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Social-Emotional Learning, Childcare in Maryland

Social-Emotional learning in preschool age children: How early childhood educators, parents and caregivers play their part

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is an area of childhood development where young kids grasp how to interact with others. They also learn (consciously and subconsciously) about various emotions, and how to control them and respond to them. While the SEL development process begins at birth, preschoolers attending our daycare in Rockville, MD benefit from an environment that also helps develop their various social and emotional aspects. By focusing on all developmental areas, the Creative Curriculum® targets developing the “whole child”.

SEL-101: Understand the Basics

It’s important for parents and home-caregivers, as well as newcomers to early childhood education and the child care profession, to understand what SEL involves. One very popular[i] SEL framework suggests the following five core competencies for any successful SEL program:

  • Self-Awareness: As children evolve through early childhood, and begin to interact with other adults (including those outside of the familial context) and peers, they consciously or sub-consciously develop aspects of self-awareness. They identify emotions, develop self-confidence, gain self-efficacy, and become conscious of their self-perceptions.
  • Self-Management: Even as preschoolers, youngsters may grow overly reliant on adults (parents and other care-giving adults or teachers in daycare or preschool settings) to help them manage themselves. Like the trained staff at our Rockville daycare, parents too can help kids through their self-management journey by promoting impulse control, encouraging self-motivation, and teaching them goal-setting and organizational skills.
  • Social Awareness: Preschool is likely the first formal environment where kids encounter individuals from different cultures, and those with social backgrounds diverse from their own. It is in this context that influential adults can help shape preschoolers’ views on empathy, diversity, compassion and tolerance. This aspect of SEL can also help preschoolers understand and overcome other social biases.
  • Relationship Skills: Group settings, such as those encountered in preschool environments, offer an ideal opportunity for children to hone their social and emotional relationship-building skills. It is in this context that children experience, learn and practice SEL elements such as listening, communicating, collaborating, problem solving, sharing, negotiation and conflict management.
  • Responsible Decision-making: Although the words “responsible” and “decision-making” might seem very advanced constructs in the context of preschoolers – they really aren’t! In preschool, kids learn the basics of responsible decision-making, such as when to give-up a toy to another peer waiting a turn to play with it; or what the consequences are for not putting away crayons and books when playtime ends. As part of their SEL experience, preschoolers evaluate the consequences and benefits of available choices, and learn to make decisions appropriately.

Though some parents and untrained adults might not realize it, but simple gestures – such as a child offering a fellow-preschooler their crayon, or willingly sharing a lunch cookie with a classmate – help advance a child’s SEL. Even though these actions may be taken for granted (e.g., written off as the child is just being “nice” or is being “thoughtful”), they are a critical step towards greater SEL in preschoolers. The professional staff at our Rockville daycare centers knows the importance of guiding preschoolers in understanding and developing these SEL competencies.

Social-Emotional Learning, Childcare in Maryland

Why SEL Matters

Like any form of learning, exposing preschoolers to SEL offers both short and long-term benefits. The advantage that SEL delivers doesn’t just accrue to the child who develops their SEL capabilities, but also to parents, teachers, preschool peers, and broader society. Some of the more prominent SEL benefits include:

  • Endowing preschoolers with better ability to manage life’s challenges
  • Getting preschoolers ready for higher levels of schooling
  • Improving school attendance
  • Making young kids perform better in school
  • Helping prevent behavior challenges, which means preschoolers are less of a stress for teachers and parents to deal with
  • Preventing later-life substance abuse, which often results in a burden for broader society
  • Reducing depression and anxiety among kids
  • Smoothening young kid’s integration into broader society
  • Instilling self-confidence in kids
  • Empowering them with better decision-making capabilities

For parents, preschool teachers and childhood education associates, focus on SEL also results in better longer-term academic and socio-economic performance. According to the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), students who have a slight advantage in SEL competence prior to entering preschool (i.e., at KG-level), enjoy significant advantages later in their academic and professional lives, including:

