Building Character

Social & Emotional Development

The social-emotional development of each girl forms a core part of our program and focus in the Lower School. Our goal is to grow the whole child: a child who will be inquisitive, resilient, self-aware, and sensitive to the needs of others.

Our approach to social-emotional growth is three-pronged: Responsive Classroom, which provides us tools to help the girls develop strong values; service learning and community projects that help us see beyond ourselves and work to meet the needs of a broader community; and work within classrooms which focuses on providing the girls with tools to resolve conflicts, develop a personal voice, and learn the give and take of friendship.

Each grade level addresses these areas as is appropriate for the age and needs of the child, but all elements are at work in every grade level. By the time the girls move up to Middle School, we want them to have values that help guide them, the knowledge and ability to be a contributing member of a community, and a toolbox of skills and attitudes to help them make good decisions in resolving conflicts and addressing challenging social situations that require a strong moral compass.

Social & Emotional Development in ...

List of 6 items.

  • Pre-Kindergarten

    Three and four year olds are curious, enthusiastic and open to learning. All are learning how to connect with other children. For some this is easier than it is for others. Socially, they are primarily focused on themselves and their personal wants and needs. They love making friends, though these friends may change daily. They are generally very inclusive, welcoming girls to play or participate. They are busy learning to express their wants and needs and experimenting with taking charge in group play, expressing feelings, and compromising.

    In Pre-K, a great deal of importance is placed on the social and emotional development of each girl. The Pre-K experience enables the student to separate from home, accept schedules and routines, mix and mingle with different groups, and respect their peers, adults, and materials. The girls will learn how to get along with each other, to take turns and share, play in small groups, and work independently.

    With teacher modeling and guidance, students come to understand the value of kindness and cooperation and how their behaviors affect others. As social issues arise, they are dealt with individually and tools are practiced to resolve problems (use your words to tell your friend what is bothering you, ask for help, find a solution). Books help teachers address problems of friendship and sharing. Through modeling, the girls see how to resolve problems and understand how another child might feel. In Pre-K the girls often work together, sharing experiences that build a sense of community and give them experience helping one another. Overall, the goal is to promote an environment where young girls enjoy and thrive on learning about their world and themselves and seek to share their experience with others.
  • Kindergarten

    Entering Kindergartners are curious, eager learners. They are focused on the world around them and their place in that world. While their own needs and wants are uppermost in their mind, they do begin to think about how others may feel as a result of their actions. They are able to take turns, to compromise, and to find solutions to conflicts (often with help). They want to immediately address something that is unfair or has hurt them personally, and are quick to want to resolve the issue and move on. They have a developing sense of right and wrong.

    In Kindergarten, the girls learn about the skills needed to be good citizens both in their classroom and the School community. Instilling confidence and a sense of belonging are key. With the help of literature and role-play, students are guided in learning effective problem-solving skills. They learn to use words to express feelings and explain their emotions. They practice finding solutions, compromising, and learning to see another child’s perspective. The small class size allows the teachers to know each child individually and to provide each girl with opportunities to flourish and to practice the skills needed to work within a community of learners. Kindness, respect, and responsibility are skills that are affirmed in these young girls. Through community projects, role-play, talking with the teacher, and guided conflict resolution, the girls learn to respect the needs and wants of others while addressing their own needs and wants effectively and appropriately.
  • Grade 1

    Girls entering first grade feel so grown up. They know their way around ‘School’, they have their own desks, they can manage needs and wants and think beyond themselves to their class group. They continue to be eager to learn and love the fact that they are beginning readers and writers. Their world is beginning to get bigger as more information is accessible to them.

    First graders are often anxious to please, and they need regular, clear, and specific encouragement. They begin to become aware that each is learning and acquiring skills at a different rate and begin to say things such as, “She is good at math.” Friends are very important to them. Friendships are developing substance and are based on common interests. Without thinking about what it might sound like to others, they can be critical and even bossy, but given tools, they will use them to resolve conflicts and support the girls in their class community. They are able to take turns. They love to help one another and want everyone in the class to be happy and get along. Class rules, tools for solving problems, and class meetings help them discuss problems, practice strategies, and find common solutions. Worries can linger with girls this age, so lots of one-on-one with girls to help them resolve anxieties and solve social problems is often needed.

    Teachers use Responsive Classroom as a launch pad for talking about values and working as a community. They engage the girls in service learning and community service projects that allow the girls to make a difference in the lives of others and to become aware of a larger community beyond the School. A daily morning meeting brings the first graders together to greet one another and get their day off to a good start. Class meetings focus on common issues the girls are facing, such as friendship challenges or learning to how to resolve a conflict. The girls use ‘Hands on Hands’ as a way to face one another and talk through a situation while actually connecting physically with the other person. Girls are always encouraged to try to resolve conflicts on their own, and to get help from an adult when needed. In first grade girls are developing their ability to express concerns and be part ofthe solution. It is a year of tremendous social-emotional growth.
  • Grade 2

    Second grade is a time when children begin to really establish a sense of personal identity. Friendships are very important and contribute to second graders’ confidence and self-esteem. In second grade, social groupings form and inclusive/exclusive interactions begin. Therefore, it is important for the girls to learn to empathize with the feelings of others. It is important for them to keep the feelings of others in mind as the girls learn to express their personal needs, feelings, and points of view. The increased social capacity of second graders is put to good use in the classroom and on the playground as girls interact constructively, with cooperation and with give-and-take.

