August 28, 2018
Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain development happens before the age of 5. One of the most critical things children need to learn during this time is often the most overlooked: social-emotional skills. If children don’t develop these crucial life skills before heading into kindergarten, it’s detrimental to their ability to learn. That’s why the United Way of Central Indiana group Women United is spearheading the development and distribution of Self-Expression Kits.
“When we think about what kindergarten readiness actually means, social-emotional health is a major part of it,” said Krystal Robinson, Project Manager of Early Childhood at United Way of Central Indiana. “Ensuring kids are socially and emotionally ready to be in a large group of children and ready for school is absolutely critical to their success later on.”
As champions for early childhood education, Women United focuses on ways to help children prepare for and excel during kindergarten. Over the last few years, the group has focused on creating Literacy Kits to help families engage their children in reading and writing. When Lynn Morris, Director of Early Childhood Programming at Bethel Early Childhood Academy (BECA), brought up an interest in helping parents engage in the social-emotional learning of their children outside the classroom, Krystal knew it would be of great interest to Women United members.
Dr. Melisa Martinez, a Women United member and a child psychiatrist, was quick to extend her expertise and knowledge as the group began to develop a new kit focused on helping families teach their children social-emotional skills in a fun, interactive way. “It’s particularly important to teach these skills to children in the 3-5 age range because they go through so much transition,” Dr. Martinez shared. “A good way to help manage those transitions, anxieties and emotions is through discussing them and getting support from the family.”
With guidance from Dr. Martinez, early childhood education experts at United Way and local childcare partners, Women United developed the Self-Expression Kit. “The kit helps children build a sense of self and identify emotions at an early age,” Melisa remarked. “It validates some of the emotions they are experiencing, gives a name to those emotions and helps them discuss it with their family.”
The kits, assembled by Women United members, go to a variety of United Way childcare partners. “We have a number of programs serving families in very high need areas,” Krystal stated. “We want to engage all of our providers serving families who could benefit from these kits.”
So far, 200 kits have been distributed between Fort Benjamin Harrison YMCA, Daystar Early Learning Center, BECA and Promiseland Adventures. Once the kits reach the classroom, educators send the kits home with students with an instruction sheet on how to use the kit.
“This creates an opportunity for ongoing play and discussions about self-expression and emotions, so as they experience things at school they can discuss them at home,” Dr. Martinez said.
By providing parents with activities that help their children learn social-emotional skills from an early age, Women United is helping set children up for long-term success in school. “Getting that support early on, talking about it with family and learning those skills is really important for giving them a head start. It’s making sure they have a real positive experience once they do enter kindergarten,” Dr. Martinez remarked.
If you’re interested in learning more about social-emotional health and the Self-Expression Kits, join us at the next Women’s Speaker Series event How Adversity Impacts a Child’s Brain Development and Well-Being. Dr. Lori Desautels will present her ground-breaking research regarding social-emotional health and how parents and educators can improve the well-being of all children. After the presentation, help build 200 Self-Expression Kits that will be provided to children at various early childhood education providers in Central Indiana.