Every year most of my young students come into kindergarten unable to get their cold-weather outerwear on independently. Usually, it isn’t that they can’t, it’s just that they haven’t. I understand how it happens! It is so much faster and easier for a parent to zip a coat for their child rather than having them practice doing it themselves. But in a classroom, with a herd of kids, independence skills are highly valued. So, to save our sanity, teachers usually make an initial investment of time and energy to work on independence skills.
We spend time modeling, for example, how to fix inside-out sleeves. Explicitly teaching them, for example, if you put your wet socks in your coat pockets, your coat will get wet and dirty. We often use think-aloud techniques. “Let’s see, if you put your mittens on first it will be very tricky to button your jacket. So button your jacket first, and then put your mittens on.” And finally, most importantly, allowing them time to practice. We are still there to encourage and scaffold as needed, for example, with getting a zipper started. We work toward independence, practicing gradual release. And, after some practice, the winter clothing hassle becomes the winter clothing hustle. The kids are like a well-oiled machine!
In the same way, it isn’t that our young students can’t self-monitor or self-regulate, it’s that they have very little practice with these and other social and emotional skills. As teachers of young children, helping them develop these skills is crucial. We know this. But do we really spend the time and energy to prioritize social and emotional learning? Do we embrace the opportunities to work on these skills, or rather, avoid them, considering it an added hassle and “not my job”? Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that it can be exhausting helping young children learn social and emotional skills! It requires intention and an investment of time, just like the winter clothing hustle.
In the same way, we can increase our students’ social and emotional skills through explicit instruction, modeling, think-aloud techniques, encouragement, scaffolding, and gradual release. And finally, most importantly, allowing them time to authentically practice these skills- through play!
Play on, my friends!