    The second grade teachers use literature and songs, role-play, puppets, and communication games to facilitate discussions about friendship, feelings, and rules. Social discussions and strategies (in the girls’ own words) are recorded and tracked in the Second Grade Cares Book. We develop a plan for “standing up for yourself” with direct steps for making sure every student knows how to be assertive with her feelings when someone threatens her emotional or physical safety.

    Second graders experience a special connection with The Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh. This connection allows the girls to support others in the broader community that are in need. The year-ong collection of aluminum pop tabs purchases a night’s stay (or more) for a family. The girls visit the House, bake for the families, and sometimes share time with some of the children staying there. This helps the girls understand that people have special needs at different times in their lives and we can help make their load lighter or their day more pleasant by the things we do.

    The second grade social experience is focused on developing individual identities within a community of girls. Second graders are eager learners and they love to investigate and ask questions. Second graders develop deeper connections with their friends and they are very aware of aspects of fairness, right and wrong, justice, and honesty. They begin to look beyond themselves and can express empathy. They can show concern for others, and they worry about the feelings of others.

    The job of a second grader includes the following developmental tasks:
    • To learn skills
    • To learn from mistakes
    • To learn to listen in order to collect information and think
    • To reason about wants and needs
    • To learn the relevancy of rules
    • To experience the consequences of breaking rules
    • To disagree with others and still be loved
    • To develop internal controls
    • To learn what is one’s own responsibility and what is others’ responsibility
    • To develop the capacity to cooperate
    • To test abilities against others
    • To identify with same sex; 7 and 8 year olds think about how boys and girls are different and how they relate to each other; issues such as “cooties” and “crushes” begin to surface
    The above list of developmental tasks of 7 and 8 year olds is taken from Jean Illsley-Clarke’s book, Self-Esteem, A Family Affair, published by Hazeldon in 1998.
  • Grade 3

    Third graders come into the grade level having experienced the give and take of friendships. Many have already experienced developing one or more friendships with girls. In third grade girls begin to organize themselves into social groups. As this happens, it can be difficult for some to understand what is happening and why. The school counselor interacts with the girls at various times throughout the year, leading them through a variety of role-play social situations in which they try different strategies to resolve disputes. They practice expressing feelings and different points of view in a kind, clear manner. Community is important to the girls and they work to learn the balance of the good of the class or group and individual wants and wishes.

    The girls are encouraged to be respectful of each other and to see other points of view. Students resolve differences using I statements (I feel…) between themselves before asking an adult to mediate.

    Community service and service learning projects put the girls in touch with the needs of the community beyond the school. Projects such as The Mitten Tree and work with the Community Food Bank help girls realize that not everyone is as fortunate as they are and that helping to meet the needs of others is part of the responsibility of being a member of a community. Building a respectful community of learners helps each student be secure, confident, and productive.
  • Grade 4

    As part of their social and emotional development, fourth grade children are beginning to become more independent learners. Thus, the fourth grade classroom environment is designed to help students solidify their sense of independent accomplishment. Each girl needs to feel that she can complete good work on her own and solve problems on her own ‘most’ of the time. This is true both inside and outside of School. Teachers strive to establish a learning environment in which each girl knows the expectations for homework and classwork so that she can complete good work regularly and feel confident, independent, and in charge of her learning.

    Fourth graders also look to form secure relationships with others. They often seek more social contacts outside their immediate family, and they often look for a few close friends in their peer group. Regular class meetings are held to help girls learn how to treat others, how to be respectful friends, and how to find and develop respectful friendships. It is not uncommon for girls to struggle as they explore social dynamics—learning to treat everyone well while maintaining some closer friendships is a difficult balance that the girls are just beginning to learn. Through class meetings, work with the school counselor, and one-on-one conversations, the girls work to learn to resolve problems on their own and develop their personal voice. They learn to separate from those who do not share their values and learn to walk away from situations that they cannot resolve or agree with. The teachers facilitate discussions to resolve conflicts when needed. Parents, and especially students, should feel comfortable seeking teacher support if they are unable to resolve a conflict with another student.

    Fourth graders, as leaders in the Lower School, take leadership in community service and service learning projects that make a difference in the lives of others. The girls' ability to empathize and to understand that their actions can make a difference leads to a deeper commitment to these projects.

    Developing positive social skills and learning to live by their values while managing the social challenges of growing up is a focus of the overall fourth grade program. While the girls master skills of learning, they also practice life skills for working and playing with others.