New Study Finds Need to Improve Social Emotional Learning & Development of Maine’s Young Children

Dr. Smith presents her findings at the 2016 Social Emotional Learning & Development Conference.
Dr. Smith presents her findings at the 2016 Social Emotional Learning & Development Conference.

Over the past year, Dr. Sheila Smith from Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty has been conducting research on the social emotional learning and development of Maine’s young children as part of a statewide project led by the Maine Children’s Growth Council, Maine Children’s Alliance and Maine Department of Education, and funded through MCA’s partnerships with the Alliance for Early Success. At the Social Emotional Learning & Development Conference last week, Dr. Smith presented key findings from her research and revealed that serious challenging behaviors are common in Maine’s early child care and education programs. This is both cause for concern and an opportunity to improve early childhood outcomes in Maine.

Dr. Smith’s research began in response to a request from the State Legislature’s Joint-standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs to gather data on the social emotional learning and development of Maine’s young children. The goal was to better understand where Maine’s children were and what social emotional learning and development challenges meant for the other children in the classroom and the adults who care for them.

Dr. Smith designed a survey collaboratively with Maine stakeholders and experts to answer the following questions:

  • To what extent is challenging behavior a problem in early care and education settings in Maine?
  • If so, what are the consequences? Are these children being removed? Are other children affected?
  • What are the family circumstances of children with challenging behaviors?
  • What types of supports do teacher/providers need to address these behaviors?

The answers she found were pretty alarming.

maineobservedchallengingbehaviorsTeachers and child care providers who answered the survey reported that serious challenging behaviors were common in Maine’s early child care and education programs. This means some children were repeatedly exhibiting behaviors that interfered with their ability to play, learn and get along with others. While some of these behaviors were outwardly disruptive, others were equally concerning internalizing behaviors.

On average, teachers and providers reported five children displaying challenging behaviors in the classroom within the past year, and that these behaviors were affecting other children in the classroom.

Top Challenging Behaviors:
  • Hitting, throwing things, pushing, biting;
  • Extremely active, impulsive, trouble engaging in class;
  • Refusing to cooperate;
  • Sad behavior.

All of this signifies that Maine’s early childhood workforce faces serious challenges on a daily basis caring for Maine’s youngest children. To be successful, they need the necessary support and resources to address challenging behaviors in Maine’s young children. Their responses to the survey reflect this as well.

Many early childhood professionals want to be better equipped to support healthy social emotional learning and development for the children in their care. Not only do they want increased access to training, but they also want increased access to early childhood specialists to increase social-emotional outcomes. Fortunately, this is consistent with new research out of Connecticut, which has piloted an innovative statewide program to support their early childhood workforce on this issue. Check out our blog post next week to learn more about research from Yale’s Dr. Walter Gilliam.


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