Why PSED is fundamental to children’s learning and development

Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED) is fundamental for young children’s learning and development. It is for this reason that the 2016 EYP/T Development Day has the focus of ‘Healthy Child, Happy Child’.

However, it would appear that this message is not clear to everyone. I was recently talking to a friend about her child’s experiences at school. It was not a happy story, and included a number of jaw-dropping mistakes by the senior management.

The one that really struck a note was the serious and genuine belief by the school head that their role was ‘education’ and that the mental health of the children in their care was not part of their remit.

I think the whole coffee shop heard my “WHAT??!!”

We know ourselves that our mental state of mind will affect our learning. If you have had a difficult journey to a training course, don’t know anybody else when you arrive and then get a phone call from work to say Ofsted have arrived – of course you are going to be distracted. Your mind will be elsewhere and the learning is less likely to be effective. And we are adults, who have had practice at concentrating and prioritising (theoretically, at least).

Children are still learning how to do this, as well as everything else that they are busy learning.

The effects of stress and learning can now be witnessed through the advances that have been made in neuroscience. This can actually be seen on EEG scans, as the blood moves in different areas in the brain, demonstrating how the brain is reacting to experiences. For example, when the part of the brain called the amygdala is stress-induced, new sensory information, or learning, can’t access the memory part of the brain. That experience has not been remembered and no learning has taken place.

Judy Willis explains this very well in her article on the negative effects of stress on learning (find the full article here), as she says “When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition.”

In brief: Less Stress = More Learning

Unfortunately, normal real life does produce stress, but we can help children to deal with this by building up their resilience (or ‘bouncebackability’). There are some tremendous books on this subject, with my top two being the very readable The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and the fascinating research of Ann Masten in Ordinary Magic. These focus on children’s strategies for dealing with stress and how they maintain good mental health by reacting in positive ways to bad situations.

Let’s not forget that trauma may have long term health implications too. In this trailer from the US for the film Resilience (find it here) you can hear health professionals from all areas talk about the effect of poor mental health on learning and development. As one of the professionals states: “The child may not remember, but the body remembers”.

So, although some may view schools as simply a place of education, all the science, research and experience is telling us that education and mental health are bound closely together.

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