A recent headline in the New York Times caught my eye: “Can Kindness Be Taught?” and I thought this must be a rhetorical question. After reading the article, about new initiatives, spurred by the Dalai Lama and believe it or not, Sesame Street, to promote prosocial behaviors in preschool programs, I realized I’ve been at Harbor for so long, I forgot that not all schools put as much value on social emotional learning as we do.
Early childhood programs around the country are now starting to study, practice, and implement what Harbor has always done. More importantly, researchers, educators and administrators are realizing the importance of social emotional development, understanding that it does need to be guided, modeled, and nurtured, and they are seeing the benefits it has on all aspects of a child’s life. Children who are mindful of themselves, their peers and their surroundings, are better able to regulate their emotions, are more able to focus on tasks, and have an easier time connecting and interacting with others.
At the Harbor School we follow the Responsive Classroom approach, which promotes community building, positive communication and active listening, and respect for others. The consistent implementation of this approach school-wide is the backbone of the kind, caring community that everyone feels when they walk through our doors. We have also introduced Social Thinking activities that use relevant and contextual scenarios to introduce and practice prosocial behaviors, like listening with your whole body, following the group plan, and seeing others’ perspectives. Finally, we practice mindfulness which, with practice, provides the tools needed to check in with ourselves, reflect, regulate and attend.
I am thrilled to see these practices being introduced nationwide in schools and teacher education programs. At Harbor we understand the importance of these social emotional skills and they are a core component of our balanced program, along with our academic and physical curricula, and our students are better for it. They are happy, kind, caring, confident, and ready to learn!