Emotional Learning Was Never More Important

Even children who are small enough to attend preschool and kindergarten should be given the opportunity to pick up important skills such as playing and sharing with and helping the other kids. Data from a growing corpus of research as well as elementary common sense suggests that the social skills learnt by young children can help them to keep out of trouble even up to their adult years. This implies that schools should routinely tutor children about emotions just as they teach reading and arithmetic.

The link between emotions and learning

An educational known as Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS is being implemented in around 1500 schools throughout the country.Developed sometime in the 1980s, it has been devised to help young children to recognize and express their emotions. Every week, children are given two classes lasting between 15 min and 20 min on topics such as respecting other people and exercising self-control. Twiggle the anthropomorphic Turtle is often used to drive home the point especially for the younger children studying in kindergarten or the first grade.

One teacher says that children are adopting the lessons with enthusiasm and the kids are taught how to do the turtle all the time. For instance, when they are upset about something, doing the turtle consists of putting their arms around themselves and articulating their problem. Most kids will eventually learn these lessons with the help of their parents but these lessons help them to learn more quickly. Children who come from homes which are troubled often have problems expressing themselves until they are introduced to Twiggle.

The effect of PATHS and similar programs

An earlier study showed encouraging preschool results and was based in turn on research which showed that young children with difficult behaviour in class and at home are more likely to be prone to problems of mental health and to criminal activity when they become adults. Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Duke University, wondered whether something could be initiated to prevent these problems in the first place and has dedicated his entire career to possible solutions. In 1991, with his colleagues, he researched five-year-old children for problematic behaviour and identified 900 children half of whom went through normal school while the other half attended PATHS programs. By the time they were 25 years of age, the kids on these special programs had done better at school and had a lower level of criminal activity and fewer problems with mental health issues and substance abuse. He concludes that just like reading and writing, emotional and social literacy can also be imparted in school.

The cost benefit analysis

All schools cannot afford these programs because they can be expensive but the cost per child is reasonable compared to the cost of juvenile delinquency programs and rehabilitation later in life. However, Dodge says that instead of spending a lot of money on programs which are remedial in nature, prevention programs like PATHS will result in cost savings in the long run. And there is plenty of evidence that children are listening.

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