Is a strong Social Emotional base the foundation on which Math, Literacy and Science Learning is built?

Children spend a considerable amount of their time in school, so to ignore their social-emotional learning needs during their time spent in classrooms would be a waste of precious learning opportunity. Schools are also places where children have a majority of their social interactions and challenges, thus the possibility and opportunities for personal growth and learning are high.

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Self awareness is being able to recognize needs and emotions, understand and even articulate one’s feelings as well as recognize how they translate into our behaviours. It can include being aware of stress, negative emotions, one’s abilities and weaknesses.

Mama I’m not good enough!”

I had changed my older daughter’s school in kindergarten because I wanted an I.B. education for her. When Anaya was in grade one, we were once practicing for elocution and even after repeated revisions Anaya was forgetting some lines. In her frustration of being unable to remember the poem she suddenly blurted out ‘ Mama you know na… I am not as intelligent as the other children in my class! Let’s just forget the poem it’s ok if I don’t participate. It’s not compulsory”

As a mother to hear my six year old being so articulate about a belief and disempowering self talk about herself made me question, how had things come about to be like this? Yes Anaya did show signs of mild dyslexia as a child and therefore when the teacher would correct her or point out her mistakes surely it was for Anaya’s benefit. Of course her class teacher did not wake up every morning thinking, ‘Today I am going to demine my children, ensure they are reprimanded for their own good.’ And yet children are soo perceptive that they seem to almost breadth in the subtle messages we unknowing send our children. These messages or self talk or perceptions about one’s self in my mind are the corner stones of what makes up a person. So if children are receiving messages that in turn are shaping pretty much what they think about themselves or even how they interact with others can we be consciously attuned to how we are responsible in shaping our children’s minds? Can we intentionally make an effort to teach skills that are beyond the academic purview but enhance children’s ability to succeed in school as well as in life?

I am in no terms implying that we glorify every small action of our children, and use praise as a tool to gain compliance. Because then we would be running the risk of oscillating between two extreme ends of a pendulum. Coming back to Anaya’s story, today Anaya is in grade 9, has shifted schools, shines academically, but more importantly Anaya believes she can achieve, that she is good enough, her grades don’t define her and she is capable.

What I am suggesting is can we be responsible for creating environments that are safe, positive and empowering, as I believe these are the foundations on which the pillars of math literacy and other academic learning are built. A strong social emotional base is the key to assist children to withstand the stresses they face in this increasingly complex world.

So what is Social Emotional Learning? (SEL)

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an organization that works toward integrated social-emotional learning for preschool through high school, “social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” SEL can be seamlessly integrated into our school’s culture and curriculum.

Social-emotional learning can be divided into five components

1. Self-awareness

Self awareness is being able to recognize needs and emotions, understand and even articulate one’s feelings as well as recognize how they translate into our behaviours. It can include being aware of stress, negative emotions, one’s abilities and weaknesses.

2. Self-management

Self-management is the ability to regulate one’s emotions and behaviours. This can include managing emotions like anger, stress, excitement, self-motivation to name a few.

3. Social awareness

Social awareness is about seeing things from other people’s perspective, being able to empathize with others and having a willingness to understand and respect the diversity in a group/ society.

4. Relationship skills

This is about creating and maintaining healthy relationships through cooperation, communication, active listening and conflict resolution.

5. Responsible decision-making

Responsible decision-making is about thinking about the consequences of personal behaviour. It includes making appropriate, healthy choices and having a moral compass the guides decisions.

Why is SEL so Important and why do schools need to take ownership to teach SEL ?

A study conducted by Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley in 2015 revealed that children who receive social-emotional interventions early and throughout their schooling years show remarkable and measurable benefits later on in life. Research cannot be overlooked that development of SEL skills in kindergarten leads to the higher likelihood of obtaining a college degree, adult employment, and lessens one’s chance of substance abuse or getting into trouble with the law as an adult .

Children spend a considerable amount of their time in school, so to ignore their social-emotional learning needs during their time spent in classrooms would be a waste of precious learning opportunity. Schools are also places where children have a majority of their social interactions and challenges, thus the possibility and opportunities for personal growth and learning are high. Of course, schools have been providing more than academic learning for a long time but more often than not the non academic skills are given lip service. Research suggests that by providing consistent, SEL programs, children can benefit in multiple ways. Thus can we as an educational community, in our school look at providing emotional intelligence interventions, much like we teach academic subjects as emotional intelligence can also be taught.

