Abhipsa Parida
11 min readOct 4, 2022

“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” -Diane Ackerman

Play is the vehicle for learning, especially in early development, but actually throughout our lives.

Here, we will be talking specifically about the significance of “Playing in groups” especially in the light of developing social skills in children.

What are Social skills?

Social skills are the rules, customs, and abilities that guide our interactions with other people and the world around us. Social skills are an essential part of the human society that we need to have in order to live a life of joy with ease.

In general, people tend to “pick up” social skills in the same way they learn language skills: naturally and easily. Over time they build a social “map” of how to in act in situations and with others.

However, for children with special needs, especially on the Autism Spectrum, developing social skills can be difficult. They often have a hard time interacting with their peers, making friends, communicating their needs & feelings, understanding the gestures & non verbal cues, & understanding social rules. Although these children do want to make friends & they do want to interact with us effectively, it’s difficult for them to make that connection.

Now, let’s see why.

Why is Socialization difficult for children with ASD?

Autism comes under a spectrum, which means each child is very different from another child. Each child is affected differently & the way one child interprets any particular sensation/stimulation might be very different from one another.

Yet, socialization with other people might be very difficult for most of the children with ASD.

According to the DSM 5 Autism Diagnostic criteria,

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):

  1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
  2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
  3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

Summarising the above, we can conclude that, since these children perceive their environment differently, & the way they try to communicate is different, they have a hard time connecting with others in a meaningful or effective way…

Now, let’s take a look at the “other side” of these beautiful children. Having worked with children with special needs since the last 6 years, I haven’t met anyone more awesome, more gifted, more loving, more sensitive, more focused(in the areas of their interest) than these beautiful children.

“Just like a plant needs sunlight, water, soil & fertilizers to grow, a child needs a supportive, encouraging & loving environment where he/she is accepted & loved to grow.”

On the other hand, if a child is not accepted for who he is, or treated differently, or criticized often, reminded a hundred times in a day about “what he cannot do” especially in his early developmental years, he/she will loose confidence & interest easily. I will share a story that happened recently that illustrates the message above.

Leo, a student on the Autism Spectrum studies in Std-1. His exams were going on. It was a rhymes singing exam. Now it was Leo’s turn to go to the front of the class & sing the rhyme. He was feeling scared & was hesitant to go. He sat on his desk looking anxious. The environment was overwhelming to him. When the teacher called his name again, he was not willing to go. He just sat on his desk & started rocking as he was feeling anxious. The teacher came to him, smiled & said calmly, “You can do it. You have practiced well. You can do it.” Just then, one of his friends said “Go Leo go”. Then, all of his friends started encouraging him by clapping & saying- “Go Leo!”. This brought a big smile to Leo’s face. He was feeling relaxed & confident now. He got up, went to the front of the class & sang the whole rhyme confidently.

The whole class cheered for him!

In this story, the support & encouragement that Leo got from his teachers & friends gave him the courage to perform in front of the class confidently with ease…

For Leo, singing a whole rhyme was difficult. Remembering & verbalising the words of the whole song while making the action movements simultaneously was a difficult task. On top of that, performing that activity infront of the whole class where he receives a bombardment of various sensory information was not easy.

Still, he could participate & even complete an activity which was not so easy for him due to his supportive teacher & friends! Isn’t it amazing ?

More importantly, due to this supportive environment, Leo is very much interested to go to school everyday, to play with his friends, to have fun with his friends, to interact & socialize with them.

“When someone gets love & encouragement more than criticism, they can do things easily way beyond their visible abilities…”

Why am I sharing this story in this context ?

Because, during my work period, many a times, I have heard this complaint, “my child doesn’t want to socialize” or “my child doesn’t interact with his peers.” So, next time, you think your child is not interacting with his friends, asking yourself the following questions might help you to find out the reason & help out your child.

  • “Is this environment supportive & encouraging for my child?”
  • “Is he having Fun here?”
  • “Can he/she connect easily with these children/people?”
  • “Is this environment overwhelming for my child?”
  • “Is he encouraged for his efforts mostly or criticized?”
  • “Are these activities fun & easy for my child to participate in or difficult?”

