Perspectives on Whole Child Literacy

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Social Emotional Learning...What It Means For Children

Categories: Early Literacy, Education & Teaching, Educators, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices

By Valerie Chernek

What is Social-Emotional Development?

Social emotional development refers to our ability to “experience, manage and express” our feelings; to build positive relationships, and actively explore our environment. It is an understanding of how our minds and hearts think and feel about situations as they relate to the world around us. Considerations of social-emotional development aren't just about discrete skills that a child needs to learn, but all aspects of scenarios that impact their learning and development, including adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma.

Early childhood is the time to be aware of ACEs and how this can affect a child's long-term emotional stability and learning success. When a child feels safe and calm, we can help them recognize different emotions and how each emotion makes them feel. We can help children learn to self-regulate emotions when they occur. When a child does not feel safe, they will not feel calm, nor be able to grow in the learning process.

In elementary school, social-emotional development often focuses on executive functioning skills, such as memory and self-control. When students engage in play-based skills, they learn to advocate for themselves and practice empathy for others. In middle school, teens are figuring out their own identity and how they fit into the world. They become aware of their bodies and minds. This is a time to understand how we all experience emotions differently and how our reactions affect our social communication. In high school, as our relationships with peer groups grow to be important, we begin to see ourselves in a multitude of roles that add to the formulation of who we will become as an adult.

Embracing Social Emotional Learning in Whole Child Literacy

Embracing the theory of the "whole child" is a critical part of educating youth today. Whole child literacy builds on “whole child” pedagogy. It encompasses factors that impact a child’s ability to learn to read proficiently through evidence-based reading instruction with an understanding of the cognitive variables and socio-emotional influences of a child's home and cultural environment. Parents, caregivers, teachers are all primary sources to help children grow in their social emotional development, but it takes all of us - you - me, neighbors, peers, our communities, our leaders, our nation, to support every child's well-being.

For all children to be safe, calm, literate, and ready to learn, they require a "whole child" literacy approach, including the necessary evidence-based academic reading instruction, grounded in the science of reading, along with social and emotional skills to manage their world. In turn, they will become thriving human beings who grow up capable in their own life journey to lend a hand for others to be socially and emotionally capable of succeeding too.     

This article, written by Valerie Chernek, was originally published by SEL Today at the American Consortium for Equity in Education.

Learning Ally is a leading education nonprofit dedicated to empowering educators with proven solutions that help new and struggling learners reach their potential. Our range of literacy-focused offerings for students in Pre-K to 12th grade and catalog of professional learning allows us to support more than 1.6 million students and 260,000 educators across the United States.  Our programs incorporate a whole child literacy approach driven by brain-based research that is grounded in the science of reading, and an understanding of the cognitive variables and socio-emotional influences of a student’s home and environment that impact learning.

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