Children who are co-operative, socially responsible and helpful in kindergarten achieve higher scores on reading, writing and numeracy tests in primary school, compared with children with less pro-social behaviour.
This is the finding from a 5-year study of more than 52,000 kindergarten students from nearly 2800 schools. The study was led by Dr Rebecca Collie at the University of New South Wales School of Education.
Test scores from the children’s NAPLAN (Australia’s National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy) in 2012 and 2014 were compared for four different social and emotional behavioural profiles observed when they were in kindergarten:
- “Prosocial", characterised by high levels of positive behaviour and low levels of "maladaptive" traits.
- "Anxious", characterised by high levels of anxiety alongside average levels of socially responsible and aggressive-disruptive behaviours and low levels of co-operative and helpful behaviours.
- "Aggressive”, characterised by high levels of aggressive-disruptive behaviours, slightly above average anxious behaviour and low levels of the positive behaviours.
- "Vulnerable", characterised by "high levels of anxious behaviour, very high levels of aggressive-disruptive behaviour, and very low levels of the adaptive behaviours".
The children in the “Prosocial” group scored between 24 and 26 points more in each of the years 3 and 5 numeracy and writing tests and up to 18 points more in the reading tests than their peers who displayed "maladaptive" behaviours.
This confirms the importance of teaching children social and emotional skills alongside academic skills.
"It's an upfront investment that can ease the load on teachers and have an impact on academic outcomes," said Dr Collie.
Why do good social skills boost academic outcomes?
Dr Collie says students with higher levels of adaptive behaviours are able to better interact with their peers and teachers and participate more fully in the classroom. Thus they are more able to learn.
Previous research has shown that social and emotional behaviour has also been linked to greater rates of school and college completion, and greater mental, physical, and financial well-being in adulthood.
Dr Collie’s research was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology January 2018.
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