The Importance of Tteaching Social Skills

Last week saw research by childcare group Pacey call for greater emphasis on developing social skills and independence in pre-school children, as opposed to the focus on educational development in the UK government's pre-school curriculum. But is there a wider lesson we can take from this, not just for pre-school learning, but for all learning?

The Pacey survey found that the majority of parents and teachers thought that social skills, independence and the capacity to learn were the most important factor in preparing children for education. They wanted to see these emphasised in the pre-school curriculum, through more opportunities for child-led learning and independent play. Government ministers, on the other hand, are emphasising language and communication skills, and want to adopt a French approach in which teacher-led learning dominates from early on.

This brings up once again a divergence in views between those who want to further reinforce a 'traditional' approach, in which learning is seen as sitting at desks, studying the same topics we've always studied, and those who take a more holistic approach to education, considering children's physical, emotional and social skills, not just how much information they can cram into their heads. Organisations such as Pacey are defending the shrinking opportunities for a more holistic, child-led approach, and they're losing ground.

What this has made me think is that we shouldn't just be defending what little social and emotional learning these is within our education systems - we should be increasing it. These skills are almost entirely ignored in school curricula, yet they're the most important in supporting us in healthy lives and productive relationships. Most western education systems seem to expect children to develop these skills spontaneously, but experience shows that many don't develop them at all. Just look at the problems of marginalisation and anti-social behaviour in our society, many of them stemming from a lack of proper socialisation. Or the number of otherwise intelligent, healthy adults who end up in counselling because they've never learned to deal with their emotions.

My sister works with troubled teens and young adults, trying to set them on a more productive path. A large part of what she does is teaching them basic social skills, things like empathy and appropriate ways to deal with their feelings. If this had been included in their schooling, many would never have reached the point they have, in trouble with the authorities, their lives tumultuous, their futures bleak.

Many of us are uncomfortable acknowledging that emotional and social skills are something to be taught, something where we could all improve, something worthy of inclusion in the curriculum. But until we do that we'll continue as damaged as we are, and early years practitioners will find themselves fighting again and again for what little social and emotional development they're allowed to support.


Photo my familymwr via Flickr creative commons

Andrew Knighton

About Andrew Knighton

I'm a writer and ex-teacher. You can find more of my writing on education at: I also have a blog on reading and writing:

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