Why Early Childhood through Middle School Students?
Social and emotional learning is important throughout all developmental stages. Evidence shows that that the same social and emotional skills that predict success in elementary school also lead to better prospects in adolescence and adulthood — and that it is better to learn these skills sooner than later, including in early childhood.
There is mounting evidence that investing in social and emotional learning in early childhood yields significant long-term dividends. The earlier SEL efforts and interventions begin, the more likely children are to develop these skills and competencies in the long-term. Early social-emotional skills are linked with a wide array of positive adult outcomes, including positive mental health, interpersonal relationships, educational attainment, civic engagement, productive employment, and physical health in later life.
These years are critical for developing social and emotional skills, skills that are essential for learning—without them, children fall farther and farther behind. Students who are struggling as early as third grade have a greater likelihood of failing academically and eventually dropping out of school. And, it is critical that children are equipped with these skills before they reach the challenging middle school years.
There is also research on the increasing need for continued SEL efforts throughout middle school. As children begin to transition to adolescence, 11-14-year-old students begin to experience many emotional, social, and physical changes. Unfortunately, there is a rise in bullying incidents during middle school and ensuring children are equipped with social and emotional competencies is one way to mitigate the impact of bullying. And, supporting children through middle school becomes increasingly important, particularly as we seek to institute gains achieved in elementary school.
Learning is social and emotional and all learning is mediated by relationships that sit in a sociopolitical, racialized context – for all children, not just those who are black and brown. Social emotional learning offers the possibility of acknowledging, addressing, and healing from the ways we have all been impacted by racism and systemic oppression and to create inclusive, liberatory learning environments in which students of color and students living in poverty experience a sense of belonging, agency to shape the content and process of their learning, and thrive. This potential will only be realized if we intentionally prioritize educational equity and belonging as a primary goal of social-emotional learning and strategically apply what we know from research on the effects of race and racism, the relationship between culture and learning, and the neuroscience of healthy brain development.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) equips young people with competencies to lead productive and healthy lives. There are barriers, however, that prevent many students of color and other marginalized youth from developing social and emotional competencies. For all students to benefit, SEL must be grounded in a larger context of equity and justice efforts within public education.
In order for social and emotional efforts to be successful, families must be meaningfully engaged as partners in this work.
Parents and families are critical partners in helping their children develop social and emotional competencies. And they can be important advocates for SEL at school and beyond.
Research has shown that children whose parents are more involved in their education have higher rates of attendance, homework completion, and school completion, as well as elevated grades and test scores. Family involvement also facilitates children’s cognitive, social, and emotional functioning and has been linked to increased self esteem, improved behavior, and more positive attitudes toward school.
Parental involvement continues to be important even as children mature. For example, research has shown that adolescents are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors when they perceive a strong connection between their home and school.
In sum, when educators and parents work together as partners, they create important opportunities for children to develop social, emotional, and academic competencies.