Authors: Angélica Aguilar, Clarita Arboleda, Margarita Cabra, Natalia Iriarte Tovar, Mercedes Mateo, Emma Näslund-Hadley, Oscar Iván Pineda Diaz, Catalina Reyes, Belén Michel Torino & Laura Feliza Velez Medina
You most likely remember when you learned to read, count, and add. But do you recall learning to name your feelings to understand them? Or to recognize your emotions? Do you recall someone teaching you to be empathetic or recognize the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and actions? The answer is most likely no. At the same time, learning to relate to others and manage our emotions is the bedrock for a happy, productive, and balanced life.
Even before the pandemic, many girls and boys did not reach their socio-emotional learning milestones. Lack of Socioemotional Learning (SEL) has been linked to problems transitioning to school, poorer academic performance, higher risks of dropping out of school, and problems with the development of meaningful relationships.
Current closures of child development and preschool education centers are impacting the well-being and socio-emotional development of many girls and boys. The lack of socioemotional development at this critical stage can have lifelong consequences.
In response to this evidence, and to foster social-emotional skills in early childhood during the pandemic, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) joined forces with the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF), la Fundación Escuela Nueva Volvamos a la Gente (FEN) and the NGO Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). The objective of our collaboration is to provide evidence on what works in the development of social-emotional skills in early childhood, and to have a SEL model contextualized to the Latin American reality.
Think Equal – An evidence-based model
Evidence has shown that early childhood is the optimal window for human development and a highly sensitive period to build the foundations that will allow us to continue learning throughout life. About one million of neural connections per second occur at this stage of life, a process that is not repeated at any other point. This makes early childhood a crucial moment as the starting point, not only for cognitive development, but also for social-emotional development.
To take advantage of this window of opportunity for social-emotional development, we opted for the Think Equal model. The model is designed for the 3-to-5-year age group, addressing complex topics such as the ability to identify and name our emotions. During the program, the children learn to use deep breathing and communication strategies to better understand their feelings, transition from one feeling to another, and contribute to their individual and collective management of feelings within a group.
To help preschoolers name and measure their feelings, the model uses a Mood Meter. For example, a child from Antioquia – who had recently returned to face-to-face instruction displayed anger, even hitting the caregiver – improved his ability to recognize and own his emotions after a few weeks. The caregiver explains that the Mood Meter helped the child identify his emotions by color. When the emotion was ‘red’, he learned that it was time to calm down until he became ‘green’ and ‘happy’. In the words of the caregiver, “the Mood Meter has helped a lot in the readaptation of the children to face-to-face instruction”.
The Think Equal model was adapted to Latin America, not merely by idiomatic contextualization, but also adjusted to the new dynamics brought about by the pandemic. This involved the creation of digital content and the configuration of a chatbot to communicate with the caregivers of the Community Centers and with the families directly.
Providing evidence on what works in socioemotional learning in early childhood
To contribute evidence on SEL models for early childhood education, we are experimentally evaluating Think Equal. Research questions include: Does the Think Equal model improve social-emotional skills and positive social behavior? Does it reduce levels of emotional distress and behavior problems? Does it improve the development of cognitive skills? Through longitudinal monitoring, we hope to explore the ways in which children who manage or regulate their emotions in early childhood adjust to school and achieve academic results. The evaluation is possible thanks to the participation of 363 caregivers and 1,500 boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 5 years of age, as well as their parents in 5 departments of Colombia.
Stay tuned to learn about the results of this program and an evidence-based SEL model for Latin American preschoolers. Please share your comments with us in the section below, or comment on Twitter @the_BID #EnfoqueEducacion #ECDHubLAC @Poverty_Action @ICBFColombia @Escuela_Nueva
This project was funded by the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Innovation Fund, with the coordination of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the support of Fundación FEMSA, Fundação María Cecilia Souto Vidigal, Open Society Foundations, Porticus and the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The Fund will continue working in the coming years with the firm purpose of innovating to achieve the quality of ECD services. To stay connected and learn more about this innovative work, we invite you to explore the Knowledge Hub on Early Childhood Development where you will find details of this and other projects, resources, and useful information on ECD.