This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School District has unveiled a new tool to give both teachers and families specific strategies to help children acquire the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in kindergarten.
The tool, announced during a ceremony Wednesday morning at Morton McMichael Elementary School in West Philadelphia, is a colorful, easy-to-navigate website that officials hope will be used both by kindergarten teachers and the families of kindergarten children.
The website anchors a new School District initiative dubbed Conquering Kindergarten. It can be found at www.CKPhilly.org and on Facebook and Twitter at @CKPhilly.
The 14 skills promoted on the website include such things as the ability to listen, the ability to work cooperatively with others, and the ability to work independently. The skills have been on Philadelphia’s kindergarten report card for more than a decade, but with the new website, the District is giving teachers and families specific strategies to teach the skills for the first time.
For instance, the site offers four steps that families can use to help children learn how to resolve conflicts. The first step is to get the child to calm down. To do that, the site suggests that the parent might respond by saying something like this:
“I see that you are very upset. Take some deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Pretend you are filling up a balloon very slowly. Now push the air out of the balloon. Keep going until you start to feel a little better.”
Similar scripts are provided for the three other steps, which include defining the conflict and eliciting the child’s feelings about it, brainstorming ways to resolve the conflict, and agreeing on a solution that is fair and acceptable to everyone.
In addition to such practical exercises, the site also provides reading lists of age-appropriate books for each of the 14 skills. To learn about resolving conflict, for example, the site suggests Bernette Ford’s 2004 book Don’t Hit Me! as well as three books by Cheri Meiners: Talk and Work It Out (2005), Forgive and Let Go (2005) and Cool Down and Work Through Anger (2010).
Elliot Weinbaum, program director at the William Penn Foundation, which is funding the initiative, said promotion of the 14 skills will set up children for success throughout their lives, particularly in reading. He noted that the website has “none of the jargon or research-speak” that characterizes many other learning materials.
The new website – which is formatted to work on computer screens and mobile screens – was developed by the District in consultation with the University of Pennsylvania’s Child Research Center. Katie Barghaus, the center’s director, said the strategies for teaching social and emotional skills are based not only on educational research, but also on input from Philadelphia public school teachers, community leaders, and families themselves.
At McMichael, which enrolls about 40 kindergarten students and 35 children in two Head Start classes, parents will play a key role in encouraging families to make use of the website to complement the social and emotional skills that teachers are promoting in the classroom.
Dwayne Walker is one such parent. Not only did he attend McMichael as a child, but so did his three children, his grandson, two nieces, and one nephew. Walker now works as a “family navigator” for Action for Early Learning, a nonprofit established by Drexel University as part of the West Philadelphia Promise Zone. His job is to promote early childhood education among low-income families living in four neighborhoods of West Philadelphia.
At Wednesday’s launch event, Walker vowed to “get the word out” about the new website. He said he knew from his own experience just how important it is for family members – parents, grandparents, and others – to get involved in the education of young children.
The 14 social and emotional skills that are on the kindergarten report card and explained on the new website are:
- Accepts responsibility for choices and actions.
- Can work independently.
- Completes work on time.
- Demonstrates consistent effort.
- Handles conflict appropriately.
- Listens and follows directions.
- Makes appropriate movement between activities.
- Organizes self, materials, and belongings.
- Participates in group activities.
- Respects rights, diversity, feelings, and property of others.
- Respects the school environment and materials.
- Shows a positive attitude toward learning.
- Strives for quality work.
- Works and plays cooperatively with others.
The Notebook’s coverage of early childhood education is funded by the William Penn Foundation.