Social emotional development should be the focus of our children’s early education, so why, once they hit kindergarten, does the entire focus of the child’s education become academic? Studies show that children with higher level social emotional development have the capacity to become leaders, are better problem solvers and have more confidence than children that aren’t bought up in an environment that values social-emotional as a skill that needs nurturing and development.
Forest K and Social Emotional Development
If you haven’t seen the amazing documentary, School’s Out, it shows first hand how the experience of attending a forest kindergarten that is completely void of academia, educates children on a number of skills that will be valuable throughout their life and, what’s more, these children catch up to their peers academically within a year or two. Some of the skills are critical thinking, dexterity – gross and fine motor skills, which many children going into kindergarten are lacking. Emotional regulations, again a skill that many kids just starting kindergarten aren’t prepared to manage on their own.
Creating a Democratic Learning Environment
It’s not necessary to enroll your child in a forest school to teach social emotional development, it’s just key that it be a focus as they enter an age where their brain function becomes more complex, while their impulse control is not yet fully mastered.
The idea of making social emotional skills the primary focus of a kindergarten education is the end game here. A democratic learning environment, where the children get the opportunity to voice their feelings and thoughts and choose what they want to be a part of each day is a huge opportunity for them to learn. Giving a child the chance to take the lead in their education provides valuable critical thinking and problem solving skills, much more so than sitting at a desk and doing worksheets, or following teachers instructions all day.
Children are incredibly receptive to solving problems and figuring out how things work. I love the work of John Holt, especially How Children Learn, which focuses on the child’s innate interest and capacity to learn, and when left to their own devices they will teach themselves skills through natural problem solving.
Giving Children the Freedom to Hone Social Skills
This is true when it comes to social development as well. Although most children could use a bit of coaching and direction, what they need most is uninterrupted play time. During our forest group days, I noticed the most amazing society form between the children where they set up stands to barter and trade, formed communities and tribes that traveled together. Spending hours in the woods with nothing but their imagination and each other, beautiful learning happened, children were better regulated, most were in wonderful moods, and they came home calm and collected unlike how we often witness children coming home from a long day at school – exhausted, overwhelmed and overstimulated, they hardly have to time relax before jumping into homework or structured extracurricular activities.
All our children really need is time to imagine, explore, socialize while we stand back and observe, unless required to step in a proved support or scaffolding. Let’s make social regulation a priority and let’s give children the opportunities they need to focus on this much needed skill by simply giving them free time with friends.