Link Literacy and Social-Emotional Skills to Improve Children’s Success in School, Report Urges

Experts agree that there is a deep connection between social-emotional development and literacy in children’s early school success including achieving reading proficiency in the early grades – and it turns out that the benefits of effectively making those connections sooner rather than later are significant, and can endure for a lifetime. A new report from the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI), “Connecting Social and Emotional Health and Literacy: Critical for Early School Success,” explores the interplay between young children's social-emotional development and early literacy and language skills, and “elevates awareness of the connections between these essential competencies,” according to CHDI and the report’s

The detailed 36-page report provides examples of linking strategies and outlines recommendations with the goal of accelerating actions by states and communities to advance children's readiness for school and successful educational achievement.

“Early cognitive and social-emotional skills are interactive and woven together - like strands of a rope,” notes Ann Rosewater, lead author of the report and co-leader of the Connecticut Peer Learning Pilot on Social-Emotional Development and Early Literacy. “The strategies and tools in this report will help communities implement approaches to align children’s literacy and social emotional health.”

The report urges a series of coordinated state actions to advance the linkage and integration of supports for children’s social-emotional health and learning:

  • Align systems that address social-emotional development and literacy
  • Increase support and education for parents
  • Invest in professional development for those working with young children
  • Institute universal and routine screening for social-emotional development and
  • appropriate follow-up
  • Expand the reach of evidence-based practices and programs
  • Focus attention on special populations

mom-baby-readingThe recommendations are drawn from the experiences of nine communities in Connecticut that explored researched-based strategies over the past year, to link supports for social-emotional and literacy skills. The effort was part of the Connecticut Peer Learning Pilot on Social-Emotional Development and Early Literacy, developed and led by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, in partnership with the National Center for Children in Poverty and with support from the Irving Harris Foundation and others.

Participating community teams represented Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund Discovery Initiative coalitions from Bridgeport, Colchester, Danbury, Enfield, Norwalk, Torrington, Vernon, West Hartford, and Winchester.  Their involvement, according to the report, “catalyzed notable progress in most participating communities, building on significant efforts their collaboratives had undertaken before engaging in the initiative.”  The communities “found reinforcement, inspiration and impetus to pursue as vigorously as their circumstances allowed strategies that recognized and promoted the relationship between children’s social-emotional health and literacy and language skills,” the report concluded.

In addition to urging state action, based on these experiences the report highlighted steps that can be taken at the community level to promote school success by reflecting the understanding that literacy and social-emotional development build on and reinforce each other.children

Promising strategies used by communities include the following:

  • Raise community awareness and reinforce community efforts to integrate social emotional and literacy skills fundamental to success in school and life
  • Promote nurturing parent-child relationships, which are essential to children’s social-emotional development and can simultaneously stimulate literacy learning
  • Screen for social-emotional competencies, with appropriate follow up and intervention
  • Enhance home visiting and book distribution programs
  • Incorporate professional development related to the connections between social-emotional development and literacy for those working with young children
  • Promote attendance in early education programs and the early grades
  • Support special populations, particularly children living in poverty, dual language learners or those faced with potentially unstable environments (foster care or homelessness)

chartThe report indicates that “Far too many children are at a disadvantage in their development because they lack the language and literacy competencies they need to enter kindergarten, significantly hobbling their success in reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Disparities begin as early as infancy and become more pronounced in the toddler years, with children from families below 200 percent of poverty scoring lower than children from higher income families on measures of cognitive development.”

The report goes on to state that “At kindergarten entry age, only 48 percent of poor children are ready for school, compared to 75 percent of children from families with moderate or high income.”

The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI), a subsidiary of the Children’s Fund of Connecticut, is a not-for-profit organization established to promote and maximize the healthy physical, behavioral, emotional, cognitive and social development of children throughout Connecticut.  CHDI works to ensure that children in Connecticut, particularly those who are disadvantaged, will have access to and make use of a comprehensive, effective, community-based health and mental health care system.