Social Skills as Important as Academics Beginning in Preschool

David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University made an interesting observation in his new study, The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market (NBER Paper No. 21473, August 2015). Deming compared what is taught in preschool classrooms to work in the real world and found that they are closely connected. “Preschool classrooms,” according to Deming, “look a lot like the modern work world. Children move from art projects to science experiments to the playground in small groups, and their most important skills are sharing and negotiating with others.”

Work, meanwhile, has become more like preschool. Deming reported that jobs that require both socializing and thinking, especially mathematically, have fared best in employment and pay. They include those held by doctors and engineers. The jobs that require social skills but not math skills have also grown; lawyers and child-care workers are an example. The jobs that have been rapidly disappearing are those that require neither social nor math skills; some types of manual labor for example.

According to Parent and Child magazine, parents may be hoping their child will learn how to read and write in the first few months of preschool or kindergarten. But there are many other skills that he/she needs to master before an academic focus is appropriate. Studies show that the most important skills to learn in the beginning of the year are social: cooperation, self-control, confidence, independence, curiosity, empathy, and communication.

Teaching and developing social skills is one of the primary goals of TLC Preschool of Evergreen. Even though TLC Preschool also teaches academics, just as important is the emphasis placed on social skills. Debbie Caruso, Preschool Director states, “We believe teaching children to learn to play well with others is just as important as learning the alphabet in preschool.”

TLC Preschool follows the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence. The Sequence addresses both the critical and supplemental objectives for student growth and maturity. These include teaching children work habits – how to put their toys away; teaching children proper use of tools – how to hold a pencil; teaching children communication social skills – how to ask questions properly, without interrupting others; teaching children self-control – how to “stop-think-do.” The follow-up to all of these skills is teaching of self-esteem or self-confidence. When a teacher observes a student accomplishing a task or exhibiting a behavior correctly, the teacher immediately reinforces the positive behavior to the child and allows them to feel a sense of pride and success.

According to Parents magazine, Pre-K may look like all fun and games (music, story-time, dancing, art) but there’s an intense amount of brainwork going on. In the article, “What Your Kid Will Learn in Preschool” by Mary Harvey, “Young children learn through play and creative activity, so a preschooler’s building blocks and train tracks aren’t just entertaining; they’re teaching problem solving and physics. Preschool is a time for developing good learning habits and positive self-esteem.”

At TLC Preschool, beginning classes start with children ages 2 ½ to 3 years old. Not only are they beginning to experience some of their first social interactions with peers, these students begin to learn the alphabet, making letters with big strokes and tracing letters in their alphabet books. Students learn the first letter of their name and are able to recognize their name in print. Classes work on developing of fine motor skills with the use of manipulatives, finger painting, lacing, and puzzles.

As the grade levels progress, students leave the preschool with a strong start for Kindergarten. They have learned many skills through cause and effect instruction. Children learn that it is easier to find a toy when you put it away in the proper place. One way teachers build self-esteem and a sense of community in their students is by encouraging each child to choose a classroom job. At the end of the day, each child evaluates how he/she thinks they did their job. Positive comments are given to that child from their peers as well as their teacher. According to Mrs. Caruso, building self-confidence, self-esteem, and how to successfully handle social situations is the number one outcome for students, followed closely by the academics.

Mrs. Caruso is very proud of her dedicated staff; one who has been with her for the past 12 years. In the past, several teachers have attended the Official Core Knowledge Preschool training seminars, some were trained by Mrs. Caruso, who is a qualified Core Knowledge Preschool Instructor, and all the Preschool teachers are Colorado certified in Early Childhood Education. Mrs. Caruso believes this solid body of knowledge about the program gives her staff the ability to differentiate instruction as needed for each student. What makes the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence so successful is that teachers are not obligated to use only one, or a certain resource to teach a concept. The Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence encourages teachers to use whatever resources are necessary to meet the individual needs of the children in class. Lesson plans change every year, according to the individual needs of the children, as well as encouraging creativity amongst the teachers; which also keeps the Sequence exciting and challenging for the teachers. Individual goals are written throughout the year and monitored to make sure each child is reaching their potential. The small class teacher/student ratio, approximately 1:8, allows teachers to work individually with all students. Mrs. Caruso believes that another advantage for the students is the consistency of being with the same teacher for the entire year.

In the Fall, TLC Preschool will offer a program that is designed to focus on classic Core Knowledge literature and works of art. The teachers design lessons that expand upon the classic stories and also cross correlate to support all aspects of growth and learning essential to preschoolers. The children will not only study great tales but will engage in number, letter, science and even motor skill activities that support each child’s academic skill set, while expanding upon concepts in the story itself.

While studying classic works of art, the children will learn not only how to approach creating art, but also about the artists themselves. They will learn both the creative and the scientific aspects of art work as well as increase vocabulary and listening skills as they are instructed on how to view and create artistic pieces.

Although educational skills are supported throughout the day, small group and 1:1 work is done during morning centers time. Each child works closely with teachers to support and challenge their educational skills (numbers, letters, language) and motor skills. Regardless of the number of days each child attends preschool, time and attention are given to assure exposure to school readiness skills.

While it is true that children learn more in their first three years than ever again, it’s between ages three and five that they acquire the skills necessary for school and positive social interaction. As children’s attention span, memory and language skills develop, they also become increasingly more sophisticated and social—qualities they’ll need for success in life.