For decades, we focused on the ABCs, counting to 10, naming colors, and identifying shapes as the skills that defined school readiness. But more research is beginning to support the importance of children’s social and emotional skills for school readiness. This bucket of skills includes self-regulation and awareness of emotions. When does social-emotional learning begin? How can we support social-emotional development and school readiness?
Infants are born ready to learn! Research tells us that infants observe others to understand and learn about the world and their culture. One way infants learn is by imitating their caregivers and the people in their lives. At a very young age, they imitate sounds, movements, facial expressions, and actions. Imitation begins before an infant can speak! This behavior can support social-emotional bonds between infants and their caregivers.
Infants also learn about emotions from the people in their lives. Through observing and interacting with others, they begin to understand the concepts of emotions and self-regulation. Adults can help children understand emotions by talking about different feelings and talking about good ways to deal with big emotions. Talking about emotions helps children begin to understand and be able to express how they are feeling.
Social and emotional learning is a significant part of school readiness and lifelong learning. We learn from other people throughout our lives! Understanding our own emotions and the emotions of others help children form bonds with their caregivers and peers.
Here are some tips and activities you can try with the children in your life:
- Do something silly and see how your baby responds! Make a face, stick out your tongue, or make sounds like an animal. Encourage your child to play along.
- You can also imitate your child. When they do something silly, imitate it back to them. How do they respond?
- Watch as your child imitates the world around them. Encourage imitation of behaviors you’d like them to repeat.
- Use dolls or stuffed animals for dramatic play. Enacting different scenarios teaches children about complex behaviors and emotions.
- Playing games like “Simon Says” helps children develop listening skills and self-control.
- Talk with your child about how he is feeling. Introduce new emotion words. Include words for neutral emotions, such as patient and calm. This will expand his understanding of emotions and will allow him to describe how he is feeling. It will also help him understand what you mean when you ask him to be patient in the future.
If you are interested in learning more about social and emotional development, check out the I-LABS online modules. Currently, the library consists of 19 free modules that cover topics related to early learning and development. Also included in this library are one-page briefs with activities for caregivers. For more activities to try at home with children, check out the brief that accompanies each module!