10 Takeaway Tips for Social and Emotional Learning

10 Takeaway Tips for Social and Emotional Learning

The above-linked article discusses tips used by educators in the Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, KY to teach children to be not only skilled thinkers but also successful human beings and citizens of the world.  The district has designed a successful program called “CARE for Kids” which focuses on social and emotional learning (SEL).  Since the program was pioneered less than two years ago, the schools that implemented the program have found the following results:  a more positive school culture, fewer discipline problems, better attendance, and even higher academic performance.

Many of the strategies the CARE for Kids program have found to work are part of the Operation Ready by 3 Infant-Toddler Curriculum.  I have taken the strategies listed in the above-linked article and altered them for teaching SEL in 0-3 years olds.   Have fun encouraging these important skills!

1) Build Community and Set a Supportive Tone Through Frequent Family/Daycare Meetings:  Parents, care providers and children should agree frequently how they want their home or child care setting to feel (typically:  calm and safe).  Adults should model and encourage conflict resolution skills and discuss emotional topics, such as bullying, friendship, and family struggles.  Play games to have fun together and to build an environment of love, support and engagement.  Discuss concerns about social and emotional skills (e.g., how a certain behavior can affect someone’s feelings).  Even the youngest of children can learn from “meetings” about SEL from the tone of voices and facial expressions that people around them use during the meetings.

2)  Set and Reinforce Expectations — with Kids’ Input.  Build the idea that kids are owners of their own family and child care setting, and of their learning experience. Involve 2- and 3-year olds in creating a list of “rules” (or “norms,” as the CARE for Kids program calls them) for how family members want to treat each other (e.g., listen when someone is talking, share stories about your day, gentle hands, etc.).  Rules can be posted on the refrigerator or another prominent place in the home/child care setting.  Rules can be written as well as drawn (i.e., using a picture showing someone following the rule) to aid younger children in their understanding of the rule.

3) Teach Social and Emotional Skills Explicitly.  Abilities like empathy, kindness and self-control are easily transferable to infants and toddlers.  Even before they can understand words, babies can tell the difference between a “nice” voice and a mean voice, when someone truly cares about their well-being, and when someone is being kind to someone else.  The skills can be taught to infants and toddlers during guided play (e.g., having one puppet or figure do something kind to another puppet/figure, taking care of a baby doll or stuffed animal, etc.) and modeling.  They can even be woven into every day activities such as grocery shopping, cooking and getting dressed (e.g., encouraging the child to pick up something someone drops in the store, patiently waiting for a toddler to pull his pants on himself, etc.).  

4) Use Supportive, Inclusive Language.  Use language that reminds and redirects infants and toddlers, rather than condemns them.  The idea is to cause young children to reflect on their behavior by stressing the deed, not the doer.  One example of using the kind of language is saying “Walk” instead of “Don’t run.”  Another example is saying “I don’t like when you hit me” or “I like when you use your gentle hands.”  Being sarcastic, criticizing, blaming, complaining, humiliating, and shaming are not allowed.

5)  Practice Developmental Discipline. Operation Ready by 3 promotes a nonpunitive approach to discipline, which means that consequences should be logically related to the offense and should allow infants and toddlers to take responsibility, make amends and learn from their inappropriate behavior. To teach this, an infant or toddler can be encouraged to clean up a mess he created (e.g., hand-over-hand assistance can be given to a sitting up baby) or to say he is “sorry” to the person he offended when he is ready to say he is sorry (i.e., It is best not to push a child to say “sorry,” since he may not mean it when he merely imitates it or is “made to” say sorry).  Toddlers can be encouraged to solve their own social-emotional problems when the grown-ups around them push them to think of better solutions.  

6)  Create opportunities for Infants and Toddlers to Make Choices.  Teaching a child to be a good “choice-maker” pays off.  When a child makes a choice, versus waiting to be directed told what to do, he develops a sense of autonomy and responsibility.  He learns that his behaviors and ideas matter, and that is important to choose wisely.

7)  Work Collaboratively and Supportively with Other Grown-Ups.  SEL works better when the adults model what they are teaching.  Parents, caregivers, and other grown-ups around the child can give compliments, express gratitude, and discuss concerns calmly to model the SEL skills.  

8)  Forge Personal Relationships with Infants and Toddlers in a Child Care Setting.  These relationships are not to be confused with family relationships or friendships.  Grown-ups will always be authority figures responsible for safeguarding the children’s well-being when parents are unavailable.  But a little personal connection can go a long way toward making infants and toddlers feel acknowledged, important, and motivated to learn.  Caregivers can make a point to ask about children’s activities, families, likes and dislikes.  It’s also important that the grown-ups share some aspects of themselves, such as interests and hobbies, through activities in the child care setting.  

9)  Enhance SEL Lessons through Service Learning.  It’s never too early to teach infants and toddlers to celebrate the Earth by picking up trash left by others, to give to others by sharing snacks or giving a tissue to a child when he needs to wipe his nose, or to volunteer your time somewhere where you can take children safely along.  Encourage older children at home or in a child care setting to “buddy up” with an infant or toddler to play or tell stories/show books to them.  This shows littler ones that older kids have the wherewithal to teach and lead, which is certainly something for infants and toddlers to aspire to “when they grow up.”

10)  Build Links Between Home and the Child Care Setting.  If an infant or toddler spends time in a child care setting, whether it be a home care or a day care setting, efforts should be made to engage parents.  Parents can be encouraged to visit the child care setting during the day.  For parents for whom this isn’t possible, child care providers can engage parents with daily notes about children or “homework” assignments aimed at “interviewing” the parent about how he or she chose the child’s name, asking about favorite family traditions or asking about favorite foods, vacations, etc.  

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