The Government’s education sector goal is to have a world leading education system that equips all New Zealanders with the knowledge, skills and values to be successful citizens in the 21st century. One of the education priorities to achieve this goal focuses on increasing opportunities for children to participate in high quality early childhood education. Early childhood services that provide high quality education and care are effective in supporting children’s developing social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour.

Te Whāriki[3]

The early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki provides a framework for services to implement a curriculum that supports children’s developing social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour. The term curriculum is defined as:

the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children’s learning and development.(page 9)

Te Whāriki is founded on aspirations for children:

to grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.(page 10)

The principles and strands of Te Whāriki together form the framework for the curriculum. Each strand has several goals, and learning outcomes have been developed for each goal. The following strands and associated goals have links to children’s development as socially and emotionally competent and capable learners.

Mana atua - Well-being Goal 2 - children experience an environment where their emotional well-being is nurtured. Associated learning outcomes focus on children developing: an increasing ability to determine their own actions and make their own choices; an ability to identify their own emotional responses and those of others; and trust that their emotional needs will be responded to.

Mana atua - Well-being Goal 3 - children experience an environment where they are kept safe from harm. Associated learning outcomes focus on children developing: increasing knowledge about how to keep themselves safe from harm; an ability and confidence to express their fears openly; trust that their fears will be taken seriously; an increasing sense of responsibility for protecting others from injury and from physical and emotional abuse.

Mana atua - Belonging Goal 4 - children and their families experience an environment where they know the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Associated learning outcomes focus on children developing: the capacity to discuss and negotiate rules, rights and fairness; an understanding of the rules of the early childhood education setting, of the reasons for them, and of which rules will be different in other settings; an understanding that the early childhood education setting is fair for all; an understanding of the consequences of stepping beyond the limits of acceptable behaviour; an increasing ability to take responsibility for their own actions; and the ability to disagree and state a conflicting opinion assertively and appropriately.

Mana tangata - Contribution Goal 3 - children experience an environment where they are encouraged to learn with and alongside others. Associated learning outcomes focus on children developing: a range of strategies for solving conflicts peacefully; an increasing ability to take another’s point of view and to empathise with others; ways to enjoy solitary play when they choose to be alone.

Mana reo - Communication Goal 1 - children experience an environment where they develop non-verbal communication for a range of purposes. Associated learning outcomes focus on children developing an ability to express their feelings and emotions in a range of appropriate non-verbal ways.

Regulatory frameworks

The regulatory frameworks[4] under which early childhood services operate include requirements and expectations related to children’s social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour.

The Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998 and the Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices (1996) (DOPS), under which some services are still licensed and chartered, include requirements in relation to supporting children’s learning and development.

The Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008, under which services are being re-licensed over a six-year period from 2009, also set out requirements and expectations with regard to supporting children’s social competence and emotional wellbeing. They include the prescribed curriculum framework (the principles and strands of Te Whāriki). The curriculum standard[5] requires services to plan, implement, and evaluate a curriculum that is designed to enhance children’s learning and development. Curriculum criterion (C 10) states:

The service curriculum supports children’s developing social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour.[6] Services are required to document a process for providing guidance to encourage social competence in children. The rationale/intent for this criterion notes that:

this criterion helps to ensure the service curriculum supports and positively guides the development of children’s social competence and their ability to establish and maintain appropriate relationships with other children and adults.

Guidance information on the Ministry of Education’s website[7] about supporting children’s social competence states:

As children learn to make sense of their world and develop working theories they develop an understanding of themselves in social contexts, including the early childhood service.

What is viewed as social competence and appropriate behaviour may vary from setting to setting and will depend on the values that families, educators, and communities hold. It is therefore vital that educators, parents, the community, and children share with each other their understandings of social competence.

The environment, our expectations, and our teaching practices will be strong indicators of what we consider as socially appropriate and competent behaviours.

A service curriculum that supports social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour will provide ongoing opportunities for children to practise, through actions, words, and behaviours, their growing competence.

Taumata Whanonga

The behaviour summit, Taumata Whanonga, held in April 2009, resulted in Positive Behaviour for Learning,[8] an action plan developed by the Ministry of Education. This plan reflects the priorities for action agreed by those who attended Taumata Whanonga. It is based on research that shows the best results occur when there is a dual focus on behaviour and learning, rather than viewing them as separate aspects requiring different approaches. This plan, while focusing largely on schooling, does include some actions that include teachers in early childhood services and parents of young children with behaviour difficulties.

Social and emotional competence in early childhood education

Recent articles about children’s social and emotional competence highlight some useful ways of defining and understanding this critical aspect of young children’s learning and development.

Social and emotional competence is referred to as a “multifaceted domain incorporating elements such as feelings, temperament, values, personality, dispositions and behaviour.”[9] Young children gain the ability to understand their own emotions and those of others in their early years. They develop competence in regulating their own emotions and in responding to the emotions of others.

Emotional competence is viewed as an organisational construct that reflects the child’s capacity to integrate behavioural, cognitive and affective skills with emotional expression, social problem solving and negative social behaviour considered important parts of the construct.[10]

Young children who are socially and emotionally competent are more likely to behave with empathy and show less aggression.[11] The development of social and emotional competence contributes to a young child’s success in an early childhood service and has a major influence on the establishment of positive peer relationships.[12] This development begins in infancy and continues through to adolescence. Developing strong social and emotional competence is essential for children’s everyday wellbeing as well as for engagement and learning in school and beyond.

Professional learning and development programmes (2010-13)

Ministry of Education ECE professional development programmes (PLD) focuses on:

  • targeting locations with low rates of participation to support quality provision in those communities
  • services that are likely to enrol children who have the greatest potential benefit to make from participating in quality ECE (Māori, Pacific and children from low socio-economic areas).

The focus of the professional development for teachers in target locations is based on assessed need and includes some of the following areas:

  • literacy and numeracy
  • transitions
  • education and care of children under two years of age
  • developing children’s social competence
  • leadership.