Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood
Social and emotional development is an essential step in every child’s education and growth. This ongoing process is all about developing the abilities necessary to understand and manage emotions, allowing children to communicate, learn, and navigate the world effectively.
Social and emotional skills tend to form naturally as children interact with each other and adults, but these skills can also be supported in the classroom and at home. Computer science education in particular is highly effective for honing these social-emotional skills.
I’ll share some strategies for helping develop social-emotional skills in early childhood, but educators should first know the importance of social-emotional development and its role in early education.
Why Social-Emotional Development Is Important in Early Education
Social-emotional development is incredibly beneficial to young learners. Children who possess these skills and exhibit healthy social and emotional behaviors gain a wide range of advantages — including better academic performance in elementary school.
I taught kindergarten my first three years in education and saw firsthand that there is a correlation between a child’s academic success and their level of social and emotional development. Learning “how to school” is a huge part of early childhood education. It’s the first time children are learning how to walk in lines, initiate friendships with strangers, take turns, and so many other things.
Children who are learning and practicing those skills for the first time are at a disadvantage when the time comes to also learn academic skills. They‘re learning both social and academic skills at once, and that is a huge task!
Educators can help by fostering social and emotional development in kids as early as possible.
How To Develop Social and Emotional Skills in Early Childhood
To ensure our young learners develop their social-emotional skills effectively and early enough, we can use a wide range of activities and lessons that teach how to manage emotions and social situations.
Here are some of my favorites.
1. Learning by Example
Role-playing was a tool I used when developing the skills of young learners. We would act out situations and practice responses. Then when real-life situations arose, we could refer back to the way we practiced it in role play.
We would also look for social-emotional skills in stories we read and use those as examples. Like with any other skill, kids need clear, correct examples to follow and plenty of time to practice.
2. Learning Through Play
Learning can—and should—be fun and stimulating, and students today are fortunate enough to have access to a wide range of educational games and learning tools. Sphero’s own programmable and interactive robots — like the beginner-friendly Sphero indi — help develop social-emotional skills through play.
Children often humanize Sphero robots because of how cute they are! Students will name their Sphero robot and even assign it gender and personality. I have done many lessons with littles where we name and characterize our Sphero robot and then use them to role play, which gives us another way to practice emotional skills.
You can do this by using draw or drive functions with students as young as preschool. With older children or those who seem to excel with the technology aspect of the robot, you can help them to input words, sounds, colors, and movements to role play with the Sphero robot.
I almost always use Sphero robots in groups or pairs, so it makes for a great activity to practice problem-solving together and taking turns. Kids are very motivated to use the Sphero robot, so you can design tasks that have them solve problems and take turns, giving them real practice with those social skills.
Recognizing Healthy Social-Emotional Development
When we’re helping young learners develop social-emotional skills, educators need to recognize the signs that these abilities are developing correctly in their students. Fortunately, there are many milestones you can look out for.
Asking for help and advocating for themselves is an indicator of social-emotional development that I always watched for. A child who can ask for help in an appropriate way when needed signals well-developed skills. However, teachers must also be very aware of students’ facial expressions and other clues. I had to know when to step in if they were in real danger and didn’t know how to ask for help. That also gave us a chance to practice how they could have asked.
If you’re a parent, think about knowing what your child’s “potty dance” looks like. As a parent, you see that dance and know that you need to whisk the child off to the restroom. As a teacher, you need to know what 20+ kids’ potty dances might look like, and you also need to teach them how to ask to use the restroom or signal to an adult.
Another method of monitoring your students’ emotional states is Sphero’s mood tracker worksheet. This exercise helps students practice identifying and communicating their emotions while allowing educators to track progress over time.
Teach Social-Emotional Skills with Sphero
Social-emotional development is a critical stage in every child’s early years. With the support of educators, this process can give students the tools they need to form relationships, communicate effectively with others, and handle their emotions in a healthy way.
It’s easy to combine social-emotional skill building with computer science and STEM education, and Sphero’s educational tools are the perfect way to do just that.
To get started, you can browse their complete collection of programmable robots and circuitry kits that teach social and emotional skills through play.
Brandy New is Director of Innovation Hardin County Kentucky, a high school programming class facilitator, and mom of three teens. She also designs curriculum for Shattered Glass, an organization which empowers girls to explore STEM starting at a young age.