Published Online: October 2, 2002
Published in Print: October 2, 2002, as Early Years

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Emotional Health

A young child's social and emotional development is just as important to future success in school as his or her academic knowledge and skills, concludes a report released last week by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

"Young children who develop strong early relationships with parents, family, caregivers, and teachers learn how to pay attention, cooperate, and get along with others. As a result, they are confident in their ability to explore and learn from the world around them," says the report. It was produced by the Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation's Early Education Exchange, a series of conferences focused on helping all children enter school prepared to succeed.

The report, which is based on the findings presented at the first conference last November, recommends a variety of ways in which early- childhood education can foster social and emotional growth, as well as cognitive development.

Program providers should nurture strong and positive relationships between teachers and children, keep class sizes small so children can talk often with both adults and peers, and make sure teachers are specifically trained in early-childhood development.

Child-care and preschool programs should also aim to reduce staff turnover and treat the transition to kindergarten as an important opportunity to encourage children's enthusiasm for learning, according to Ross Thompson, a psychology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is one of six researchers who were commissioned by the foundation to write papers on the subject.

Forming partnerships between preschools and mental-health providers, the authors say, can also "provide families and programs with more effective tools to meet their children's needs."

Those conditions are especially important, they say, for children who come from difficult backgrounds in which their social and emotional health is threatened. Such backgrounds include living in poverty, coming from households marred by domestic violence, having parents who suffer from depression or substance abuse, or being in stressful child-care arrangements.

According to the authors, "many children experiencing problems in social-emotional functioning are also experiencing delays in acquiring early academic skills."

—Linda Jacobson ljacobson@epe.org

Vol. 22, Issue 5, Page 10

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