Why is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) important?

Feelings and emotions play a very important role in the life of every person, especially at an early age. The early preschool period is the time when the multi-color palette of feelings is explored, and the child learns to recognize and correctly show his/her emotions as well as experiences. At this stage, the child develops new feelings for others: empathy, anticipation, and tolerance. The development of the child’s emotional sphere occurs gradually and is no less important than physical or academic development. 

In our preschool, we recognize that social-emotional learning is an important aspect of our work due to its close association with students’ overall academic and social development. Just as we teach basic academic skills in math and reading, we teach students how to manage their emotions, build relationships, communicate and collaborate with peers and others. 

Photo of Gulbarak in the classroom teaching children.

With these skills, we believe that our students will be more likely to make sound and responsible decisions based on kindness and caring. In addition, they will be able to avoid behavior that has negative consequences.

Why should social and emotional learning start at home for children aged 0 to 6?

At first, the child’s communication with others occurs only through the manifestation of emotions in a family. Therefore, for the normal emotional development of a child, a variety of positive emotions are needed to be encouraged by parents or caregivers. We all know that children perceive the world very emotionally. The emotional reactions of the child are unconscious and unstable – the baby may cry, and after a few seconds suddenly start laughing or screaming.  

If a child grows up in a positive family atmosphere, then he/she remains cheerful and positive most of the time. This state is extremely important for the development of the personality of the baby, the basis of his/her attitude towards others. If the emotional sphere of the child develops naturally and steadily, he/she will grow up healthy and successful.

Photo of Gulbarak outside of the classroom teaching children.

What are the obstacles for families to focus on SEL?

Given the various socio-economic challenges, there are a lot of obstacles for families to focus on their children’s social-emotional learning. For instance, due to the internal and external migration resulting from income loss and widespread unemployment, there are over 300,000 children, or one in five children in our country, left behind by their migrant parents and forced to seek job opportunities elsewhere.

This reality has become particularly difficult for children living in more rural parts of the country, as they are frequently left under the supervision of extended family members. In many cases, these family members are elderly grandparents who struggle to meet the needs of young children. They are mostly occupied with meeting the basic material needs of those children, so they often neglect the social and emotional needs of the children.

As a result of the prolonged absence of children’s biological parents and lack of affection, those children find it hard to build positive relationships with others, and they are more likely to develop psychological or behavioral problems. Furthermore, they suffer from psychological trauma, anxiety, and depression. All of these have been negatively impacting the learning and development of thousands of children not only in my village but across the country.

What are good practices for SEL in general?

Photo of Gulbarak in the classroom teaching children.

In my practice, I use a lot of methodological techniques that help me support students’ SEL. They are role-playing games, theatrical activities, outdoor labor assignments (e.g., work in the small garden looking after plants and flowers), modeling, speech development, and fairy-tale therapy.

All these techniques help to activate the social-emotional development of the child. And these days I also use online story-telling sessions that are co-facilitated by those parents who are in migration. This practice was designed by our preschool under the Schools2030 programme implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation in the Kyrgyz Republic.

How does SEL influence learning outcomes?

As an educator, I firmly believe that learning begins with the child’s social-emotional development in a family and preschool, which create the basis for the subsequent transition to the development of personal potential in primary and secondary grades. How successful a child’s first steps will be in his/her first year of school is certainly related to his/her level of personal, social, and emotional development.  

Besides, much research indicates that the child’s successful development and participation in the social world, including the educational process, is based on the development of his/her abilities in these areas.

Does SEL positively influence children´s lives in general?

It certainly does! SEL affects the child’s various areas of life: health, creativity, and learning.

By developing the social-emotional intelligence of a child, we develop his/her positive and adaptable personality that will improve the quality of his/her life, because this child learns to accept himself and others. 

Photo of Gulbarak in the classroom teaching children.

Why is SEL for families (our concept) a needed concept?

SEL should be a priority all-day practice in every family because families play a big and important role in fostering their children’s social-emotional learning. Parents and other family members are the primary socializing agents, (1) helping children experience and interpret the world around them, learn to manage and make sense of their own emotions, develop self-awareness skills, and (2) teaching the social norms, values as well behavior needed to effectively socialize outside of the family – in preschool, school, university, and further, i.e., to participate as effective members of society.

Photo of Gulbarak in the classroom teaching children.

We all know that the habits and skills acquired while growing up at home are long-lasting. 

Unfortunately, not all parents are aware of the importance of their role in fostering their children’s SEL. Most assume that it is the responsibility of preschool or school only. This is happening, I believe, because many parents do not realize the importance of SEL is important in their children’s lives and future.  To this end, I think, as educators, we should organize awareness-razing activities and/or information sessions among parents. 

Note: Schools2030 is a ten-year participatory learning improvement programme based in 1,000 government schools across ten countries. Using the principles of human-centred design and focusing on the key transition years of ages 5, 10 and 15 years old, Schools2030 supports teachers and students to design and implement education micro-innovations. For more information on the Schools2030 programme, please visit: https://schools2030.org/

Meet Gulbarak

Gulburak works as a kindergarten teacher in the village of Murdash, Osh oblast, Kyrgyzstan. She has worked in this capacity for the last 18 years. Gulburak teaches emergent literacy and mathematics through social emotional learning. In doing so, Gulburak strives to optimize student learning by providing children with unique opportunities that have a lasting impact on them. Despite all the difficulties out there, Gulburak remains very enthusiastic about her job. “Influencing the lives of children – that’s what I do with the great pleasure. I love my students!”, says Gulburak. 

Gulburak holds a Master of Education from Osh State University, Kyrgyzstan. She has also received training through a number of professional development courses on early childhood education and development. She is professionally proficient in Kyrgyz and Russian.