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Presentation: Nurturing of Children's Social and Emotional Skills Improve Learning -Longitudinal Study in Japan (Third International Conference of Child Research Network Asia [CRNA])

* Titles and affiliations are as of the time of the conference.

Presented at Third International Conference of Child Research Network Asia (CRNA) held in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 25-27, 2019.

Environmental Changes for Young Children in Japan
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Today, I will discuss the development of children's social and emotional skills based on a longitudinal research survey conducted by The Benesse Educational Research & Development Institute (BERD).

My talk will be based on four topics: First, changes in the living conditions of young children; next, development of social and emotional skills; then, the relationship between parental involvement and social and emotional skills; finally, the relationship between preschool experiences and social and emotional skills.

Let me introduce to you the five characteristics of the infant-parent relationship. First, there is a significant disparity when first becoming a parent. Longer life-spans and diversified lifestyles make it difficult to consider a life-cycle with average age milestones. The age of parents at pregnancy up to the second year of the first child varies from 16 to 47 for the wife and from 19 to 54 for the husband. Second, about 50 percent of the parents who have children aged up to two years didn't have previous contact with a baby. Thus, one in two were unfamiliar with babies before parenthood. Third, double-income couples are increasing. Fourth, children attending daycare centers which provide childcare for longer hours are also increasing. Fifth, children have fewer opportunities to play with their peers, while interactions with their parents are increasing. Children's daily lives are centered on activities at daycare centers and home.

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Figure 1

Development Process of Children's Social and Emotional Skills from Early Childhood to School Age

Cognitive skills refer to verbal or numerical proficiency, measurable by conventional achievement tests. Generally speaking, social and emotional skills are: perseverance, regulation of emotions and behavior, cooperation with others and achievement of goals. It has drawn attention from around the world, including the OECD. One of the triggers of this phenomenon has been the implementation of the Perry Preschool Program. The Perry Preschool Program is a research program targeting three- and four-year-old African-American children from disadvantaged backgrounds over 40 years. A group of children who received sufficient preschool education and a group of children who did not were tracked throughout their lifetimes. Children who had received preschool education showed better school performance, higher high school graduation rates, homeownership rates, median monthly income, and lower welfare rates and arrest rates, compared to those who had not. These differences were largely affected by social and emotional skills.

An OECD study revealed two characteristics of social and emotional skills. First, they can be developed throughout life. Building a strong foundation in early childhood is important, but it is not too late to start after infancy. Second, social and emotional skills support cognitive skills, and vice versa. The OECD classifies social and emotional skills into three: "achieving goals," "managing emotions," and "working with others." "Achieving goals" combines perseverance, self-control, and passion for goals. "Managing emotions" combines self-esteem, optimism, and confidence. Finally, "working with others" combines sociability, respect, and caring. Cognitive skills and social and emotional skills interact and cross-fertilize. For example, achievement test scores at school, which are used for the measurement of cognitive skills, can be improved with the application of perseverance. The achievement of higher scores will in turn generate confidence and motivation, which will further enhance perseverance.

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Figure 2 Skills development over a lifetime

The development of good quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) is Goal 4 of the SDGs. It states "by 2030 ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education." This is related to other SDGs, such as the environment, good health, reduced inequalities, employment, no poverty, and gender equality. For the well-being of children and future development, it is essential to ensure ECEC provisions in every country.

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Figure 3 Seventeen goals of SDGs

Since 2019, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan has been implementing reform in a range of education systems. This reform sets "Three Pillars of Competencies" to be developed consistently for all children. These include "learning knowledge and skills," "developing skills to think, make judgments, and express," and "attitudes of learning to learn and humanity." The third pillar utilizes the former two to learn how to interact with society, and lead a better life. Attitudes of learning to learn will play an integral role in Japan's education system with equal significance to social and emotional skills.

Here, I would like to discuss the development of children's social and emotional skills (Attitudes of learning to learn), based on our longitudinal study targeting young children in Japan. Three key skills are necessary for the adaptation to learning and living environments at elementary school and thereafter. These are "daily habits," "attitudes of learning to learn," and "cognitive skills." In our survey, the development of target children has been observed based on these three key skills for seven years. Attitudes of learning to learn can be classified into five categories; curiosity, collaborative skills, self-assertion, self-restraint and perseverance. Four to six measurement items were set for each. "Curiosity" is the ability to think "Why? How?" and ask appropriate questions. "Collaborative skills" is the ability to cooperate with friends, etc. "Self-assertion" is the ability to communicate one's own feelings and respect other opinions. "Self-restraint" is the ability to be patient when wanting to do something, but others disagree. "Perseverance" is the ability to confront challenges without giving up easily.

Figure 4 shows which ability acquired by children in one academic year would affect subsequent development. First year kindergarten children with high scores in daily habits are likely to record high scores in the following year. The horizontal arrows indicate a strong relationship. Now when we look at the diagonal arrows, First year kindergarten children with high scores in daily habits tend to record high scores in social and emotional skills in the second year. Children in the second year with high scores in social and emotional skills tend to record high scores in letters, numeracy, and logical thinking in the third year. Children in the third year with high scores in such cognitive skills tend to record high scores in social and emotional skills in first grade of elementary school. Overall, establishment of daily habits in early childhood and acquisition of social and emotional skills will nurture skills necessary for learning at elementary school and thereafter. This is more important than simply focusing on literacy, numeracy, and logical thinking in early childhood.

