Social and emotional learning in the early years directly impacts how our brains grow and develop over time.

How we feel shapes
how we develop.

Over the course of our lives, our brains learn, adapt and grow from what we experience, think and feel. In turn, the social, emotional and knowledge-based skills we develop early in life help to determine our future success in school, at home, in the workplace and ultimately, our success in society and the economy at large.

Time and again, research has proven that an emphasis on academic learning alone is simply not enough to help young minds develop in a healthy way.
In fact, too much emphasis may have the opposite effect – crowding out
the social-emotional development required to make learning engaging
and meaningful.

“The quality of a person’s relationships and social interactions shapes their development and health, both of the body and of the brain.”

- The Aspen Institute

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The Developing Brain

Our brains develop in different ways over the course of our lives – creating new connections, removing unused connections, and becoming more efficient with time. To develop more complex skills, a foundation of healthy social and emotional connections must first be made – creating new pathways between what is felt, what is verbalized, and what is known. This is particularly important in the early years, when millions of new connections are being made every second.

SEL can be taught

Science has shown us that social and emotional skills can be taught, moulded, and can stick with us for a very long time. In the early years specifically, children are highly responsive to the world around them and adults in particular – making this the perfect time to establish the social-emotional foundation for them to lead happy, healthy lives. Think of these lessons as a series of building blocks, where the skills learned at the bottom enable the mastery of more complex skills at the top. For example:

Mental Health

While some stress is required in order to teach the brain to manage it constructively, ongoing stress can seriously interfere with healthy social and emotional development in the early years. In cases where young minds experience stress for long periods of time without supportive relationships to help calm them, this can lead to serious physical and mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and impaired development in the brain – especially areas dedicated to higher-order skills.

Support Matters

Children in the early years rely on a number of close relationships to develop positive social and emotional skills that will prepare them for a lifetime of learning and growth. Understanding that we all play a critical role in influencing how young minds develop from infancy, we can support parents and early years providers in encouraging the development of these skills – including making friends, getting along with others, developing healthy emotional responses, creating positive learning behaviours, and making sense of the changing world around them.