Foundation of Social-Emotional Learning

Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, “Make me feel important.” (Mary Kay Ash)

In educational circles today, I hear a lot about social and emotional skills, social and emotional learning, and so forth. Foundational for preschoolers to learn how to relate to the people around them and to begin to regulate themselves is a feeling of being valued and valuable. All children in our classes want to feel valued; they want to know (with the heart not the head) someone cares about them. They want the approval of adults. We teachers have a powerful impact on the lives of boys and girls.

A “simple” action is at the core of buildng a caring community that supports social and emotional skills –using names.

Names are the beginning point of the child’s identity. Calling a child by name builds the relationship and helps the child feel that you know him and care about him. Once I was walking along behind a group of brothers. They stopped in the hall to wait for their mom. I spoke to each one, calling each by name. After I walked by, I heard one whisper, “He knows who we are.” Knowing names = knowing the child. That makes them feel valued and important to you.

Know how to say the name and how to spell it. These days names are spelled all kinds of ways. (A few years ago I knew Haley, Hailey, Hailee, and Hayley.) Spell a child’s name wrong and he will say, “That’s not me.” Spelling a name correctly emphasizes that the child is important enough to you to get it right.

Use printed names in a variety of activities. Place names in your writing center so others can write them. Draw name cards as you choose children for turns in a game. Label displayed artwork with children’s names. Spell names together or clap syllables of names as part of a literacy activity.

Another key part about using names – use them in ways that support and encourage. A child should not only hear or see his name when his behavior is off track. Sometimes you can just tell who the challenging children are by listening at a classroom door. The teacher will say a name over and over and over. Now, that may happen in your classroom. But look for ways to say that same name in an encourage and more positive light.

Once a friend of mine, a teacher of four-year-olds, had one of those challenging children. His name was said often as part of correcting behavior. One day this particular child brought cars from home in his pockets (unknown to Mom or the teacher). At one point, he pulled out the cars and began to play with them in a center. Other boys saw the cars and wanted to use them. He agreed. At one point, he left the center to do something else but left the cars there for kids to use. The teacher decided that this was an opportunity to reinforce helpful behavior in the classroom. She wrote notes to send home with all the kids, noting what helpful things the particular child had done. (Each child’s note was about his/her own actions.) The teacher folded the notes, wrote children’s names on the outside, and placed them at the door for parents to pick up. Mom of our challenging friend was last to arrive. She saw the note from the teacher and, with apprehension, took it and read it. She looked at the teacher and said softly, “You mean he was good today?”

Every day all children contribute in positive ways to the social-emotional climate of the classroom. At some point, all make good choices, act in kind ways, adjust their reactions and emotional responses, and regulate their own behavior. Use names – in speech and in print – to build positive social interactions and create a solid foundation for your social-emotional learning.

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