(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 3

Teaching Emotional Intelligence

Last week I talked about the importance of emotional intelligence in early childhood education, this week I would like to focus on some strategies for teaching emotional intelligence. The first category I want to focus on is Identifying Emotions. This is in regards to the development of emotional awareness which is the capability to identify and comprehend our own emotions and actions as well as the emotions of others, along with the understanding of how our own emotions and actions affect ourselves and others, and how the emotions and actions of others affect ourselves. 

One strategy to teach this skill to children in an early education setting is to show them a picture of someone displaying an emotion, and then have the students recreate this facial emotional representation on their own faces. Next, assign each student an emotion, and have them walk around the classroom displaying that emotion on their face while also identifying the emotions on the faces of their peers until they find someone who matches the face of the emotion they were assigned. This allows students to not only practice identifying the emotions of others, but also to become comfortable with identifying the spectrum of emotions and displaying those emotions themselves in a safe and fun environment. 

Another strategy for identifying emotions are mood boards or emotion indicators. These come in various forms, but are visual cutouts, or small posters that the students decorate and can carry with them or leave on their desks. Each card has a picture of each emotion and the student can identify quickly what emotion they are currently feeling.

Identifying emotions can be reinforced through an activity that has the students draw four basic emotions on four separate pieces of paper. For example, sad, mad, happy, silly, and during various activities the students, when prompted, can hold up the emotion that they are feeling, for example during storytime. The students can display the emotion they are feeling during a particular moment in the story, rather than shouting out or talking with peers. This helps students to connect emotions to actions or ideas taking place in the story.

These are great for when students are engaged and not experiencing any difficult feelings, but there should be activities for students to participate in when they are actually going through an emotional difficulty. There should be visual posters or areas around the classroom that help students to cope with what they are feeling. A spot in the room where the students associate good feelings and happy thoughts, where they can go when they need a break, when they need to gather themselves, or when they need redirection or some time to refocus their attention. 

In this area manipulables can help to de-escalate their emotions, things like silly putty, or destressors like squeeze toys or cards with strategies for regaining calm. Posters with strategies that teach kids how to identify the emotion they are feeling and what to do when they feel that emotion escalating.  Many students learn best by engaging in activities that put them in situations where they will have to practice emotional awareness in real time. Through activities geared towards peer interactions, students will be put in situations where the full range of emotions will be present, and they will have to learn for themselves how to navigate the emotional spectrum in themselves as well as in others. Once proper emotional display and strategies for de-escalating high emotion have been modeled, it is time for students to practice the strategies and engage in social activities where they will deal with real emotions in a safe, low stakes environment.

Next week, in part 4, I will continue this look at best practices for teaching emotional intelligence and awareness.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 2

Social & Emotional Landscape

As stated in Part 1 of this series on Early Childhood Education there are several core elements of development during these crucial years of a child’s life. One of those core elements is learning social skills, or in more modern academic verbiage, Social and Emotional Learning. This refers to the development of the ability to a) engage in relationships that are meaningful with both peers and adults, b) to identify, articulate, and monitor one’s own range of emotions as well as the emotions of others, c) learn and cultivate social skills as well as an understanding of their environment. 

It is crucial that during this period of rapid growth and development, the child have access to a space that offers safe and enriching opportunities of exposure to this type of learning, as this will form the foundation of their social and emotional lives on which their future relationships and emotional well-being will be built. So then the question is how is that foundation built? It is built by the interactions that they have with their environment, which includes but is not limited to, parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, childcare providers, and peers. It is because of how quickly the brain develops during this phase of their life that each interaction the child has is so impactful upon the way that child will perceive and interact with their social environment as well as their own emotional landscape for the rest of their lives. 

Indications of positive social and emotional early childhood development include learning to develop close relationships with parents or guardians, to calm themselves during times of heightened emotion, to play with and share with peers, and to follow and listen to directions. Children who are exposed to risk factors in either their environment or in their relationships, have their social and emotional development disrupted. The more prolonged or severe the disruption to their development the greater the risk of permanent damage to the psychological as well as physiological development of the child. It is important to highlight here that this invaluable time in a child’s life is not the sole responsibility of the parent. The phrase ‘it takes a village’ is common because it is true. The construction of relationship norms, social norms, language, expectations, values, beliefs and attitudes are all influenced by the family, the community and the culture. All of these important factors are required in order to encourage the healthy maturation of social and emotional development.