SEL in Early Childhood Classrooms –Perspective and Activities for the early childhood educator

When children feel a big emotion like anger, anxiety, excitement the prefrontal cortex which is the rational part of the brain takes a break and we’re left to deal with just the emotional brain or the amygdala.

When a child’s brain is hijacked by the amygdale a chemical chain reaction of sorts takes place. Adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones are produced which can trigger a fight or flight response. In these circumstances asking a child to complete an assignment or task may not be met with compliance. And what you may perceive as oppositional behaviour may actually be stress and anxiety. As teachers how do we address this? To get the rational brain or prefrontal cortex back on track, we need to sooth the amygdale. Let’s look at a few activities that promote social emotional learning.

Activity: Belly has a Balloon

Strong emotions or an amygdale hijack can trigger shallow breathing. You can prevent or stop an amygdala hijack by taking deep breaths, slowing down, and trying to focus your thoughts. This allows your prefrontal cortex to regain control again.

In this breathing activity it is required to fill our bellies with our breath. You should feel the diaphragm expand and contract. Ask children to pretend they have a big balloon inside their belly and they need to take a deep breath to fill it up, and deflate the balloon when they exhale. Demonstrate and practice how to take deep breaths and exhale. Encourage kids to put to their hands on their bellies to feel it expand. Repeat several times.

Activity: Bubble Breathing

For this activity ask children to inhale deeply filling their bellies with air and exhale really slowly as if pretending to blow bubbles while they do so. This activity helps children become more conscious and intentional about breathing out slowly. (It’s pretty hard to blow bubbles when you are breathing forcefully out.). If you are outdoors you could conduct this activity with real bubble solution.

Activity: Starfish and Storms

Through this activity children get an opportunity to notice how much energy they’re feeling inside. This leads to self-awareness and can help children build a skill called self-regulation. Self-regulation is about managing your internal energy. It helps children manage their emotions and their body movements during tough situations.

For this activity make a picture of a thermometer. Paste a picture of a starfish at the bottom and a picture of a storm at the top of the thermometer. Ask the children if they feel calm and peaceful like a starfish or charged up like a storm. You could also give them an example of a glitter ball when children are over energized, for example when you have big emotions your glitter is everywhere but you can settle your glitter by breathing slowly. Conduct this activity at different times of the day and encourage children to describe their energy levels.

Activity: Owl Eyes

This activity encourages children to practice observation skills to notice what’s going on around them. They pick up on social cues and look at ways to get their needs met as well as be respectful of others. When children are at a free choice time or at the playground tell them to look around like an owl slowly and intently in an exaggerated fashion. You could even ask them to make their hands into imaginary binoculars. Let them take turns sharing details about what you see: “All the easels are occupied.” “There is plenty of space in the puzzle and block corner.”

Encourage the children to connect their observations with choosing how to behave. For example, when the easels are occupied, the child could may decide to go and play with the blocks first.

Remember to introduce and first conduct these activities with children when they are calm and relaxed. It’s of limited use to try to introduce activities when children are already having a meltdown as the brain is not receptive to new learning at this point.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an organization that works toward integrated social-emotional learning for preschool through high school, “social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” SEL can be seamlessly integrated into our school’s culture and curriculum.

When children feel a big emotion like anger, anxiety, excitement the prefrontal cortex which is the rational part of the brain takes a break and we’re left to deal with just the emotional brain or the amygdala.

Having over two decades of experience in early childhood education, Faridah Bawani is an educationist and the founder of Chrysaellect Education Solutions. Chrysaellect is an organization that offers innovative, effective and research based products and services that promote authentic learning opportunities relevant for 21st century learners.

Faridah has studied in Canada, Pakistan as well as in India and is qualified as an ‘International Teacher Educator’ which equips her to provide professional development to teachers, trainers and principals. She holds two post graduation diplomas one in Early Childhood Education from New Zealand Tertiary College as well one in Education Management from SNDT University Mumbai. Faridah also has a Certification in ‘Using Multiple Intelligences as a Tool to Help Students Learn’ From Harvard Graduate School of Education- USA. She has been on the National Board of ITREB India heading the Preschool department for seven years. She is also the Territory Head of the Early Childhood Association India.