As all of the Wonders teachers and staff gathered for professional development training prior to the start of the year, we reinforced for our commitment to teaching empathy with a focus on social emotional learning this year.  Empathy is critical to predicting children’s future health, wealth, authentic happiness, relationship satisfaction and the ability to bounce back from adversity.  Empathy is an effective antidote to bullying, aggression, prejudice and racism. Empathy is a key to social emotional learning. (Click here for our past blog post on empathy)

To build upon a child’s social emotional learning the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, effective and behavioral competencies of social emotional learning. The definitions of the five competency clusters for children are:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.

Promoting social and emotional development for all children involves teaching and modeling social and emotional skills and providing opportunities for students to practice and hone those skills. Providing a variety of ways children express these skills in different environments. One of the most effective social emotional learning approaches involves creating intentional curriculum that teaches social and emotional skills, then finding opportunities for students to reinforce their use throughout the day.

Research shows that early learning and extended day programs, like ours, are one of the primary places where students learn social and emotional skills.

Summer Camp 2012 group

After-school activities also provide opportunities for students to connect with supportive adults and peers (Gullotta, 2015).  Research has shown that after-school programs focused on social and emotional development can significantly enhance student self-perceptions, school connectedness, positive social behaviors, school grades and achievement test scores; while reducing problem behaviors (Durlak et al., 2010).

Break time5

Social emotional learning begins in early childhood which is why family and early care and education settings are important (Bierman & Motamedi, 2015). The preschool years represent a critical time period for the development of basic social-emotional skills, which lay the foundation for later social-emotional competence. During this period of rapid development, dramatic transformations occur in children’s social skills and social reasoning, their emotional understanding and emotion regulation, and their self-awareness and self-control. Developmental increases in children’s capacities for mental representation and language create new opportunities for children to gather and organize information about their own and others’ emotions, intentions, social roles, and social expectations, thereby expanding their capacity to benefit from social emotional learning instruction and adult supports (Bierman, 1988).

Wonders has always taught empathy as a way to promote problem solving skills, self-reflection and emotional literacy.  These skills are not part of a current educational or parenting fad, these life-long skills are essential to a person’s well-being.  We will be elevating our focus on these skills throughout the year, including sharing blog posts about specific curriculum around social emotional learning.