Do you remember playing freeze tag on the playground? Remember the challenge of keeping completely still when your body just wanted to giggle and wiggle? What seems like a random playground game is actually an effective way to help children learn self-regulation, says Shelly Odell, chief operating officer with Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool — and this is a key component to social-emotional development in preschool.
At Gilden Woods locations in Troy, New Hudson, Howell and Commerce Township, toddlers and preschoolers ages 2 ½ to young 5 are learning skills that will help ready them for kindergarten and all the academic years to follow.
Through the C.O.R.E. Social-Emotional Development Program, these young learners are building social-emotional skills such as how to recognize their feelings and the feelings of others, self-regulation, cooperation, empathy and a host of other key skills that serve as a foundation for future learning, says Odell.
“As early childhood education professionals, we know that the key indicators of kindergarten readiness are social-emotional skills and prosocial behaviors,” she says. “Parents sometimes think the pre-academic work is more important — and while it is important, it is trumped by skills like self-regulation and other prosocial behaviors.” The C.O.R.E. Social-Emotional Development Program is just one component of Gilden Woods’ well-rounded comprehensive curriculum, but it’s so fundamental, Odell says. Gilden Woods is finalizing the development of this curriculum and preparing for a 2022 launch.
In essence, kids who have the skills to successfully navigate a cooperative classroom environment — where they need to be able to share, show an age-appropriate level of patience, problem solve and demonstrate the simple act of kindness — are more ready for kindergarten and beyond than children who are reading, writing and completing mathematical equations on the first day of elementary school.
Four fundamental pieces
The C.O.R.E. Social-Emotional Development Program at Gilden Woods was developed to counter some of the more antisocial messaging children are exposed to as members of modern society.
“Often, media geared toward young children focuses on antisocial behavior like hitting and yelling and kids are becoming desensitized to this,” Odell explains. “We are seeing an impact of this on the young children we serve, and in the US, there has been a rise in the number of children diagnosed with conduct disorders, mood disorders and impulsivity disorders.”
The program focuses on four key components that guide prosocial behavior in young children: choices, observations, reactions and efforts.
“Our kids learn that they have control of their bodies and have positive choices to make. They might observe a friend pull a toy out of their hands and assume the action comes from bad intent, but they can also form a positive observation that the classmate just wants to share and play together. By learning how to respond and react appropriately to events that can cause big emotions, they can create positive efforts in their work together. And, after all, play is a child’s work,” Odell explains.
Within an intentional framework for social-emotional development, gone is the hesitation children might display about getting involved when they see antisocial behavior, Odell says. “When I was in school, the rule was don’t be a tattletale. But that’s not something we want to reinforce,” she says. “We encourage young children who witness something to ask themselves if the action was either harmful or unkind. If the answer is yes to either, they should tell a trusted adult.”
Teaching these key skills
At Gilden Woods, social-emotional learning happens in a number of ways, but the components of the program are always shared with intention. During day-to-day experiences, early childhood educators label feelings and encourage children to do the same.
“Maybe a parent drops off a child who feels sad about being away from mom and dad. That sadness can turn into frustration, which may be acted out as aggression. The teacher will help the child label those feelings to help them understand and process them,” Odell says.
There is also plenty of time for intentional guided activities — like freeze tag and the memorable red light-green light game. “These games help children learn they have control of their bodies and how to listen to the directions of others,” she adds.
Educators are also experts at establishing classroom rules and expectations, which they might reinforce each morning as a classroom community. They’re excellent at modeling prosocial behavior. “Walking your talk is such a powerful teaching tool and it’s something we talk about with our educators often,” Odell says.
High-quality children’s literature offers many opportunities to talk about prosocial behavior skills, such as friendship, cooperation and how to manage our emotions. “Our educators will also provide positive reinforcement when they witness prosocial actions and do so intentionally in front of a child’s peers,” she says.
And, Gilden Woods’ eight Woodland Friends are always on hand to reinforce their own positive character traits that align with the social-emotional skills, as well as the other key aspects of the Gilden Woods curriculum, including STEM, reading and writing, language and literature, numbers and math, and immersive enrichment programs.
Learn more about Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool at gildenwoods.com.