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by Lucy Hart Paulson on Feb 14, 2019
Learn More about LETRS for Early Childhood
One of the most rewarding experiences as an educator is knowing you have made a difference in the lives of your students. These times share an important aspect of connection—the one you created with your students and their sense of connection to you, touching their hearts. These experiences focus on a prevalent topic in education today, social emotional learning, with a recognition that how children feel is as important as their academic growth.
However, this perspective infers there is a dichotomy of skill sets, social emotional skills and academic skills. To this point, some early childhood programs have intentionally focused on young children’s social emotional skills and discouraged including academically related skills with a sense that social emotional skills need to develop before children are able to learn other skills.
Consider these skill sets as all interconnected and integrated, instead of being a dichotomy, and that social emotional learning is dependent on executive function skills, which are interrelated to cognition, which is connected to oral language. Throw in the physical movement of learning and all of the developmental domains are encompassed. In no way does this perspective diminish the importance of social emotional learning. Recognition of the interconnected nature of learning is a key point and also is supported by scientific research.
Social emotional learning develops as we effectively learn to use the background knowledge we have gained through experiences and skills acquired to help us with tasks such as:
Vital foundations for social emotional learning are reliant on developing executive function (EF) skills. Three key EF skills include: 1) being able to think about something in a variety of ways (cognitive flexibility); 2) keeping information in mind while completing a task or making a decision (working memory); and 3) intentionally controlling actions and reactions to ignore distractions, deal with impulsive behaviors, and/or overcome a highly learned response (inhibitory control).
Dealing with emotions requires inhibitory control to not interrupt and cognitive flexibility to know you will get a turn another time. Accomplishing a task may need problem-solving skills, keeping the details needed in working memory, and controlling behaviors to attend and persist. Taking another’s perspective and maintaining relationships assuredly involve inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility as well as remembering what you know about the other people.
Further, executive function skills are integrally connected to cognitive development and oral language acquisition. Growth in cognition results in improved executive function, which facilitates social emotional development along with enhanced language and literacy, all in a reciprocal manner. It is a misperception to believe children need to develop social emotional skills before they are able to learn academic skills.
Focusing on the whole child and development across all learning domains is important. When a child has not learned a skill or is having difficulty accomplishing a task, we need to teach them. What are ways to help young children learn social-emotional-cognitive-language-motor skills? Here are a few recommended, best-practice, everyday strategies. How do these routines look in your educational setting?
These strategies most likely are not anything new, but they do reinforce how important our interactions are with our students, which is the heart of teaching. Learning happens best within the context of positive relationships with caring adults. Helping students to develop their social-emotional-cognitive-language-motor skills makes an important difference to last a lifetime.
Shonkoff, J., Levitt, P., Bunge, S., Cameron, J., Duncan, G., Fisher, P., & Fox, N. (2015). Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience. pdf. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.
Zelazo, P. D., Blair, C. B., & Willoughby, M. T. (2016). Executive Function: Implications for Education. NCER 2017-2000. National Center for Education Research.
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