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Facilitating social emotional learning in kindergarten classrooms: Situational factors and teachers' strategies


More outdoor play time at school may increase children’s opportunities for social emotional learning

The development of social emotional skills and competencies is a critical part of early childhood development. This study explored how social emotional learning (SEL) is supported by early childhood education teachers in Singapore kindergarten (aka preschool) classrooms.

Observations were conducted in six preschool classrooms: two classrooms from kindergartens run by the government; two classrooms from not-for-profit kindergartens; and two classrooms from commercial childcare centers. Two research assistants conducted the observations and made video recordings. The length of the recordings ranged from 1 hour 40 minutes to 3 hours 22 minutes. The recordings focused on a variety of indoor and outdoor activities reflecting a typical day in the kindergarten classrooms. Two questions framed the study: (1) How do situational factors (group size, activity, and type of teaching opportunity) influence the frequency of SEL support? (2) What types of strategies do teachers use to support SEL in areas identified in the national curriculum (self-awareness and positive self-concept, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and responsible decision-making)?

The video recordings revealed 32 instances of teachers providing support for SEL across three aspects of interactional situations: group size, type of activity, and type of teaching opportunity. Teachers provided more SEL support in small group versus whole group activities and more often in outdoor play and planned lesson times than in other times during the school day.  More SEL support was provided during intentional teaching than in incidental teaching. Strategies used by the teachers to support SEL included setting a positive tone, suggesting solutions, allocating tasks, and extending (or expanding) on children’s responses.

Support for SEL occurred most frequently during outdoor play. This may be due to conflicts among children occurring more frequently during outdoor play than during indoor activities. One form of SEL support occurs when teachers facilitate conflict resolution. Other opportunities for SEL support occurred as children talked and played with peers, as peer interactions can promote relationship management and social awareness.  Self-awareness and positive self-concept were supported through opportunities for the children to make choices about activities they wanted to engage in. Such opportunities help them identify their personal likes and dislikes.

This research demonstrates that teachers tend to use more informal than formal strategies to support children’s SEL and that they do so more frequently in outdoor versus indoor settings. These findings suggest that more outdoor play during the school day may result in increasing opportunities for SEL.


Ng, S.C., Bull, R., (2018). Facilitating social emotional learning in kindergarten classrooms: Situational factors and teachers' strategies. International Journal of Early Childhood, 50(3), 335-352.


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