November 27, 2019

Social-Emotional Development in the Primary Classroom

The Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) are used in the Primary Classrooms here at MSCVT. The VELS are intended to be a resource for families, teachers, caregivers, administrators, and policy makers to answer two questions: What should children know and be able to do to prepare them to succeed in school and in life? What experiences should be available in homes, schools, and communities to help them gain the knowledge and skills that prepare them for school and life?

VELS lists the following information in terms of Social-Emotional Development: “The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified the following five interrelated sets of cognitive, effective, and behavioral competencies that are critical for children’s success in school, at work, and in life: 

Self?awareness—the ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior; 
Self?management—the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations, and to set and work toward personal and academic goals; 
Social awareness—the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports; 
Relationship skills—the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups, including the skills to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed; 
Responsible decision?making—the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical Standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.”

The first year (three-year-old) child is typically working toward self-awareness. At this age, the child is still learning to recognize and name their emotions, as well as respond appropriately to such feelings. For example, they may still throw a block in frustration because it keeps falling over, hit when someone takes something they want to use, or cry because they need to wait their turn. In the Montessori classroom, we emphasize that each friend in the classroom is different and therefore may have different feelings in each of the situations. At this age, the child is feeling so many big emotions, but they don’t yet have the language to describe it. Providing that language can often be helpful. For example, we may start a conversation with the child that throws the block: “I noticed that you threw that block. Can you tell me why you did that? It sounds like you may be feeling a little frustrated. What do you think would happen if the block hit one of our friends?” In addition to conversations with the child, things like emotion cards may be used in the classroom. Emotion cards are photos of people (often children) displaying different emotions. In the classroom, these cards are often paired with a mirror for the child to look at their own expressions; to see what it looks like when they are feeling the same emotions.

By the time the child reaches Kindergarten, they are usually at the “responsible decision making” stage of social-emotional development. In the Montessori classroom, the Kindergarten child is the leader of the classroom. Being in their third year, they know the expectations, ground rules, and procedures. Their actions and behaviors are what the three-year-old looks up to as an example. To aid in their responsible decision making, the Kindergarten children are often given the task of helping their younger peers; whether it’s showing how to zip a jacket, giving a lesson on a material, or helping to resolve a conflict with the Peace Rose. While the three-year-olds are learning the ways of the classroom, the Kindergartener is learning about patience, respect, and helping others. Furthermore, they learn about how their actions affect others; by offering their younger friends a good example, they aid in the growth of the classroom.