Social and Academic Growth in Young Children

The goal of basic education especially in the early years is to support both the emotional and academic growth of children. Children who have adjusted to school life are more likely to do well in school academically. However, although these two areas of growth are expected to go hand-in-hand, in reality, social and academic growth seem quite independent of each other. For instance, during the past decade, early childhood education has significantly expanded in the United States and a recent report publiched in the journal Educational Researcher shows that children entering kindergarten in 2010 demonstrate higher math and reading skills than those who entered in 1998. However, children in 2010 do not demonstrate better behavioral outcomes than those in 1998.

Above copied from
Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten EntryBassock, D. and Latham, S. Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry. Educational Researcher Vol. XX No. X, pp. 1-14 (February 2017). Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association.

One can suggest of course that pre-K teachers maybe spending more time on helping children to read and do math than supporting their social and emotional growth. Another reason is that behavioral growth requires physical activity and interaction with peers. A review of literature made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that recess, for example, is associated with positive outcomes in attention/concentration as well as on-task behavior:

Above copied from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association between school based physical activity, including physicaleducation, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. 
Thus, it is possible that more time is being dedicated to academic growth at the expense of unstructured and structured play, which leads to a neglect of the emotional growth of children. Another possible reason is the teacher factor. There is obviously a difference between helping children grow emotionally and helping children read and do math. A study published in the journal Sociology of Education finds that "teachers who produce better than average academic results are not always the same teachers who excel in enhancing social and behavioral skills." This study also adds that teachers who are best able to help grow emotionally are often those "who have greater experience and the highest level of certification".

Both social and academic growth are important for young children. It is therefore imperative not to sacrifice one for the other. A heavy emphasis on standardized testing in math and reading can greatly diminish opportunities for children to develop socially and emotionally in school. The data on preschool education shows that we may be accelerating the rate at which our children learn to read, add and subtract, but we are not helping them with their social and emotional needs.