also provides an opportunity for children to teach one another. The textbook "Child Psychology," for example, points out that group work can benefit struggling learners because it enables them to think about information in different ways and see how ithe information is relevant to real life.
When teachers break students up into smaller groups to work together, students may actually get more attention. Teachers who teach to the whole class might not notice a single struggling student and have to focus on classroom management rather than individualized attention. But according to the National Association of School Psychologists, group work allows teachers to work with struggling learners, to assign children to groups that best match their skill level and to develop a more individualized curriculum.
- Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning: Children's Needs III: Social and Emotional Learning
- Stanford News Service: Academic Performance and Social Behavior in Elementary School Are Connected, New Study Shows
- National Association of School Psychologists: Social Skills: Promoting Positive Behavior, Academic Success, and School Safety
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.