For children, they learn to socialize, to communicate through play. That’s because play is fun & children are intrinsically motivated to participate in play. Play is ESSENTIAL TO LEARNING any skill for children. Thus, play involving a group of kids where they enjoy participating in games is the best way to develop socialization skills in children.

There are numerous benefits of playing group games for children. Group play helps to develop a multitude of skills in children.

Benefits of Group games-

  • Enhances development of communication skills
  • Encourages making friendship
  • Teaches social skills like cooperation, sharing, waiting for turn, compassion, etc.
  • Encourages working together with others
  • Enhances learning about friendship, enjoying working together, respecting the opinions of themselves as well as others,
  • Develops problem solving skills, leadership skills, imagination skills,
  • Helps in developing self-confidence.

I will be listing a few easy group games that help children to develop their socialization skills alongwith a number of other skills.


Easy Socializing Games

Ringa Ringa Roses-

This is a game most toddlers enjoy playing.

Number of Participants — 3 or more

Equipment Required — None

How to play -

  • All children hold hands, travel around in a circle, in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, while singing the popular nursery rhyme- Ringa ringa roses & sit down at the end of the song with the words- “we all fall down.”

Chook Chook Train-

Number of Participants — 3 or more

Equipment Required — None

How to play –

  • All the kids stand in a line. Each child stands at the back of a child holding his/her shoulders.
  • They all stand holding the shoulders of the child in their front. The child at the front is the “Train Driver” who leads all of them.
  • You can mark different spots as “Train stops”, or “stations”. You can either use any object like a large stool, or chair or a box or the door as “Station”.
  • Make a path for their train- It can be a straight path or with turns.
  • When you say “start”, the kids all walk in a line holding each other’s shoulders with both hands making the “chook chook sound”.
  • When they arrive at a “Station”, they change positions & another child comes to the front. They take turns to change positions at each “station”.
  • Make sure they hold the shoulders with both hands while the train is moving/taking a turn.

Easy Get to know Another Games

Run Run Run & Touch

Number of Participants — 4 or more

Equipment Required — None

How to play –

  • All the kids stand in a line at a little distance from one another.
  • One child comes to the front.
  • Teacher commands- “Run run run & touch Ayush”. Then come back.
  • Again, teacher commands- “Run run run & touch Sai.” Then come back.
  • Take turns to call each child.

Variation for older children –

  • They can use different movements like- “Hop hop hop & touch”,

“Bear walk & touch”, “Bunny hop & touch” instead of run run run & touch”.

Pass the ball

Number of Participants — 4 or more

Equipment Required — A ball. ( A football or a gymball or a softball can be used)

How to play –

  • All the kids sit or stand in a line at a little distance from one another.
  • One child comes to the front.
  • Teacher commands- “Roll/throw the ball to Aadi”.
  • “Roll or throw the ball to Som”.
  • Take turns to call each child.

Variation for older children –

  • They can be in standing position at a distance from one another
  • The ball can be passed in one bounce, two bounce, etc.

Turn-Taking Games

Fixing puzzles turnwise

Number of Participants — 3 or more

Equipment Required –

  • Alphabet/Number puzzles

How to play –

  • All children sit in a circle.
  • You can use alphabet/number puzzles for this game. The puzzle board is placed at the center.
  • To start, I will fix “A”, next kid will fix “B”, next will fix “C”. Keep on fixing the letters sequentially taking turns till “Z”.

Pegboard game-

Number of Participants — 3 or more

Equipment Required –

  • Different colour pegs & a pegboard

How to play –

  • All children sit in a circle.
  • Each child has to pick up a particular colour peg & fix on the pegboard.
  • Then, the next kid picks up a peg & fixes it.
  • They continue fixing their colour pegs turn-wise, in a row.

Example- Aadi fixes blue colour pegs, Aarvi fixes Orange colour pegs, Khush fixes yellow colour pegs. Pegs of the same colour must be fixed in a row.

Team-Work Games

Hold hands & walk together-

Number of Participants — 2 or more

Equipment Required — Any puzzles

How to play –

  • Put some puzzles at one end & the board at the other end of the room.
  • All children hold hands. Each picks up a puzzle.
  • They all walk together holding hands & fix their puzzles turn wise.
  • Then come back holding hands. Repeat till all the puzzles are completed.

Variation for older children — Older children can “hold hands & jump together.” Or, “hold hands & kneel-walk together.” To complete the activity.

