What You Need To Know About Social-Emotional Learning In Early Childhood Education

With what do you equate early childhood education? 

Most people would likely relate this term with academics. While the primary focus of ECCE has always been academics, this is but one component that makes up the whole. Research tells us that social and emotional development is as deeply woven into the fabric of early education as academics. For example, a 2015 study by Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley linked higher social emotional skills in kindergarten with important outcomes like education, career, and social success by the age of 25.

Comprehensive programs that enhance foundational learning and include a component of socio-emotional skill development are perfectly geared towards delivering the best results for young learners.

Defining Social And Emotional Development

A child is considered to be developing socially and emotionally when they start to understand who they are, what they are feeling, and how to interact with others. They are able to:

  • Forge and sustain positive relationships
  • Experience, manage, and express emotions
  • Explore and engage with those in their environment

Technology And Social Emotional Skills

While there is research about the usage of technology while developing socio-emotional skills, this does not take into account the scope of edutech as we know it today. Companies that provide digital learning tools for their young learners are more concerned with holistically empowering their audience. Their research takes into account each developmental domain and is increasingly focused on providing the best overall foundation for learning, with a special curriculum for developing social emotional skills.

When children work together on computers or other types of technology, they learn to negotiate and take turns. Conflicts may arise while working together, and young children will need to solve problems. Technology is very prevalent in young children’s lives. Some advocates state that, since this is true, children should begin using technology at an early age, when they are motivated and fearless to learn.
(McCarrick & Xiaoming, 2007)

Supporting Social And Emotional Development In Early Learning Centres

A 2014 UNICEF Study put enrollment in preschools at around 70%. Of these, about 36 million children (3 to 6 years of age) were enrolled in Anganwadis (Ministry of Women & Child Development 2015). Anganwadis, part of the ICDS scheme, form only a part of the early learning settings children are exposed to; the rest involve public and private learning centres with enrollment skewing towards private schooling centres. This makes professional caregivers who care for and teach young children the most important partners in supporting their social and emotional development and building their readiness for school.

High-quality education is critical to maintaining positive socio-emotional development. Not only does a quality education promote active learning and engagement in children, it also mitigates the effects of other risk factors and builds resilience in children. This is partly due to the positive relationships young children form with their caregivers in a high-quality learning centre. Read our thoughts on quality in early education. When children perceive at least one supportive adult in their life, they are less likely to experience the effects of an adverse experience, and be more socio-emotionally developed individuals.

Well-trained early care and education professionals are critical to the creation of such quality learning centres, and to supporting the social and emotional development of their charges. Their expertise enables them to weave social and emotional skill-building into daily activities, routines, and even their own behaviour. They know to implement targeted curriculum with games, stories, and activities.

Supporting Social Emotional Learning At A Higher Level

Leaders and policymakers play a higher role in fostering and promoting positive environments across learning centres. These typically involve strategies, policies, or structures related to the teaching-learning climate and support services, like establishing a team to administer structural changes in working environments and developing clear guidelines for adult behaviour in learning centres.

8 Activities To Build Social And Emotional Skills

*note: these suggestions can be repurposed for at-home learning, by parents and other educators.

Link to share: https://youtu.be/dZ9xgZoBOOw
  1. Build A ‘Feeling Box’: Help children put their feelings into words by labelling emotions in this little ‘feeling box’. Make your own feeling box, and model for children how to communicate their emotions to others.
  2. Move To Music: Pick easy songs with lyrics and beats that encourage movement, like Square Panda’s letter-dance song. Make the motions with children as the song plays. Point out how good their dancing is getting, and credit their listening skills for it.
  3. Play Board Games: Board games (specially those requiring teams) increase emotional intelligence by teaching children to take turns, think ahead, be a good sport about losing, and learn that actions have consequences. Here’s a fun little board game created for your little ones especially by Square Panda India, to get you started. 
  4. Make A Share Box: A study from Duke and Penn State followed over 750 people for 20 years and found those who were able to share and help other children in kindergarten were more likely to graduate from high school. Teach children that sharing is caring (and fun); decorate a box and fill it with things children choose to share with their friends/family, like playdough, crayons, music boxes, soft toys, and more.
  5. Use Hand Puppets: You can get these online (see the one Ms. Sonia Relia uses during our Square Panda Thursdays sessions), or ask children to make their own, using random picture cutouts glued to a popsicle stick. These help in acting out stories and exhibiting various emotions.
  6. Read Stories: Use stories to talk to children about different social situations. Reading and playacting stories aloud (using hand puppets as props) provides a great opportunity to discuss the connection between behaviour and emotions. For example, “The panda is running fast! He seems scared.”
  7. Sing Songs: Take children through the gamut of emotions while singing songs like ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It‘, or ‘Looking In The Mirror’. The wordsmith in you can even come up with lyrics to the tune of popular songs, which talk about sharing, being kind, and other social messages.
  8. Use Daily Activities To Develop Social Skills: Activities like snack time, digital time, and recess can be used to develop social skills like taking turns, sitting together, and engaging in conversation. This helps children build positive peer relationships and foster healthy social and emotional development early on.

Key Points To Remember While Developing Social Emotional Skills

  • Children Learn By Watching: All children automatically mimic the behaviour of those closest to them, which in many cases are adults. Let them see you model appropriate behaviour and exhibit patience, kindness, and helpfulness throughout the day. Explain what is appropriate behaviour and what is not, and make sure you recognise their positive behaviour and praise it.
  • Diversity Plays A Major Part: India’s multicultural heritage translates into a diverse classroom full of children with unique sets of experiences, abilities, and learning needs. Such diversity also brings rich cultural and linguistic differences. Being aware of and adapting to each child’s specific needs can be the difference between a socially aware and competent future citizen or one unable to cope in challenging situations. In classrooms, for example, teachers can encourage expression in the language children are comfortable with, and assign ‘helper buddies’ to children who are struggling socially.
  • Connecting With Parents Is Important Too: Establishing a link with parents and caregivers of children is extremely important for success in a school setting. Increased parental engagement, and an awareness of the importance of social emotional development helps children, particularly those struggling with behavioural problems. Schools can figure ways to reach out to the parents regularly, and encourage them to visit or volunteer in the classroom.
  • Maintaining A Daily Routine Is Critical To Social Emotional Development: In any setting, adults need to stick to a regular routine each day so children can predict what comes next. This helps them feel safe and in control. In case of any adjustments to the schedule, make sure they know changes are coming, so they are well-prepared for it.
  • Encourage Early Friendships: Young children often play next to each other rather than with each other. This has only increased with online learning. What educators now notice, is that children are beginning to show empathy to peer problems even online, giving rise to early friendships. Encouraging more interaction between groups of children, assigning buddies, and drawing out quieter children are some more ways to increase positive peer relationships from an early age.

Early childhood is a critical period to develop social emotional skills. The quality of experiences in this stage can have a lifelong impact on children. Adults are mainly responsible for developing strong socio-emotional skills in early childhood. The early learning programs that prioritise children’s social and emotional health are rewarded by highly engaged little learners who express and use emotion in productive ways.

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Written by Square Panda India
Empowering children with the power of literacy and languages, Square Panda India provides an adaptive, multisensory, phonics learning platform to early learners everywhere.