Students at St. James Head Start in Depew, New York are learning to manage their emotions with coping mechanisms teacher Allan Hittle said they’ll likely rely on throughout their educational careers.
Hittle and other teachers at St. James are using a program called PEDALS – an acronym for Positive Emotional Development and Learning Skills – to help students aged three to five adjust to life at school by working through their feelings in fun and engaging ways, WBFO reports.
“We had a lot of behavior issues at the beginning of the year when kids would first come in and had no school at all and then working through, with the program, you can see change almost immediately,” Hittle said. “There’s a lot of catchy music and puppets and stuff, so they get into it immediately.”
The teacher explained that PEDALS focuses on helping youngsters recognize and identify their emotions, as well as the emotions of their friends and teachers, to guide how they interact with others. Hittle said preschool is the perfect time to introduce the character education program because students
“Three year olds are very self-centered – not in a bad way, but they really only care about themselves and how they feel. Somewhere between three and five they learn that they’re not really the center of their universe – there’s other people, they make friends,” he said.
“I think making a friend and seeing a friend get sad or mad and learning they have that same kind of feelings you have kind of really opens it up.”
St. James principal Kathy Karan contends students catch on quickly.
“I’ve been involved with the PEDALS program since its inception,” she said, adding that all classes at St. James use the program. “I’ve seen a growth from day one with these children.”
PEDALS is run through the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York with funding from the Tower Foundation. It’s currently in use in more than 150 classrooms, including many preschools in Erie and Niagara counties, reaching more than 4,500 students.
The intent, Karan said, is to help students learn to manage their emotions while they’re young, a skill that will undoubtedly help them in school for years to come.
“If you can deal with your problems now and your feelings now, and you can get a handle on that – you’re just going to flourish so much more in life and just be able to cope,” she said. “Coping mechanisms is such an important part for these children and their daily lives here. They need to start now to be able to get those mental feelings they deal with when they go to kindergarten.”
“It’s such a big topic in education right now, because even just five years ago it really wasn’t, so hopefully giving these kids all these tools – learning to be kind to each other or even just learning how to handle their own emotions if someone isn’t kind to you – hopefully will open up a bunch of doors for these children,” Karan said.
While there is much value in early childhood education that includes appropriate socialization, the fostering of non-cognitive skills is a critical foundation for subsequent moral formation. Empathy places a priority and an awareness of others and their feelings. The development of these skills is critical. James Hunter and Ryan Olson write, “By ‘non-cognitive,’ scholars and educators tend to mean the attitudes, behaviors, and strategies that are believed to underpin the success in school and at work—capacities such as self-motivation, perseverance, and self-control, but also empathy, honesty, truthfulness, and character more broadly…. Surely the instinct is a good one: For children to flourish in schools and in their future lives, it is essential that these dimensions of their lives be developed too.”
Educators and education leaders interested in the PEDALS program may find out more by viewing the PEDAL’s website.