When you are planning to start a social skills group, careful planning will help you to establish a professional and organised group from the start:
- Consider your group. What is your age range? This is a big question, as age does not always reflect ability. I would suggest keeping your age range short i.e. 4-7 years. This is because each child in the group has their own needs, and they will undoubtedly be at different stages of social development. So if you want to teach social skills effectively, I would suggest you begin with a small a peer group of the age range you choose.
- How many children? This depends on your facility and staff. A small group of 4 - 5 children with two staff, or a larger group of up to 10 children with three staff would be a maximum in a 4-7 year old age group. If your group is for 7+ or teens, then you may be able to increase the group size. My suggestion is that 10 children is a maximum. Remember to keep a waiting list if your group is ongoing.
- Do you include parents? Another big question! This depends on your group, the age and ability of the children attending. I would suggest try to make it a drop-off group as I find children respond better overall. If you do include parents, make sure you define guidelines about how you wish the group to be run - especially regarding meltdowns and refusal to participate.
- Staff. If you have properly qualified staff ready to run the group, then great! If not, be careful when advertising, and be sure to interview candidates before accepting. Even if the group meets for a short time, your reputation and the children's health and safety is your responsibility. As the group leader, trust your instincts with people!
- Insurance. Check that you have correct insurance - that includes the facility address and staff details. Be sure to let the parents know that the insurance certificate is available to view at their request. Give a copy to the facility owner if you are renting the room.
- Health and safety. You must have at least one member of staff with first aid training. A checked first aid kit, and emergency phone numbers to hand. Be familiar with fire exit and have a fire drill protocol.
- Equipment. Check all your equipment is clean, appropriate and safe for your group.
- Planning. How are you going to run the group? Every week? for how long? Will you break for school holidays? Will you have a Summer group? My group runs for six week terms and runs alongside the school calendar. This way, I can write a six week programme that changes each term depending on the needs of the group.
- Developing the programme. Keep a written plan for each week. I write a plan every six weeks. This keeps me focussed on the group, and allows for change as needed. For advice on what to include in your plan, you can contact me for ideas.
- Communicate with parents. At the start of your group, have a booking form, ensure you have all relevant contact details and information you need. I have a sign in and out form on a clip board at the door, and mobile numbers of all parents in case of emergency. Make sure all parents feel they can contact you outside of the group if necessary (it can be a little hectic to talk at going home time!). Also, send a copy of the activity plan to parents so they know what themes you are covering. I send home letter every week, outlining this week's words, songs and 'what we did'. The letter home is also a good opportunity to outline any extra requests or reminders!
- Reports. Keeping parents involved with the group and their child's progress is vital. I write a short update after week three, and a report every six weeks. The six week report outlines individual goals and ideas for the following term.
- The group leader. Keep a simple routine to the group each week - you can contact me for ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org This way, you can change the theme within a familiar routine. Have a back-up plan of activities ready - as not every week will go according to plan! Remember that there are huge differences between 1-1, classroom and group work! Be ready for a challenge!!