Giving kids the skills to thrive in life

A little girl learns from an older friend at United Way Avenues of Change in Strathcona.

New research published by UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University demonstrates that teaching emotional intelligence in schools has long lasting effects. Social and emotional learning programs for youth not only immediately improve mental health, social skills, and learning outcomes but also continue to benefit children years later. In a story published by UBC about the research, Eva Oberle, assistant professor at UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership explains the link. “Social-emotional learning programs teach the skills that children need to succeed and thrive in life. We know these programs have an immediate positive effect so this study wanted to assess whether the skills stuck with students over time, making social-emotional learning programs a worthwhile investment of time and financial resources in schools.” Social-emotional learning teaches children to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions and build and maintain relationships. Other research has shown that incorporating social-emotional learning into classroom programs improves learning outcomes and reduces anxiety and behavioural problems among students. United Way invests in early learning initiatives so that our youngest children get the best start in school and by extension, the best start in life. Success in school correlates with success in life: the ability to navigate the world, have self-confidence to interact socially, and later to gain meaningful employment.

  Emotional maturity and social competence are two of the areas tracked in the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a tool that tracks children’s development. EDI results also show vulnerabilities. United Way’s Avenues of Change initiative is targetted at neighbourhoods where children are shown to have higher vulnerabilities based on EDI results. United Way also invests in after-school programs targetted at children age 6 to 12 that keep them safe, help them feel they belong, find great role models, and grow their confidence so that they reach their full potential. The new study looked at results from more than 97,000 students from kindergarten to middle school in the U.S., Europe and the U.K.  The researchers found that social-emotional learning continued to have positive effects in the classroom but was also connected to longer-term positive outcomes. Students who participated in programs graduated from college at a rate 11 per cent higher than peers who did not. Their high school graduation rate was six per cent higher. Drug use and behaviour problems were six per cent lower for program participants, arrest rates 19 per cent lower, and diagnoses of mental health disorders 13.5 per cent lower. Oberle and her colleagues also found that all children benefitted from the programs regardless of race, socioeconomic background or school location. “Teaching social-emotional learning in schools is a way to support individual children in their pathways to success, and it’s also a way to promote better public health outcomes later in life,” said Oberle in the UBC story. The study was published last week in Child Development.

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