Pass the bead with spoon-

This is another interesting game kids enjoy playing.

Number of Participants — 3 or more

Equipment Required –

  • Round beads/marbles,
  • Spoons (1 for each kid),
  • A small bowl/container/bottle to keep the beads

How to play –

  • All children sit in a line, each holding a spoon.
  • There’s a box of colourful beads at one end & an empty container at the other end.
  • One kid picks up a bead from the box of beads using his spoon, then drops that bead to the next kid’s spoon.
  • They keep on passing the beads using their spoons. The last kid drops the bead into the container.
  • Whosever bead falls down, goes to the last place & that kid comes to his place. Or, take turns to change positions after passing 3 beads.

Variation for older children –

  • You can make 2–3 teams, each team with atleast 2 kids.
  • Whichever team can drop all the beads in their empty container first, wins!

Easy Communication Games

Let’s colour together

This is an easy game that teaches asking for one’s needs & saying thank you. It encourages basic communication while enjoying the colouring activity.

Number of Participants — 2 or more

Equipment Required –

  • Similar pictures (one picture for each child)
  • Colours (Crayons or sketch pens)

How to play –

  • All children sit in a circle.
  • Distribute colours among the students so that each gets one, or, two colour crayons/sketch pen.
  • Whenever one student has finished using his colour, & needs a colour he doesn’t have, he has to look for which friend has that colour he needs, & ask “Give me yellow”.
  • After getting the colour from his friend he can say “thank you”.
  • This game continues with students asking their friends for the colours they need until each one has completed their picture.

Who’s puzzle is this

Number of Participants — 3 or more

Equipment Required –

  • Some category puzzles (one for each child)
  • A tub/basket to keep the puzzles.

How to play –

  • All students sit in a line with their puzzle boards.
  • The teacher has all the puzzles in a basket.
  • The teacher calls one of the students to the front, gives him a puzzle.
  • The teacher then asks him, “Give it to Aadi.”
  • The student goes to Aadi & says “Aadi take Mango.” Aadi replies “Thank you.”
  • Whosever name is called, goes to the teacher, takes a puzzle, goes to the respective student with that category puzzle & gives saying- “Take it”.

The above games are easy to practice & very beneficial for kids to develop socialization skills, communication skills, friendship, sharing, & so much more…

“While practicing any of the above activities, make sure kids are enjoying participating in them. When children have fun while playing games, they are self-motivated not only to participate but also to enjoy the company of other kids, to communicate with them, to develop friendships which is the main goal of group activities.”

I would end this article by sharing another story that exemplifies the importance of how playing in group helps children to connect with each other more, to communicate their needs & understand the needs of another & in forming a bond of friendship.

It was a group session that day in my clinic. There were 4 students in that session. As we began the session, I noticed that the usually happy & energetic kids seemed to be a little grouchy. So, I decided to begin with music games, jumping games, colouring games, to make them excited.

Yet, after two-three activities, they still didn’t seem excited. There was still some grumpiness. I didn’t want them to participate in the activities following the rules just for the sake of the class. But, I didn’t know how to cheer them up at that time. So, I called Gundu & asked her, “what happened Gundu?” Since she is almost always happy & excited for the classes, especially the group class, but that day, even she was not in her usual happy state. I gave her a hug. Just then, Sibhi who was standing near Gundu, asked me, “What happened ma’am?” I said, “Gundu is sad. So, I am hugging her to make her smile.” Sibhi came to us & gave a big hug to Gundu smiling. Seeing this, the other two kids, Khush & Kakul also hugged. Then, there was a big smile in everyone’s faces. I was so happy that this little kid, Sibhi could light up everyone that day. And after that, the kids were very excited & happily participated in all the group activities that day. It was so much fun for me & them as well.

That experience was valuable for the kids as it gave them an opportunity to learn-

  • To have fun with friends
  • Forming bonds with friends
  • Sharing their emotions
  • Enjoying activities together
  • Understanding each other’s feelings & needs.
  • Supporting & encouraging each other.

Most importantly, that day, since the kids started enjoying the session, even more they started enjoying each other’s company….



Abhipsa Parida

My name is Abhipsa Parida. I am an occupational therapist and I have been handling kids with special needs since 6 years. I run my own clinic in Bhubaneswar