Infographic for Social and Emotional Learning in Elementary Schools

There are specific long term benefits to emphasizing healthy development in social and emotional learning. Along with physical and mental health, the ability to forge relationships with others, to learn, to memorize and to focus attention, all stem from our emotions and our ability to employ them in the manner in which we act and in the way that we think. All of this is even more important in the mind of the developing child. Studies show that children with stronger emotional intelligence foundations tend to perform better in school, govern their own behavior better, are better at displaying empathy, more easily create positive relationships, engage in school more meaningfully, and are more able to focus their attention.  There are five essential skills that can be taught in order to foster emotional intelligence, some of which have been talked about above, but I want to name them explicitly. 1) Identifying the emotions of oneself as well as others. 2) Connecting the source of an emotion with the consequence of that emotion. 3) Correctly naming emotions. 4) The expression of emotions in the proper time, place, and culture. 5) Governing emotions. Using these five skills to model emotional intelligence and teach children the skill of emotional intelligence will be the topic of Part 3 of this ongoing series next week.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 1

Society is vastly different today than it was a mere six months ago. Many of the habits and creature comforts, the structures and routines that constituted the lifestyles of a large percentage of Americans have been altered or done away with completely, if not indefinitely, then at least temporarily. These changes have caused disruptions to everyday life, and services that have been taken for granted or overlooked in the past must now be reassessed and refocused on, for the health and well being of individuals in our community but for society as a whole. One such service is early childhood education.

The most crucial time in the development of a human being is this section of life between birth and the first years of public school. However I would extend this as far back as the first trimester of pregnancy. It is in the womb where early childhood education truly begins. The importance of prenatal care cannot be stressed enough in the early development of a child. This includes but is not limited to: seeing a healthcare professional as early on in the process as possible, eating a healthy diet which includes iron and protein, taking prenatal vitamins with folic acids,  maintaining regular exercise, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and drinking plenty of water. Also if possible, having a tranquil and calm environment in which the baby is growing can go a long way in the cognitive and emotional development of the child. Activities such as meditation, soothing music, and reading to the baby can all help to provide stability and bring the baby smoothly into a world that is unstable.

Once the baby is born, the early childhood education begins in earnest. This is the period where the child will undergo the most accelerated stage of physical maturation and cognitive evolution. In the life of a human being these years mark the most accelerated phase in the growth of the brain and so it is crucial that these years be effective in shaping the development and quality of the child’s future as an adolescent and beyond. There are key categories and milestones that serve as the foundation of a successful early childhood education that this ongoing series will highlight and focus on. The categories are: Social Skills, Self-Esteem, Perception of the World, Moral Outlook, and Cognitive Skills. The milestones are greater in number so I will highlight those as they come up.

Before that I would like to discuss some numbers. These numbers come from a variety of sources including, the CDC, the Learning Policy Institute, the National Center for Education Statistics, UNICEF, the National Institute for Early Education Research and the U.S. Department of Education. According to the numbers, about 28% or 1.4 Million four-year-olds were enrolled in a state funded preschool program last year. 54% of pre-kindergarten aged African-American children were enrolled in some kind of state funded preschool program. This is important because children who are enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program for at least one year are more equipped with the tools necessary to develop critical skills needed to succeed in school and have lower percentages of grade repeats or drop outs. 

Source: nces.ed.gov

The other half of the story is that in the fall of their kindergarten year, children who received either no pre-kindergarten care or home based pre-kindergarten care scored lower on assessments of reading, mathematics, and cognitive flexibility than those children who received pre-kindergarten program based care. Early childhood education is a tool whose core goal is to enhance the quality of access and relationship to academic and social behavioral outcomes, but this is only a first step in the process of developing healthier people in the hopes of improving our communities and society at large. Due to the shifting societal reality much of this work must take place in our communities and on a grassroots level and we must work together to educate one another on best practices for the development of our children and a healthy and safe environment for us all. This discussion will continue in Part 2 of this ongoing series.