Social-emotional skills are key to student success. These skills include the ability to recognize and regulate emotions and behavior, take others’ perspectives, and make sound choices. Children who have good social-emotional skills have an easier time making friends and maintaining strong relationships with teachers and peers.
Not surprisingly, social-emotional skills provide children with the foundation they need to thrive in school. Many kindergarten teachers have told an anxious parent that they shouldn’t worry that their child doesn’t recognize all of their alphabet letters before they start school – they can teach that. It’s much better that children know how to interact with their peers and manage their behavior.
Research shows that the domain of Emotional Support is particularly important for promoting children’s social-emotional development. Emotional Support is related to increased social competence, positive engagement with teachers, improved inhibitory control, and decreased behavior problems and conflicts with teachers. Mashburn et al. (2008) looked at the association between social skills and quality, as measured by the CLASS. They examined data from 671 preschool teachers who completed behavioral rating scales on four children in their classrooms and compared these ratings to CLASS scores. They learned that children in classrooms with higher Emotional Support were rated as having higher social competence and lower levels of problem behaviors than were students in classrooms that provided less effective Emotional Support.
Using the same data set, Brock and Curby (2014) examined the effect of the consistency of teachers’ Emotional Support on teachers’ relationships with their students, as well as on their ratings of children’s social and behavioral skills. Findings showed that teachers in classrooms that provided more consistent Emotional Support reported closer relationships with their students. Furthermore, these teachers indicated that the children displayed more social competence and fewer problem behaviors. Interestingly, these same children were viewed as being more socially competent by their kindergarten teachers.
Social-emotional skills are just one aspect of a child’s “readiness” for school. Children who start kindergarten with well-developed social-skills are better positioned to engage in activities, interact with their peers, and benefit from instruction – often with effects that can last a lifetime.
Brock, L., & Curby, T.W. (2014). Emotional support consistency and teacher-child relationships forecast social competence and problem behaviors in prekindergarten and kindergarten. Early Education and Development, 25(5), 661-680,
Mashburn, A., Pianta, R., Hamre, B., Downer, J., Barbarin, O., Bryant, D., Burchinal, M., Early, D., & Howes, C. (2008). Measures of pre-k quality and children's development of academic, language and social skills. Child Development, 79 (3), 732-749.
We’ve written before about the discipline disparities between children of color and their white peers. (Since that post was published last year, the Department of Education has released updated - but not improved - statistics on the topic.) But discipline is not the only school arena where children from different backgrounds have different experiences. There’s also evidence that racial bias affects teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations, even in early childhood.
One of my biggest takeaways from the childcare calculator we talked about recently was how much it would cost to increase early childhood educators’ wages. It wasn’t shocking—if you’re looking to get some laughs, ask any teacher you know if they’re in education to make big money—but it was a disappointing reminder of just how little we pay those who are shaping our future. The recently-released 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index gives us some specifics around compensation in early childhood education and care.
All across the world, researchers and educators are working on ways to help students learn. Some are small tweaks or classroom “lifehacks.” Some are big, expensive programs with huge ambitions. Some (like CLASS!) are paradigms about learning. When something works, you want it to be accessible to other practitioners. The problem is, many of the programs that are most effective also take a lot of time, money, or resources.
Most people I know who are invested in early childhood education look at Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address as an important moment. In it, Obama called on the federal government and states to work together to “make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” and talked about the economic and social impact of such policies. I teared up when I rewatched this speech. It’s powerful stuff. As it so often does, the conversation about early childhood education and care revolved around quality.