Preschool Learning: More than ABCs and 123s (page 2)

Preschool Learning: More than ABCs and 123s

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Updated on Dec 16, 2008

So, how did the REDI curriculum manage to pull off double duty? Bierman and her team looked for ways to integrate social and emotional development into the more traditional academic teachings for a more wholistic approach. “We put time into figuring out where the two interlapped,” Bierman says.

Answer: books. They developed an interactive reading program featuring books with social-emotional themes. As the children built up their vocabulary and understanding of a story, they simultaneously learned how to listen and converse about feelings and sharing. “It’s emotional understanding packaged for young children through these stories,” Bierman explains.

The characters in these stories modeled skills such as problem-solving and self-control. One such character is a puppet named Twiggle the Turtle. When Twiggle got upset he went inside his shell, took a deep breath, and then said what bothered him and how it made him feel. In the program, children were encouraged to use Twiggle’s trick for gaining self-control, by crossing their arms (to avoid impulsive hitting), taking a breath, and then using words to describe how they feel.  

Another way Bierman incorporated the social and emotional curriculum into the students’ day was by training teachers to use high-level language, especially during non-academic times, such as lunch. “When parents and teachers are busy, they often talk at children,” says Bierman. “But there are times when much more discussion can take place. Can have a meal and not only get the meal done, but use it as an opportunity to talk about feelings and events?” The study found that these types of discussions not only work oral comprehension skills, but improve a child’s ability to focus.

Bierman admits that an enriched program such as REDI requires much forethought and organization, but the point is that it can be done, and the numbers are compelling enough to suggest that it should be done.

Standing in the way of nation-wide implementation is, of course, the cost of materials and teacher-training. But, if President-elect Barack Obama makes good on his promises to fund early childhood education, research like this could become realities for preschoolers across the country.

In the meantime, Bierman says parents can create a home environment rich with opportunities to develop social and emotional skills. Here’s what she suggests:

  • During down times, discuss feelings and events with your child, such as what happened over the course of his day and how he felt about what happened. Also, be sure to talk about future events.
  • Brainstorm problem-solving strategies with your child. If it’s not Twiggle the Turtle, come up with another way to model self-regulation and discussion of a problem. When issues arise, follow through with your strategy, rather than just managing the behavior through reward and punishment.
  • And, of course, practice the age-old advice: read, read, read to your child, and have her read to you. Interactive reading is crucial to language development.
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