Soft skills before ABC: education is changing to benefit the whole child


Photo: Shambhala Sun Camp

We see it everywhere: aggressive drivers who can’t stand to wait, internet “Karen” scolding teenage restaurant workers. Some might say that our society could use a little more social emotional intelligence.

For generations, upbringing and parenting styles have prioritized academic learning and adherence to social norms over social emotional intelligence. Classified in the category of “general skills”, social-emotional learning teaches successful communication, conflict resolution, interacting with others, managing emotional responses, empathy and emotional literacy.

“These are skills that we need throughout our lives,” said LJ Werner, early years specialist. “We have adults still working on those skills, don’t we? Maybe when we were younger we didn’t learn them. You weren’t born with the skills; you taught them. It should be integrated into all curricula.

Werner is a trainer, coach and support advisor for the Pyramid Plus modela professional development system that supports the social-emotional development and inclusion of all children through evidence-based practices.

Even before Werner’s involvement with Pyramid Plus and his research supporting the importance of social-emotional learning during his graduate studies, Werner was sensitive to how most adults treated children. Often, old styles of parenting and childcare stemmed from a discipline or shame-based approach, Werner said.

“There is so much healing that needs to happen around this. I feel like my whole life for as long as I can remember, I’ve worked with children and always been very sensitive to how adults support them. It has become my life’s work.

In her training sessions, she explains to educators and carers that children have a proverbial piggy bank. Kind words, hugs, compliments and attentions fill their banks. Each time a caregiver withdraws, which may take the form of shouting, saying no or being quiet, it interferes with their development and five positive “deposits” in their piggy banks must be made to offset that, Werner said.

“Changing the way we talk to our children can have a huge impact on their self-esteem. Start telling children what to do and what not to do. Remember they are just children. We have to be really realistic about our expectations. We really need to be aware of our own triggers.

The shift to positive and emotionally intelligent teaching will benefit not only students but also educators.

“It’s the most important job,” Werner said. “Teachers really feel like they’re succeeding. They stop feeling like policemen. When parents learn about our approaches, they begin to feel more successful. »

Based on Werner’s experience running a social emotion-based preschool program at CU for more than eight years, Werners sees the strategies working. She only had to create two specialized behavior plans, a last resort to support students, Werner said.

Studies show that implementing a social-emotional program in education can address suicide, hopelessness, anxiety, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, and youth crime.

Inclusive socio-emotional practices also combat discrimination against children because of their race or disability. Black preschoolers are more likely to be suspended or expelled from schools. Inclusive social emotional practices include all children, accommodate all needs, and teach all students empathy for peers instead of separating or suppressing them for perceived behavior issues that may be influenced by racial and ableist biases by administrators and schools.

Other local programs in Colorado offer education with an emphasis on teaching social-emotional skills.

Shambhala Sun Camp is in its 38th year. Its mission has remained the same: to share the wisdom of meditation and mindfulness practices with children. The camp is rooted in the Buddhist tradition, but is open to children of all traditions.

“The fundamental view of Camp Sun, which we try to convey to campers, is that there is nothing wrong with you just the way you are right now,” camp director Sol Halpern said. “You don’t need gimmicks or clothes or even external confirmation to lead a dignified and fulfilled life.”

The philosophy of Shambhala Sun Camp is that everyone is inherently good. Photo courtesy of Ashoka Mukpo.

The camp ethos is more subversive than ever with technology and consumerism dominating our culture.

Children who attend camp report feeling that they can truly be themselves and reunite with real friends. Parents sometimes wonder if their kids really did something, wondering if all their kids did was meditate, but they’re grateful to see small differences when their kids come home, Halpern said.

“Schools confirm a certain set of skills,” Halpern said. “The camp environment here is the philosophy that there’s nothing wrong with you now. It’s pretty deep actually in a way. It’s hard to believe. You have to unpack it all your life. It’s not like you learned it at camp and you’re good. It doesn’t work that way. Even being told that, it’s kind of unusual. I think the purpose of camp, at least on our side, is to support this idea that experience of your own life and familiarity with your own mind and its workings are just as valuable as any other education.

The all-volunteer-run camp, made up mostly of returning campers, teaches tools for developing personal softness and fearlessness, or having a “strong back and a soft front,” Halpern said.

“The youngest come to learn how to take care of themselves, and the older ones come to learn how to take care of others. This reflects the kind of path of, in the Buddhist tradition called bodhisattva, to take care of others. First you take care of yourself and then of others.

Shambhala Sun Camp is an outdoor overnight camp for children ages 10-16. Photo courtesy of Ashoka Mukpo.

As much of education has revolved around academics and maintaining the status quo, what will become of a new generation that learns social and emotional skills?

“Social-emotional development is the foundation of everything,” Werner said. “If you ask any kindergarten teacher what they want kids to show up with, it’s not the ABCs, it’s not reading and writing, it’s being able to be a friend, follow routines, problem solving, self-regulation, talking about feelings, and being able to get into a peer group.That’s what kindergarten teachers want.If they don’t understand that, they won’t learn their ABCs.

Boulder County Summer Programs and Resources Focused on Social Emotions:


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