According to the numerous research in education, development of social and emotional competencies of pre-school children is a key to achieving academic success in school. The current learning process places too much stress on the transfer of information and knowledge, which the children receive without being able to experience, understand or internalize it. There are significant risks of inappropriate patterns and models of behavior, rush and nervousness that urge adults to put an end to the child’s effort prematurely and to do it for them, insufficient motivation to self-expression and self-reliance, unreasonable demands on the child, negative assessment, lack of recognition and appreciation of child’s efforts. Concerning emotional goals, these risks are embedded in lack of positive examples of behavior, following the lead of children, negative perception of praise and non-authentic behavior of adults.
The research has shown that highly educated and specifically trained ECEC professionals can establish desirable interactions with children and help to provide a secure, consistent, sensitive, stimulating and rewarding environment (Eurydice 2009a). Furthermore, emotionally supportive teachers find it easier to establish good relationships even with children that display undesirable behavior (Buyse et al. 2008) and, thus, help them to develop emotional self-regulation skills from an early age, which is crucial for their success in primary education (Webster-Stratton & Reid 2004, Webster-Stratton & Reid 2008). The competencies of ECEC practitioners depend both on their initial educational background and ongoing training, ensuring constant learning and professionalization of staff, particularly in times of changing social needs. (CoRe 2011).
Unfortunately, published research demonstrates, that very few pre-school teachers are trained to use evidence-based methods to support children’s social and emotional development in their classrooms and even fewer of them adopt evidence-based social and emotional curricula. (Gottfredson & Gottfredson 2002; Lopes, Mestre, Guil, Kremenitzer & Salovey, 2012; Kremenitzer 2005; Jones & Bouffard 2012; Bierman & Motamedi 2016)
One of the methodologies aimed at prevention of the above-mentioned risks was recently presented in the Czech Republic upon the title of “Good Start” methodology for kindergarten teachers. It focuses on the support of social and emotional competencies of pre-school children and it is based on the evidence-based principles developed by the US organization Incredible Years. (www.incredibleyears.com) The main goal of the training program based on the “Good Start” methodology is to increase the competence of pedagogical staff in pre-school facilities, thus contributing to improving the work with children, supporting healthy development and growth of children in terms of the development of their social and emotional skills in early years. Particular attention is paid to children from socially disadvantaged or culturally diverse environment for which attendance in pre-school is often more challenging and results in behavioral difficulties. In addition, the attention is also paid to the children with different mother tongue, especially with regards to their integration into the children’s group and learning the new language. (Havrdová & Vyhnánková 2015)
The Training Program for “Good Start” Methodology
The training program based on the “Good Start” methodology focuses both on the development of competencies of pre-school teachers (personal and social development) and on the development of strategies of pedagogical work with children and their parents. Currently, there are quite a few methods and strategies aimed at supporting social and emotional competencies of preschool children. For instance, the organization CASEL (Collaborative for Academics, Social and Emotional Learning) defines five interconnected cognitive and behavioral competencies that can contribute to the healthy social and emotional development of children:
- Self-awareness: the ability to recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts and influences on their own behaviour. The ability to assess strengths and limitations and have a well-grounded sense of confidence, and optimism.
- Self-management: the ability to effectively regulate one’s feelings, thoughts and behavior in different situations. For example, managing stress, controlling impulses, the ability to motivate oneself, and the ability to set and achieve personal and academic targets.
- Social awareness: the ability to empathize with other people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize the importance and support of family, school, and community.
- Relationship skills: the ability to establish and maintain relationships with different individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, actively listen, cooperate, resist inappropriate social pressures, constructively negotiate and seek or offer help when needed.
- Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of the consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others. (www.casel.org)
Other key personal traits that refer to the successful social and emotional development of pre-school children are confidence, curiosity, intentionality, self-control, relatedness, capacity to communicate, and cooperativeness. (Waltz) The “Good Start” methodology puts emphasis on the development of above-mentioned competencies and traits.
The “Good Start” methodology was introduced to Czech kindergartens in 2014. Since then it has been evaluated by teachers and social workers who attended the training program and participated in follow-up consultations. In addition, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) has been used to assess the development of children in classes with teachers who have undergone the training program. It is too early to see the impact of the methodology as a whole, as longitudinal studies are needed to provide a holistic view. However, changes in teachers and parents approach as well as children’s behaviors can already be observed, which makes educational experts and policy-makers optimistic in working towards inclusive education in the Czech Republic.
Bierman, Karen L.; Motamedi, Mojdeh (2016). SEL Programs for Preschool Children. In. Durlak, Joseph A.; Domitrovich, Celene E.; Weissberg, Roger P.; Gullotta, Thomas P. Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice. Guilford Publications, 2016.
Buyse, E., Verschueren, K., Doumen, S., Van Damme, J., & Maes, F. (2008). Classroom Problem Behavior and Teacher-child Relationships in Kindergarten: The Moderating Role of the Classroom Climate. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 367–391.
CoRe. (2011). Competences Requirements in Early Childhood Education and care (Study for the European Commission DG Education and Culture). Retrieved from http://www.vbjk.be/files/CoRe%20Final%20Report%202011.pdf
Eurydice. (2009a). Early childhood education and care in Europe: tackling social and cultural inequalities (p. 190). Brussels: EACEA, Eurydice. Retrieved from http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/about/eurydice/documents/098EN.pdf
Gottfredson, D.C., & Gottfredson, G. D. (2002). Quality of school-based prevention programs: Results from a national survey: Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 39, 3-35.
Havrdová, E. – Vyhnánková, K. (eds.) (2015). Good start. Evidence-based methods for pre-school teachers. Prague: Schola Empirica.
Jones, Stephanie M., and Bouffard, Suzanne M. (2012). “Social and Emotional Learning in Schools. From Programs to Strategies”, sharing child and youth development knowledge, volume 26, number 4, 2012. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED540203.pdf
Kremenitzer, J. P. (2005). The emotionally intelligent early childhood educator: Selfreflective journaling. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(1), 3–9. doi: 10.1007/s10643-005-0014-6
Lopes, P. N., Mestre, J. M., Guil, R., Kremenitzer, J., & Salovey, P. (2012). The role of knowledge and skills for managing emotions in adaptation to school: Social behavior and misconduct in the classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 49(4), 710-742. doi: 10.3102/0002831212443077
Waltz M. The Importance of Social and Emotional Development in Young Children. Ready 4 K. Retrieved from https://childrensacademyonline.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Importance-of-SEL-In-Early-Childhood-Devt.pdf
Webster-Stratton C., & Reid, M.J.(2004). Strengthening social and emotional competence in young children – The foundation for early school readiness and success: Incredible Years Classroom Social Skills and Problem-Solving Curriculum. Journal of Infants and Young Children, 17 (2).
Webster-Stratton C., & Reid, M.J.(2008). Strengthening social and emotional competence in socioeconomically disadvantaged young children: Preschool and kindergarten school-based curricula. In. W.H. Brown, S.L. Odom & S.R. McConnell (Eds.), Social competence of young children: Risk, disability, and intervention (pp.185-203) Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
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