  • Having a higher chance (54% greater) of earning high-school diplomas than the rest of the general population
  • Being twice as likely to obtain a college degree than their peers with lesser SEL competence
  • Experiencing greater likelihood of getting full-time employment by the time they reach age 25

Educators, and mainly parents and adults responsible for a child’s home-care, must therefore continue to build upon SEL achievements during preschool – and beyond. Doing so will likely position preschoolers to enjoy even greater academic, professional, financial, and social success. The professional staff at our daycare in Rockville, MD are experienced at improving the SEL competency levels of the kids in their care. The question however is, what can parents do to accelerate the SEL of their preschoolers?

Social-Emotional Learning, Childcare in Maryland

Home-based SEL Activities to Consider

While socio-emotional learning happens more rigorously in structured environments, such as in kindergartens, day care environments and in other preschool settings, it shouldn’t stop there! SEL can, and should, continue beyond formal learning settings, and the most obvious environment for it to flourish and grow is at home.

Here are some home-based activities and routines that parents can embrace to continue moving their child’s SEL growth trajectory:

  • Leverage Media Consumption: Most parents know about imposing strict limits on a child’s TV viewing and internet usage. However, even in those restrictive encounter’s parents can further their child’s SEL. For instance, during emotional scenes or highlights in the media, it helps to hold open discussions with preschoolers about their thoughts and feelings on what’s unfolding. Doing so helps them build communications skills, while also aiding them in exploring and expressing emotions.
  • Offer Time Management Support: Even though many parents assign home tasks to each child, some preschoolers may struggle with time management more so than their siblings. It will give the child’s SEL quotient a tremendous boost if an adult steps in to help them manage their time. Show them the value of using To-do lists in getting organized and prioritizing their tasks.
  • Anger and Stress Management: Even preschoolers get angry and stressed out at home, especially when there’s sibling rivalry. You can help your child build SEL competency by encouraging them to practice stress-relieving exercises, such as deep breathing or time-outs. Reassure them that it’s okay to feel anger at some situations, and that alternate activities – like listening to music or playing a game – can help with both anger and stress.
  • Documenting Their SEL Journey: Some preschoolers may not be too affluent with verbal expressions, which can stifle their SEL. Encourage your child to maintain an emotions journal. Teach them to associate moods and feelings with icons, colors, and emojis. For instance, a Smiley face may indicate happiness; coloring an “emotions box” red might mean they’re angry. They can document what happened to cause those emotions. Over time, they’ll learn invaluable lessons from reviewing their Emotions Journal.
  • Get Some Outdoors Playtime: Stressful times, such as moving, changing schools, or having changes in the family structure, can styme a child’s SEL. If you notice that your child has retreated into solitude, and is displaying anti-social signs, why not encourage them to join siblings or peers in outdoor activities. Even a brisk walk in the park with parents or other trusted adults can do a world of good for their SEL.

These home-based activities will go a long way in helping build upon the SEL base that the staff at our Rockville daycare center have started to establish. However, there’s nothing more powerful in a parents SEL-toolbox than “leading by example”. For instance, social consciousness, empathy, and a sense of caring and understanding for the community isn’t something that kids learn by watching TV or simulating in games. Yet, participation in these actions, and cultivating these values can give preschoolers a tremendous SEL boost. And that’s where parental example can help.

Why not volunteer your time within your local community? It can be something as simple as packing supplies in boxes for the homeless. Or it can be as involved as writing notes of encouragement to sick children, or reading to children at the neighborhood community center or library. Whatever it is, make your preschooler a part of the activity. Perhaps, get them to address the envelopes of the notes that you write. Or maybe you can pick the supplies, and they can help with packing them in boxes. Maybe even get them to help with the reading activities.

When a parent leads by example, it helps preschoolers appreciate the power that SEL has in the real world. But it also gives them the motivation to grow their own social and emotional learning prowess beyond what they see, learn, and practice at our daycare in Rockville MD.

[i] Note to Editor: The source for this framework is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

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