The importance of social-emotional learning is deeply rooted in our mission and core values at The Little School. In every classroom, the foundation for learning is a warm, inclusive community, and strong, caring relationships between children and teachers. Teachers plan and implement social-emotional curriculum – often integrated with other subjects – that allows children daily opportunities to practice empathy and cooperation, and develop community-minded habits and values. Play is also an important arena of social learning where children develop their sense of autonomy and their independent voice, even as they develop the values, rules and responsibilities of citizenship in a community. Through play, children actively engage their bodies and minds in social learning – they negotiate roles, flex their imaginations, experience conflict and peace-making, cooperate for a common goal, work as a team, share materials, forge friendships, assert their feelings and rebound from disappointments. Drawing on many decades of research and experience, our Social-Emotional Continuum describes a typical social-emotional profile of children from age three to eleven, and outlines some of the key areas of learning at each age/grade. Broadly, the areas of social and emotional learning include:
- Self-Awareness: The ability to reflect on one’s own feelings and thoughts.
- Self-Management (or Self-Regulation): The ability to control one’s own thoughts and behavior.
- Social-Awareness: The ability to empathize with others, recognize social cues and adapt to various situations.
- Relationship Skills: The ability to communicate, make friends, manage disappointments, recognize peer pressure and cooperate.
- Responsible Decision-Making: The ability to make healthy choices about one’s own behavior while weighing consequences for others.
Becoming a capable, communicative, and autonomous person is a central goal of social-emotional growth, along with a developing awareness of one’s own feelings, and the ability to empathize with others and act with care and compassion. Young children begin with learning to trust the new school environment and the adults and children that inhabit it. They start to find ways to express themselves as effectively and positively as possible. Teachers use the Second Step curriculum to help teach and model ways of identifying and regulating feelings, solving conflicts and internalizing social rules and values. The complex and delightful world of friendship and imaginative play is discovered and explored, and the norms of belonging to a group are built. Taking care of yourself, developing patience and persistence, and beginning to engage in the compromises needed for authentic cooperation are daily successes and also long-term projects.
We start by establishing classroom environments that are emotionally safe places for children, where supportive interactions and trust are the norm. From this foundation, students develop resilience, the ability to persist in difficult tasks, and to advocate for themselves and others. Class meetings are a forum for practicing inclusion and empathy, and for developing shared rules and values, as well as for learning about the diversity of opinions, identities, experiences and feelings. Students learn to respectfully consider other viewpoints while working to create a collaborative work community. Learning how one’s behavior impacts others, and how others might feel, is a foundation for conflict resolution, inclusion and cooperation. We encourage children to build self-awareness, confidence, and impulse control as they gain a balanced sense of autonomy and group membership. Teachers guide this learning both informally through daily interactions, and formally through planned lessons and activities. The Second Step curriculum also supports the teaching of these skills.
Regular class meetings are a forum for exploring social issues, participating in a democratic process, discussing diversity and identity, planning class events and celebrations, and generating solutions to problems. Students develop personal responsibility and effective work and study habits within the community-minded context of the classroom. They learn to be an advocate for their learning, and to demonstrate empathy and concern for others. Students broaden their emotional vocabulary and practice communication strategies for solving conflict, dealing with a range of feelings and the ups and downs of daily life. Mistakes and conflicts provide opportunities to learn, build resilience, restore trust and generate solutions. Students contribute to the larger school community as mentors for younger students, classroom helpers, and volunteers in the library; they also take on leadership roles for building and school assemblies, tours and events.