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.
In the wake of the widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, the national conversation about the inequities in the educational opportunities provided white students and students of color has been amplified. Due to racial and socioeconomic segregation, Black students, and other students of color, are more likely to attend poorly funded schools. EdBuild, a non-profit focused on fair and equitable school funding, reports that high poverty school districts that predominantly enroll children of color receive on average, $1,600 less per student than the national average. By their calculations, there is a $23,000,000,000 gap between funding for schools that primarily serve high poverty Black students and those that predominantly serve white students. Schools that predominantly serve high poverty white students, only receive $1440 less per student (EdBuild, 2019).
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.
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.