Academic journal article Childhood Education

Building Emotional Literacy: Groundwork to Early Learning

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Building Emotional Literacy: Groundwork to Early Learning

Article excerpt

A child has a sensitive period which lasts until he is almost five years old and which enables him to assimilate images from his environment in a prodigious fashion. He is an observer truly actively receiving these images through his senses.

--Maria Montessori (1966)

My 30-year journey as an educator, with extensive observations of young children from diverse backgrounds, helps me understand the social and emotional needs of children. Having this array of experiences with young children, I often reflect upon what can be done to build a young child's skills in expressing his or her feelings, how we can promote children's well-being, and how we can create environments that enhance children's learning potential. Part of social and emotional development is a child's emotional literacy. Literacy is a multi-dimensional construct. It is diverse, complex, and intricate. No doubt, the current emphasis in early childhood highlights the need for a child to develop literacy skills. Such a foundation may promote later school success. Bocchino (1999) defines literacy as the ability to decode clues, whether they are the printed clues on a page of text or the subtle clues of interpersonal communication. Moreover, literacy includes the ability to create meaning and the ability to apply that understanding to our own lives. Bocchino posits that being literate must include a constellation of cultural and personal maps that help us comprehend not only the outside world, but also ourselves. It is time for those with an interest in school readiness to consider that a foundation in literacy must include the construct of "emotional literacy." Goleman (1995) clearly states:

Emotional life is a domain that, as surely as math or reading, call be handled with greater or lesser skill, and requires its unique set of competencies. And how adept a person is at those is crucial to understanding why one person thrives in life, whereas another, of equal intellect, dead ends: Emotional aptitude is a meta-ability, determining how well we can use whatever other skills we have, including raw intellect. (p. 83)

In preparing for young children's entry to preschool and to aid in the transition into that environment, early childhood teachers must plan lessons that include activities addressing the building of vocabulary, concepts, and social skills. These activities should provide opportunities to practice negotiating, problem-solving, and communication skills with peers and adults. Giving young children the appropriate vocabulary and role-modeling behaviors to use in conflict or stressful situations will help to create a working classroom community in which the learning environment embraces children's voices. Songs, rhyming poems, games, chants, and word play based on feelings, emotions, and experiences support children's phonological and socio-emotional development. Storytelling contributes to young children's vocabulary growth, cognitive skills, and sequencing skills (beginning, middle, and end). These learning activities help support children's social-emotional development. Shonkoff and Phillips (2000) suggest that what young children feel is as significant as how they think, especially with regard to school readiness. They posit that emotional development occurs on a parallel path to early literacy development in the context of positive relationships. Children are more likely to learn important cognitive skills when they are confident and engage in interactions with other children as well as with adults. Storytelling, in particular, offers a unique opportunity to support and enhance young children's social-emotional development by building self-esteem and giving authenticity to cultural practices and traditions.

In addition to creating specific activities in emotional literacy development for children, it is crucial for teachers to reach out to parents. In this way, educators can understand parents' beliefs about their children's development in order to plan effective instructional programs (Goldenberg, Reese, & Gallimore, 1992). …

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