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  • Melanie Patric

PSA: The Importance of Emotional Learning

In the wake of the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies, the push to increase direct teaching of academics to ever-younger children is a topic on many parent's minds. While it can be a point of pride for children and parents when preschool children learn their alphabet and numbers, an academically rigorous curriculum can miss out on something that is of equal importance in determining Kindergarten readiness for children- learning how to interpret and address emotions.

Here at Blue Sky Daycare, learning about social and emotional cues is an everyday occurence. I use several techniques to help children learn about emotions and include direct and indirect instruction about recognizing emotions, empathy, and self-control.

I teach children the proper name for emotions while offering up simple words to talk about emotions. For young children, being able to say "I'm upset" to cover a range of emotions can prevent them from becoming overwhelmed as they try to name the exact emotion like "frustrated," "angry," "scared," and so on. Young children's emotions are often a mixture, and it can be difficult for them to recognize nuances in emotion.

Another strategy I use is narrating social situations to include language about emotions so that children hear what is happening being described and can learn the words for what they observe.

I often include pauses in books that we read so that children may reflect on how a character is feeling. This helps children recognize emotions outside the realm of their own experience and helps build empathy.

I'd like to think that these strategies and others I use to help my daycare children interpret and control their emotions is setting them up for success later in life.

This article, put out by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, discusses a variety of factors that affect Kindergarten readiness. It mentions that:

"Children’s mastery of literacy and mathematics is connected to their social and emotional development (executive functioning) and physical development. States should adopt standards for the additional domains not covered by the Common Core, but critical to academic and developmental success: social, emotional and physical development; approaches to learning. Standards should not be developed through a back-mapping of standards for the higher grades; instead, they should reflect a forward progression of child development and learning. The 2008 National Research Council Report on child assessment stated “A parallel effort to raise the attention of practitioners in the K through 12 arena to the importance of social/emotional development and approaches to learning not only would improve the learning environment for elementary children, it would create a better environment to address alignment issues.”

Teacher training has long included educational theory, and learning about Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences is part of nearly every teacher's college work. Gardner's theory recognized several areas of specialization or "intelligences" that made up each person's personality. In addition to "Verbal-Linguistic" or "Mathematical-Logical" intelligences, Gardner posited that people also had "Interpersonal" and "Intrapersonal" intelligences. Including these last two intelligences was Gardner's way of noting that part of being a well-balanced person involves recognizing and interpreting emotions either within oneself or in person-to-person interactions.

Many schools have adopted programs that address emotional learning including healthy ways to handle emotions. Programs like these are designed to give children better chances at becoming happy, productive adults. Studies like the Fast Track Project have shown that children who take part in these types of programs generally do better in school, are less likely to get arrested, and are less likely to have substance abuse problems. To read more about the importance of young children learning about emotions, read the NPREd article "Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As the ABC's."

Speaking of emotions, I'm sure that you've felt several emotions as you read this article. Want to talk about them?

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