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.
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.
Okay, this is a slight change from our usual “What We’re Reading” posts. Instead of highlighting a particular article, we wanted to share an interesting application of research: this childcare cost calculator from the Center for American Progress. You can use it to estimate the impact of improving different parts of structural quality (the infrastructure that surrounds teaching, like teacher-child ratios, the physical space, and materials) on the cost of care.
Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. Some of it, like deadlines or first date nerves, are good stress. It propels you forward and helps you accomplish goals. Some stress, like the car in front of you slamming on the brakes, is acute, but temporary. But a more concerning type of stress that’s gained a lot of attention in the past few years is toxic stress, long-term, unrelenting exposure to stressful situations. In young children, this stress can alter the development of the brain, creating shortcuts to the parts of the brain that “turn on” stress responses and limiting connections to the parts of the brain responsible for learning and reasoning.