The Importance of Social & Emotional Early Intervention

Lynn How, Educational Consultant, Author & Editor of Teacher Toolkit, Positive Young Minds

10th May 2023

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Having a curriculum which is more social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) centric within our schools and early years settings is key. Both allowing time to focus on the areas that would, on one hand, support children’s social and emotional wellbeing and on the other, if you fast forward fifteen years, teach the skills that children would need for employability – such as resilience and positivity.

When speaking to parents, if they were to choose whether they would prefer their child’s school to support academic progress or nurture the whole child, the vast majority of parents would choose the latter if it was a case of ‘either or’. We know though, that it is not simply this black and white. Ideally, we want our children to be happy, well-rounded, resilient and positive individuals who can read, write and do maths to a proficient standard. Sometimes parents don’t really understand the correlation between being mentally healthy and improved outcomes (occasionally, teachers and leadership teams seemingly struggle with this as well…). Getting more SEMH into our curriculum is also a challenge from a governmental level as although they pay lip service to its importance, in reality, this message does not correlate with their expectations of pupils in terms of early academic outcomes. So, to move forward with progress in this area, as a teaching profession, we need to continue to drip-feed this information to anyone who will listen.

We also need to consider employability to include the prevention of mental health. Adults with moderate or severe needs will find it a challenge to maintain employment. If early intervention is in the form of a curriculum promoting wellbeing and mental health prevention was commonplace, educators could support them as children to allow for more effective productivity in the workplace. As a result, their working lives would take a more positive course.

Post Pandemic

It has been a particularly tricky few years for both colleagues and pupils in our infant and EYFS classes. We already knew how important the preschool experience was for individuals in terms of development, but at the time of writing, the teaching profession has learnt to further appreciate the impact of our pre-schools. Colleagues have seen first-hand some of the resulting concerns that our year one and EYFS classes have largely been caused by missed opportunities for social and emotional education during the lockdown period.

Here are some key areas which were impacted. They are top priorities to focus on to form the basis of learning and SEMH development for our younger children.

  1. An emphasis on speech and language: This is the foundation for learning. With limited socialisation, children in many instances have not had the exposure to language they would have in school. An in-school screening programme for new starters, plus a trained speech and language learning support assistant (LSA) would be invaluable to supporting children. Training would allow staff to learn more about ‘typical’ ages and stages of development and therefore enable them to spot concerns early.
  2. Independent skills: children in these cohorts lost some independence and have at times regressed in areas such as potty training. I was rather exasperated when my son regressed by six months – I didn’t understand why. He had regular toilet accidents for no apparent reason at the start of the pandemic. Many other children had the same issue. Upon further investigation, I found it was likely to result from underlying stress caused by sudden routine changes. Year on year schools are needing to be prepared for more children who may not be toilet trained or have fewer skills in areas such as feeding themselves.
  3. Socialisation and sharing: plan more opportunities for games that involve interaction and sharing. Developing these skills effectively with children outside of the ‘family bubble’ was hindered throughout the pandemic. Modern life and the increase in technology use in young children are also inhibiting these skills within family units.
  4. SEND: Get children on the waiting list as soon as possible for suspected special educational needs and disability (SEND) issues. There is a massive backlog nationally, so the ‘wait and see’ approach that applies in some EYFS settings needs amending. It’s better to get parents ‘on board’ early and get an appointment to ‘rule it out,’ instead of waiting until a child is older. Pre-schools can seek help from their local authority or local primary schools if needed.
  5. Beyond EYFS: Children may have missed significant play opportunities. This is the perfect time to consider a provision to allow for year ones to have extra play-based learning; many will still need it. Also, consider who else would benefit beyond year one.

With an emphasis on the basics to match the needs of individual children in EYFS and beyond, nurseries and schools are considering what is important to them and are making strides in setting up firm foundations in social and emotional education to allow these children to thrive.

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