As educators who work with kids of all ages and ability levels, we’ve found that social stories are a great way to start conversations with kids around various topics, especially topics that cause strong emotions and may be hard for children to discuss.
What is a Social Story?
The idea of a "social story" was originally developed in the early 1990s by a special needs educator, Carol Gray, who sought to help her students with autism understand complex and nuanced social situations. She created this social learning tool using short stories to help her students learn socially appropriate behaviors and responses to various situations and events.
Today social stories have a much broader application for students of all ages and abilities. In our work we have found that children do not have to be on the autism spectrum to reap the benefits of social stories. Here are four reasons we use social stories with all of our students.
Four Benefits of Using Social Stories
Helps Children with Visualization: Social stories give kids way to interpret the situation on their own or learn how to go through this process. When they can see pictures (in a picture book, for example) or visualize story characters experiencing a situation similar to their own, the event becomes more concrete for them. This makes the situation easier to understand and process.
Makes a Situation More Emotionally Accessible: Seeing someone else experience a challenge takes the emotional charge out of a situation and makes it less personal to the child. This can open the door for children to be more open to learning about the topic or situation without feeling so emotionally connected to the issue. Strong emotions like grief (like when a child loses a pet or a grandparent, for example) can often times cause a child to shut down and not know how to process the emotions they feel. So a social story can make it easier to process these strong and often difficult emotions. Social stories can also help kids develop compassion and empathy for others, and a wider perspective of the situation overall.
Provides a Language Framework for Discussion: Often children do not have the words and language for explaining what they are thinking or feeling about a difficult situation, especially younger kids. Social stories offer the language kids need for talking about a problem or issue that they may not otherwise know how to talk about. Having the right words to say what they are thinking and how they are feeling is very empowering for children, and social stories can help unlock those thoughts and feelings.
Presents Possible Solutions: Difficult or confusing situations are often that way for kids because children do not know how to solve the problem or move past the difficult emotion presented by the situation. Social stories provide possible solutions to such problems and model positive problem solving strategies that help kids understand a way to move forward with their own problem or situation.
Is there a book or social story that you have found particularly helpful with your child/students? Need more ideas for social stories to share with your children or students? Kindness Corner, a social story blog by Hopkins Education Services, is a great way to find new books and social stories for K-5 students.