To help clarify how “cognitive” all this social emotional learning is, I have been following a slew of research studies that maximize the importance of social emotional learning (e.g. social skills, also referred to as “soft skills” or “nonacademic skills”). Many of these studies received an excellent review in a recent NYTimes opinion piece by David Bornstein, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives” (July 24, 2015), even if I have to forgive him for carrying on the myth that these skills are “non-cognitive” in nature. His review of the research included the results of the Fast Track Project which, after more than a decade of following children as they aged, concluded that “Children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.” Bornstein, in his article, goes on to say,
“These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.”
- Those in Direct Instruction showed early academic gains**
- By the end of 4th grade, trends had reversed or evened out across all three different groups of students
- At a 15-year-old check of all students: Academically there were no differences between the three groups but the Direct Instruction group showed twice the number of “acts of misconduct”
- At 23-years-old, those in the Direct Instruction group demonstrated greater difficulty getting along with others, greater mental health challenges, were more likely to commit a crime, and 39% had felony arrests compared to 13.5% of the persons from the other two groups. Additionally, 19% were cited for assault with a deadly weapon, compared to 0% of persons from the other two groups.
** this same data has been replicated many times across a variety of studies.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the growing attention to the impact technology is having on children’s social emotional development and school readiness skills, well before they step foot into a classroom. Pivotal technology changing years included 2007 when the iPhone was introduced, followed by the introduction of the iPAD in 2010. According to Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, between 2011 and 2013, the percentage of families with children age eight and under who owned tablets grew from 8% to 40%. Even more remarkable, the percentage of children with access to a smartphone or tablet jumped from 50% to 75% of those surveyed. Two additional years have lapsed; the figures are undoubtedly even higher.
- In a 2011 article issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Babies and Toddlers Should Learn from Play Not Screens,” the AAP summarized key findings from their 2011 policy statement on media use. Among the findings were that “Young children learn best from—and need–interaction with humans, not screens” and that “Unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media. Children learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at early ages through unstructured, unplugged play.”
- Screen time recommendations from the nonprofit group, Zero to Three (2014), stress that moderation is best: “the need for limits is still important because research clearly shows that it is active exploration of the real, 3-D world with loving, trusting caregivers that is most critical for healthy early development.”
- “Lively Minds: Distinctions Between Academic Versus Intellectual Goals For Young Children” by Lillian G. Katz, PhD (2015), is a free publication and important reading for all who care to help guide this and future generations to have the best tools available to them for use across their lives. Katz poses that education, needs to go beyond play and academics to also address “intellectual goals”, which she defines this way: “Intellectual goals and their related activities, on the other hand, are those that address the life of the mind in its fullest sense (e.g. reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning, etc.), including a range of aesthetic and moral sensibilities.”
The evidence is strong: play skills and other non-academic skills facilitate critical thinking and actually contribute to, not detract from, other aspects of academic development. They also encourage us to be good members of our community, and provide an opportunity to improve conflict resolution skills, emotional self-management, etc.
Just to summarize, I find my knee-caps and elbows quite useful; please note that even they need neurology to function. Social skills are helpful but they do not stand on their own two feet. Our brain is the source of all learning and social engagement. It’s time for social emotional learning to take its rightful place at the educational table, as a “main course” and not an optional “side” that may or may not be on the menu.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011, October 19). Babies and toddlers should learn from play, not screens. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111018084628.htm.
Bornstein, D. (2015, July 24). Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/24/building-social-skills-to-do-well-in-math/?emc=eta1&_r=0.
Common Sense Media. (2013). Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America 2013. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/zero-to-eight-childrens-media-use-in-america-2013.
Hu, E. (Narrator). (2013, October 28). What you need to know about babies, toddlers and screen time. [Radio broadcast episode]. Washington, DC: National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/10/29/228125739/what-to-know-about-babies-and-screen-time-kids-screens-electronics.
Katz, L.G. (2015). Defending the early years: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children. Boston, MA: Defending the Early Years; University of Illinois: Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting.
Lerner, C. & Barr, R. (2014). Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. Research-Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old. Zero to Three: Washington, D.C.