There’s a lot of talk about social-emotional development being important for young children, but just how important is it? Believe it or not, it’s the single most important developmental thing to predict strong school readiness!
While we often think about things like reading, writing, and numbers as being critical skills for children entering kindergarten, it turns out that being able to participate successfully in a group of other children, being able to perform self-help skills (basic things, like wiping your own nose, using the restroom independently, and putting on your jacket), following simple instructions, and being able to advocate for oneself during interactions with peers are just as important as foundational academic skills.
What is social-emotional development?
The terms ‘social-emotional development’ and ‘social-emotional learning’ seem to be everywhere in the early care and education space nowadays. But what do they mean exactly?
Social-emotional development is a child’s ability to understand and manage their own emotions; recognize others’ emotions, and form positive relationships with others. It includes skills like solving conflicts, coping with challenges, and setting and achieving goals (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning; Cohen et al., 2005).
Social-emotional development is not just a fad or buzzword either; there is a lot of evidence showing its contribution to success later in life, including school and work. In fact, the US Department of Education identifies social-emotional development as one of the Five Essential Domains of School Readiness.
Social-emotional learning is the main building block of more cognitive forms of learning (like those ABC’s and 123’s, or basic math and science concepts). It’s so foundational, some early education experts have called it “learning how to be a human.”
So how does a teacher or parent support social development in young children? Here are some examples:
Different philosophies of early learning support building social skills in different ways. There are some specifics, however, that you can look for or implement as a parent or a teacher.
In an early education setting, characteristics associated with social-emotional development often include:
- Small group sizes and low ratios: Allow young children to have support from their caregiver while still playing independently.
- Continuity of care: Care by the same person for at least a year in the first three years of life helps children develop a secure attachment and trusted relationships with their caregiver.
- Play-based environments: In a play-based environment, children develop socially and emotionally through play as they imagine the world from a different perspective, understand the differences between themselves and others, and learn how to interact with others.
As a parent, you spend plenty of time interacting with your child – playing, observing, and enjoying them. You can enhance your child’s opportunities for growth by having them play with other children (when COVID-19 isn’t an issue, at least!), modeling healthy emotional responses yourself, and by continuously tapping into where the child is developmentally. Building off of play schemas, for example, may be one intriguing area for you to start. Another way to keep your own interest fresh (if the repetition of daily parenting life these days is getting you down) is to try new activities with your child.
Overall, combining play, learning, and fun will help you along your journey to greater social-emotional growth in your child.
Mia Pritts is the Head of Early Care & Education at Wonderschool. She has spent her entire career in ECE and is proud to support the essential work of brain building.
A note from ThinkFun
At ThinkFun, we love it when learning and fun collide. It’s why we do what we do. Every game, puzzle and brainteaser we create is aimed at igniting a spark in a young mind. Still curious? Check us out on the web, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube or Instagram.
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