A few weeks back, I registered my daughter for kindergarten in the local school district. It was a moment filled with different emotions: excitement for the new experiences she will have, worry for the challenges, and also a bit of sadness because she is no longer my little “baby”. A moment of true self-awareness!
The person who did the registration gave me a booklet titled “Are You Ready for School?”, a guide that specifies the blocks of school readiness; all those things a kindergartener should be able to do before entering school. I was pleased to see that Social and Emotional development was one of the building blocks described in the booklet.
As many of you know, social and emotional skills have been a part of early learning for a long time. Many preschool educators will say that those skills are the main focus of early learning, and that the other skills, such as language or mathematical thinking, will develop if children have a good social and emotional foundation. In fact, researchers have found that developing social and emotional competencies in the early childhood years is critical to healthy development through middle childhood and adolescence (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2011). Unfortunately, although affective neuroscience researchers have found that emotions drive learning, the focus on social and emotional competencies tends to decrease significantly in elementary school, and even more during the middle and high school years.
For kids entering school, there are two key social and emotional competencies:
1. Self-awareness, which means recognizing one’s emotions, as well as being able to identify strengths and challenges, and possess a well-grounded sense of confidence. Self-awareness might look like:
- Being able to recognize and label emotions
- Expressing needs and wants
- Being curious and eager to learn
- Having confidence and taking pleasure in your abilities
- Learning to solve problems
2. Self-management, which means managing own emotions and behaviors to accomplish personal and academic goals. Self-management might look like:
- Staying focused on a task, even when it is difficult
- Remembering and following directions
- Staying focused without getting distracted
- Managing feelings and behaviors
- Persisting in solving problems, even when frustrated
Now, think about your own students. How many students in your classroom are still developing one or more of these skills? Take a piece of paper and write them down. Next, look at your list. What is one thing from the list you would like students to practice in the next 3 weeks? Circle it. How would that skill look like in your classroom? Try to be specific! Once you have it down, think about what other students or adults would observe if your students used this skill. What would they see? Look at these examples and then, write your own.
- Student explains why s/he said or did something.
- Student expresses feelings that are appropriate to the situation.
- Student manages his or her behavior when upset, frustrated, disappointed or excited.
- Student stays on task even when there are distractions.
- Student accepts when things don’t go his or her way.
Although social and emotional competencies can be learned and taught when children are just infants, we can develop and practice them well into adulthood. It is a life-long process! So, when you think about your own students’ readiness, consider their starting point and work from there. It is never too late to start teaching these skills and never too late to start learning them. Do you need help getting started? Send me a message. I’d love to hear from you.