Evidence Based Games for Social Skills

If you go out to bars frequently, or you’re in a phase of your life where you’re attending a lot of weddings, you get to practice those social skills. When you don’t, you struggle. “What do I wear to a wedding? Ack!” is a sentiment I know that I yell every 5-10 years because we don’t attend that many weddings. And, after the 18 months we’ve all had, we all could use some social skills practice, right?

When a child has social skills goals on their IEP, they need interventions and strategies to meet that goal. While there are curricula out there, and direct instruction is often warranted, acquiring social skills does not have to be boring. There are plenty of games and activities that help kids improve their social skills.

two girls playing a game that will improve their social skills

Most kids are or have already played these games at some time in their lives. Play is so important to kids and it’s important that we adults maintain it as a priority for them.

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Play is not just play. It’s a chance to read faces, read body language, experience how your words and actions affect others, take turns, practice patience, learn to follow rules and directions and so much more.

Football for Social Skills

Here are two gun and FREE games that kids can play.

Football Bingo– Use these free printable bingo cards for kids. Perfect for matching and for kids who struggle to read or use numbers. The pictures and colors make it accessible to more children.

football bingo cards on a table
Click Image to get your free Football Bingo cards.

Fantasy Football– There are many websites that offer a platform to play Fantasy Football. This can be a great way to teach teamwork and a multitude of executive functioning skills.

Games that Practice Social Skills

Many of these games and activities are great for kids with autism and other disabilities. They practice social skills, executive functions and much more.

  1. Alphabet Game– I actually do this one when I’m trying to sleep (and I swear, it works!). But, have the kids sit in a circle. Pick a category, and go around the circle with the alphabet. If the category is fruit–first child might say apple, then banana, then cantaloupe and so on. Also helps with language skills.
  2. Name Game-Kids throw a ball to each other and they have to say the child’s name as they are throwing. Helps with names, working memory. Have a rule that you have to throw to someone who hasn’t received it, to avoid exclusion.
  3. Color Game-Same as above, but you pick a color. If blue is the color, you have to throw to someone wearing something blue, and yell out what it is.
  4. Tell a Story-Someone starts a story. Each person in the circle has to add a sentence to the story.
  5. Simon Says-Everyone knows this one, and is great for imitation which is a beginning social skill.
  6. Pretend– This is less formal, unstructured play. Using whatever you have, play “house” or “school” and have the kids take on different roles.
  7. Building Together-Using blocks, LEGO or something similar, the kids must work together on their creation.
  8. Sports-Basic teeball and kickball, all the way up to organized sports. They teach many valuable skills to kids. There are Challenger and other sports leagues just for disabled kids.
  9. Discussion or Debate-Adjust to the age group. Younger kids can discuss “which is better, vanilla or chocolate” and older kids can discuss more. Teaches that we all have valuable opinions.
  10. Facetime– Using ipads or other school devices, have kids facetime each other. Make different facial expressions and try to guess the emotion.
  11. What happens next?– One child tells a story, but stops midway through and asks “and what happened next?” Problem solving, decision making…lots of insight to be had as the kids discuss the options.
  12. Make Music– Use school instruments, or just clapping, snapping and stomping. But make music together, showing how we can work together to achieve something.
  13. Favorite Character– Each child tells us who their favorite character is (TV, superhero, etc). The other kids list the traits of that character, trying to guess why it’s a favorite.
  14. Treasure Hunt– Requires some planning, but create a treasure hunt for kids to follow and one where they have to work together. You can find many options on TeachersPayTeachers.
  15. Charades– A great way to practice reading body language!
  16. Checkers in Groups– Two teams, each person gets a turn then it’s their teammates’ turn. Group effort and turn taking!
  17. Pets in the Classroom– A great way to learn about caring about another creature (and that link will show you how to get one for free!).
  18. Tag– The classic, but add variations such as the “it” links hands with the others they tag as “it” so that you have a giant blob of kids running around together.
  19. Red Light Green Light– Add music to make it more fun. And those who are caught help catch the others.
  20. Hot Lava– Can be in classroom or outside, and create rules that encourage helping each other.
  21. Pictionary– Can be just as fun as charades, but also works on fine motor.
  22. Common Thread– Divide kids into groups, and then set a time limit. The group must find out what common things they all have (love pizza, hate broccoli, etc.) and see which group can come up with the most common items.
  23. Line Up-Kids must line up using whatever criteria you give them–height, birthday, etc.
  24. Jackpot– Jackpot was a huge favorite at my son’s elementary school.
  25. Free Play (sort of)- Set some ground rules so no one gets left out, but let the kids develop a game or activity on their own. What they come up with on their own usually is a great mix of social skills!

Our kids spend over 1000 hours a year at school. And for our IEP kids, much of that time can be difficult, a struggle, and just plain no fun.

Our IEP teams should be doing as much as we can to make learning fun for all kids. And, most of the activities to improve social skills that I’ve listed above can be done at home too.

Note: Not all of these are evidence based, but most are.

More Social Skills

More Social Abilities Information

  1. 25 Games to Help Teens Learn and Develop Social Skills
  2. 78 Social Skills IEP Goals for all Ages, including Autism and High School
  3. 5 (free!) Evidence-Based Games and Activities to Learn Social Skills
  4. What are Social Awareness Skills? | Definition | Examples | EQ
  5. What is Social Emotional Learning? A Guide for Parents
  6. The Impact of Socialization in the Digital Age (video): FaceTime vs. In-Person Interaction with Dr. Stephanie Fields
  7. 10 Free Apps for Emotion Regulation and Social Interactions
  8. How and Why to Build Social Capital for your Disabled Child.
  9. Social Emotional Learning Activities | Middle School | High School

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