Social Skills vs. Academics: What’s More Important For Kindergarteners?

Social Skills vs. Academics: What’s more important for kindergarteners?

Over the past few years the educational world has become riveted by cranking out pages of data designed to determine what students know, how much they don’t know, and how well they’re progressing towards knowing everything they need to do before graduating. It can be dizzying at times. But what is the knowledge or skills that are the most important when it comes to long term success once that child leaves school? The answer could be found in, of all places, kindergarten.

With the advent of Common Core, curriculums started being aligned “top-down”. Essentially experts determined what needed to be learned by the end of 12th grade, and then worked backward to make sure the building blocks were taught in the proper order. The move put a lot of added pressure on primary grade teachers and ramped up their curriculums significantly, including kindergarten. The push was on to teach core academics and move away from moreunstructured play and social development. But is this a change for the better?

A 2015 study from the American Public Health Association said the social and emotional skills taught in those early days of education are actually just as important, if not more than the academics. They found that children who had worked on improving skills like empathy, self-discipline and managing emotions had a better chance of being more successful and healthy adults. In fact, measuring social skills was more effective at predicting success than reading levels or test scores. 

We found statistically significant associations between measured social-emotional skills in kindergarten and key young adult outcomes across multiple domains of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health.”

-Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness (AJPH article)

So if strong social skills correlate with success in the real world, is the opposite also true? It turns out that it is. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released a study that examined 5 specific social skills children need to work on when they’re young- open-mindedness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, and agreeableness. They concluded that children who didn’t work on those skills were at greater risk of divorce, unemployment, health issues and criminal behavior. They say that as the world continues to change, what you know is becoming less important than how you interact with those around you

A faster pace of living and a shift to urban environments means people need to engage with new ways of thinking and working and new people.”

-Social and Emotional Skills: Well-being, connectedness and success (OECD article)

Of course, all of this information doesn’t mean kindergarten should be all fun and games and no actual school work, but it should be a signal to teachers and parents that more emphasis should be placed on those skills that don’t necessarily show up in the gradebook. That’s also been proven in schools that have extended recess times for their students, who have shown improved focus and behavior. It’s yet another step towards understanding how important all aspects of the school day are. Whether students are laughing in the lunchroom, standing in line or sharing crayons they’re learning skills that will pay off big time down the road. 

Social Skills vs. Academics: What’s More Important For Kindergarteners?

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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