We are undeniably living through a challenging and disruptive time. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on each and every one of our lives, causing stress, worry and uncertainty.
As educators, it is important to remember that children are also experiencing these emotions, and often need additional help in learning how to process them in a healthy way. This is where social-emotional learning comes into play.
What is social-emotional learning?
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process by which students learn the competencies and skills they need to build resilience and effectively manage their emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. In the Australian curriculum, the principles of SEL are captured under the ‘Personal and Social Capability’ portion of the curriculum:
The curriculum goes on to state that Personal and Social Capability skills are to be addressed in all learning areas and at every stage of a student’s schooling. It can, however, be a challenge for educators to build valuable SEL instructional time into an already busy classroom schedule. So what’s the solution?
Peekapak is a suite of thoroughly researched and carefully crafted levelled reading units, each focusing on an essential SEL skill. Available in Australia exclusively through Modern Teaching Aids (MTA), the multi-award-winning Peekapak guided reading programme is carefully aligned to reading, writing and oral language learning outcomes so it can be seamlessly integrated into your existing literacy programme.
Each of Peekapak’s ten themed units explores a different SEL competency through an engaging, fully illustrated story featuring an inclusive and diverse cast of recurring characters. The ten themed units covered in Peekapak are:
As well as the print levelled readers, Peekapak’s online platform features digital books with audio, lesson plans and supplemental content support for teachers and the myPeekaville app offers students a personalised online learning experience where they can practise wellbeing and SEL concepts through a game-based approach.
Carefully crafted characters
Original stories are at the heart of the Peekapak programme. Each story introduces the learning topic in an engaging and relatable way, drawing students into the lesson while developing their empathy and Theory of Mind (ToM) – the ability to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that they may differ from one’s own. Fiction is an essential tool in promoting SEL and ToM, as Kidd and Castano discovered in their 2013 study, ‘Reading Literacy Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.’ However, it is not only the stories but the characters themselves that demonstrate Peekapak’s dedication to promoting wellbeing through literacy.
Peekaville, the world in which Peekapak’s stories take place, is a fictional town filled with a diverse set of characters, including animals and children from different ethnicities. The importance of promoting diverse and inclusive characters in children’s literature cannot be overstated, and in the context of SEL it is essential that children from all backgrounds see themselves represented in the situations presented in order to build a meaningful connection with the core principles of the story.
The decision to include both humans and animals as main characters in Peekapak was also a deliberate one. Studies such as Maruyama’s ‘The Effects of Animals on Children’s Development of Perspective Taking Abilities’ (2010) have found that students who showed a stronger attachment to animals have higher levels of social cognitive development (i.e. perspective taking abilities) than students who showed a weaker attachment. Peekapak’s inclusion of animal characters helps children to see and understand how non-humans might act and live and thus helps them develop a more empathetic worldview.
Even the illustrated emotions and expressions displayed by Peekapak characters have been deliberately and expertly designed. The team worked closely with researchers from George Brown College in Ontario, Canada to ensure that the characters’ illustrated expressions reflect the research of Nikolajeva from the 2013 study ‘Picture Books and Emotional Literacy’ that highlights the importance of using visual images to train young people’s ToM and empathy.
Literacy and wellbeing for life
Although a relatively new development in education, the benefits of incorporating SEL practices in the classroom have already proven to be long-lasting and far-reaching. Research from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) shows that quality SEL instruction improves student satisfaction, behaviour and academic engagement and achievement across all learning areas and can have a positive impact on students’ ability to manage emotional distress and even substance abuse up to 18 years later.
The ability to identify their own and others’ emotions and link them to a sophisticated emotional vocabulary helps children to better manage and respond to their feelings and those of the people around them. Having a nuanced understanding and vocabulary with which to process and talk about feelings is a crucial tool in the wellbeing toolkit that will serve children far beyond the classroom, into the workplace and throughout their relationships for their whole lives.
To find out more about Peekapak and get a free trial for your school or early childcare centre, visit www.teaching.com.au/peekapak. Comprehensive start-up training and support is available from our Peekapak ambassadors, so you’ll have everything you need to start your students on a lifelong journey of wellbeing. Give it a try today!