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 Learning 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 be mindful and aware of one’s own feelings, thoughts, motives and interests.
- Self-Regulation: The ability to manage one’s own thoughts, body and behavior.
- Social-Awareness: The ability to empathize with others, recognize social cues, regulate behavior in groups 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 self and others.
Three- and four-year-olds are acquiring social and verbal skills at a rapid rate, and they are using these skills with their teachers, peers and caregivers to express their feelings and interests in new ways. Becoming a capable, communicative and autonomous person is a central goal of social-emotional growth at this age, 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.
Five- and six-year-olds are energetic explorers of their environment. They are active do-ers, makers, learners and players who need to move their bodies and explore their world with all their senses. They especially enjoy doing this with friends, and they begin to play more cooperatively, with greater understanding about rules and fairness. Their dramatic play, block play and physical games illuminate moments of compassion, cooperation and social maturity alongside quarrels and argument. We start by establishing classroom environments that are emotionally safe places for children, where supportive interactions and trust are the norm. From this foundation, teachers support children to build ownership of the class rules, routines and responsibilities, to understand the give-and-take of fair play (e.g., turn-taking, tagging, negotiating or following the rules of a game) and to advocate for themselves and others. Other important social-emotional work at this age includes learning to work cooperatively with a group and following norms for listening, discussing and participating in the range of learning tasks and activities. 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.
Seven- and eight-year-olds are brimming with big ideas, amazement and curiosity; they tend to prefer group activities in work and play even while they are also becoming increasingly independent. New awareness and sensitivity is developing in regard to self and others – they may be critical or competitive when it comes to performance, ability, physical and personal qualities – and need support and modeling in how to express this awareness in ways that are inclusive, helpful and not hurtful. To successfully navigate the social and academic environment, this age demands greater skills in executive function and self-regulation. 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. The Second Step curriculum supports the teaching of pro-social behaviors and self-regulation. Students begin to step into some new leadership roles, such as big buddies for younger students, or as library or classroom helpers around the school.
Nine- and ten-year-olds are blossoming in their intellectual interests, eager to seek out explanations for how and why things work and are more interested in the bigger world issues of justice and fairness. New social challenges arise with this awareness, as do new opportunities for leadership, compassion and community mindedness. 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. Second Step’s Anti-Bullying Curriculum is used at this level to teach students how to identify and manage peer pressure, how to deepen skills of inclusion and conflict resolution, and how to prevent social and physical aggression. 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.