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Figure 4 Development process of children in early childhood

Figure 5 shows the development of children from infancy to fourth grade of elementary school. Regarding "perseverance and curiosity," the results show that children with high scores in early childhood tend to record similar high levels in the lower grade of elementary school. Children with a high level of perseverance, learning attitude and curiosity in the lower grade tend to do the same with good language skills and logical thinking in the fourth grade. Understanding how children acquire perseverance is important. It cannot be obtained by simply forcing children to develop it, or conversely, letting children do just what they want. I believe that it is important to provide play and learning environments and activities, which children enthusiastically work at, or even find innovative solutions when they cannot work well.

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Figure 5 The influence of social emotional skills on language development at fourth grade

Parental Involvement at Home and Children's Social and Emotional Skills

How will parental interactions affect children's social and emotional skills? Interactions with parents who value children's language skills and logical thinking in early childhood or the lower grade of elementary school, will affect their "perseverance and curiosity."

There are three levels of parental attitude of respecting children's interest in the first year of kindergarten, from low through medium to high. We assessed the relationship between parental attitudes and children's perseverance skill in the third year of kindergarten. Children whose parents respected their interest in the first year tend to acquire a high level of perseverance in the third year. In this context, "respecting children's interest" is understanding the feelings and thoughts of children, and respecting and encouraging children to do what they want. Parents' encouragement for children's logical thinking will have the same impact as respecting children's interest. Listening to what a child says is more important than saying "Think for yourself." Parents should support children's logical thinking by, for example, saying, "What do you mean by that...?" or "Please talk about this more." It is important to establish a parent-child relationship whereby parents think and talk with their child on the same level, and critically support thinking and expressing opinions.

What kinds of parental involvements are required every day? Parental activities such as playing with words and numbers, or reading a picture book will enhance their children's social and emotional skills. Encourage children to recognize various activities instead of one, and encourage them to accomplish things they find difficult.

Our survey, conducted in Japan, China, Indonesia and Finland, showed numerous common factors. Table 1 shows the results of questionnaires to parents with children aged four to six. The answers were on a five-point scale, ranging from "Very much" to "Not at all." Here are the percentages of those who answered "very much" and "somewhat." Positive answers were more than 90% in all four countries regarding items relating to social and emotional skills as well as items relating to daily habits.

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Table1 Percentage of positive answers to questions on mothers' parenting aspects

As shown in Table 2, all four countries show high scores in "Supportive parental attitudes" and lower scores in "Protective parental attitudes." Indonesia shows relatively higher scores for two items in "Protective parental attitudes." A correlation analysis on the relationship between curiosity/perseverance and mothers' supportive parental attitudes showed that these skills vary among the four countries.

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Table 2 Types of Mothers' Parental Attitudes

Early childhood education and children's social and emotional skills

In March 2019, we conducted a survey on children's experiences in kindergarten and their attitudes of social and emotional skills, targeting mothers of graduating children. This survey aimed to understand what kinds of things children with a high level of social and emotional skills experienced at kindergarten. Children who experienced numerous voluntary cooperative (collaborative) activities in kindergarten tended to acquire high levels of social and emotional skills. Another finding showed a correlation between parents' interaction in kindergarten classes and their recognition of growth. Parents who positively received and referenced useful information from kindergarten and often successfully contacted kindergarten classes tended to recognize their personal growth. Results show that such parents tended to respect their children's interest and encourage them to think.

We then summarized six items of playing-hard experience (voluntary playing), such as innovating, creating without the help of teachers, and engaging in challenging activities, as well as four items of cooperating (collaborative) activities, which are supported by "environments for free and flexible play" and "teachers' respective involvement."

Let's look at the relationship between children's experiences of voluntary playing in kindergarten and social and emotional skills. We divided children into two categories: those with numerous experiences of voluntary playing and those with fewer experiences. Then, we assessed children's social and emotional skills. Analysis revealed that children with numerous experiences of voluntary playing tend to acquire high levels of social and emotional skills.

These are the three key findings from our research surveys. First, the development of children in early childhood is fundamentally based on daily habits. Subsequently, they acquire social and emotional skills as well as cognitive skills, which may affect their learning attitude at the stage of elementary school and thereafter. Second, parental attitudes such as respecting the interest of children and encouraging them to think will enhance the development of children's social and emotional skills as well as cognitive skills from early childhood to school age. Finally, children with numerous experiences of voluntary playing and collaborative activities in kindergarten tend to acquire high levels of social and emotional skills.
Thank you for your attention.

Profile

Junko_Takaoka.jpg Junko Takaoka
Research Manager, Center for Child Life and Learning Research, Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute

She has been engaged in the surveillance study on the awareness and actual conditions of children from early childhood to senior high school, parents, and teachers focusing on the domains of early childhood development; the developmental study on children's "attitudes of learning to learn"; and the study on children and digital media. Her past major studies and publications include "Questionnaire on Daily Life of Children in Japan," "Survey of Fathers' Views on Childrearing in Japan," and "Basic Survey on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Child Raising."
She served as a member of the "Review Council for the Development of R&D Facilities for Early Childhood Education" by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (2015), has conducted collaborative work on "Education and Social Progress Project Research" with OECD, and is currently a member of the Family Education Committee in Mie Prefecture (2019-).
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