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from the Summer, 2018 issue of Voices, PTS' quarterly magazine

Development of Empathy

Upon coming to observe a PTS Preschool classroom, you will see the children interacting in many ways. Whether the children are complimenting a classmate, asking to share a toy or just talking about their day, the children are building critical social and emotional skills that will be the foundation for their future.

preschool blocksUpon coming to observe a PTS Preschool classroom, you will see the children interacting in many ways. Whether the children are complimenting a classmate, asking to share a toy or just talking about their day, the children are building critical social and emotional skills that will be the foundation for their future. Academic skills, while important and organic in a quality play-based preschool, do not lead to the same ease and success in school as social and emotional competence.

As part of the culture in the preschool, we have adopted the PTS’ Vision, Mission and Values as our foundation for learning each day. We have strived to resemble a cohesive community in each classroom. The children see our teachers and parent aides interacting with one another in warm, sweet tones and with a “we” mentality. We believe that in order to raise a child with emotional health they must exert the understanding of human connection. Many child experts will refer to numerous studies suggesting that the lack of positive social interaction in childhood is linked to copious negative consequences later in life. These consequences, according to a study developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Helping Children Play and Learn Together, can include, “withdrawal, loneliness, depression and feelings of anxiety. In addition, low acceptance by peers in the early years is a predictor of grade retention, school dropout, and mental health and behavior problems.”

It is documented that children thrive when they can make and sustain dependable relationships. These relationships allow young children to feel secure, interact with others in a positive way, and encourages learning and exploration. The social aspect of building trust within the walls and boundaries of our preschool creates the balance of self-esteem and self-coping that comes with the beginning stages of social engagement. Our teachers work hard to give the children the chance to grow and socialize by building a strong and consistent community within the classroom and school.

Kate Kane, head teacher at Cambridge-Ellis School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, wrote a blog post on the NAEYC website stating, “Strong communities have members who have shared goals and experiences, who feel empowered to contribute, who trust in one another, and who feel understood and capable as individuals,” she said. “These attributes enable teamwork, cooperation, a willingness to negotiate, and the ability to draw on one another’s skills.” As a child’s first social environment is with their families at home, typically, their first peer relationship is in the early childhood classroom which presents a fertile opportunity for a child to engage in his or her own autonomy for the first time. At PTS, we foster that opportunity by creating open dialogue about fair consequences.

The lasting impact of preschoolers building social skills is one that cannot be denied and should not be overlooked. One of the biggest benefits of allowing children to flourish in these communities is preparing children for kindergarten and beyond. As a toddler’s confidence in social situations grows, the toddler is also able to gain a sense of self, continuing to propel them to positive experiences later in life. As parents of young children can often worry about whether their children are learning and mastering their academic skills, many parents could be surprised to know that social skills are actually far more predictive of positive outcomes in adulthood than early academic skills. So while many parents and schools may be feeling the pressure to cut back on play and social interaction in order to get in more “hard skill” instruction time, it’s actually those “soft skills” that are most beneficial to long-term success. Some important social competencies that are focused on at PTS are:

  • playing well with other
  • problem solving
  • labeling and recognizing feelings, both positive and negative
  • finding solutions and learning how to control impulses

Our world today may give the false sense that early academic learning will be beneficial and lead to future success. However, the reality is that the “soft” social skills they gain in early childhood through the slow, simple processes of playing and interacting, engaging with their families, teachers and friends and paying attention to the world around them will give them the skills necessary to adapt, learn and develop successfully.