“Social thinking” supports perspective taking, self-awareness, and problem solving in social and academic situations. For many students, social thinking is an intuitive process that considers the points of view, emotions, and intentions of others. Many children acquire social skills by osmosis and intuitively learn to focus on people, their bodies, and their social interactions. For other students, social thinking is not necessarily intuitive and needs to be explicitly taught. Tools that both teach and enhance children’s abilities to process and respond to social information at a young age benefit everyone in a school community.
At Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) in Rockville, Maryland, a priority in the school’s new strategic plan is to train faculty in social thinking. During a recent professional day, the Lower School faculty participated in a full-day training on the social thinking method.
Explicit teaching in social thinking begins with CESJDS’s youngest students in the Gurim Junior Kindergarten, an early childhood program that offers children with birthdays in late summer through February an extra year to attain kindergarten readiness.
The Gurim have been learning about social thinking this year during their chavruta (social) time. It is important in the early childhood classroom to teach children that before they can think about the thoughts and feeling of others, they first must learn how their own thoughts work. Imagine how the children felt when they were told about their “special power”: that a person can think about anything, and anything he or she thinks comes from the power of thought. Teachers also explained that one person’s thoughts may be different from another’s, introducing students to the idea that there are internal thoughts going on in each of their peers’ minds.
In addition to chavruta time, there is a “peace place” in the classroom where a teacher can join a child experiencing a tough time and go through the “zones of regulation,” which is how students learn to control their feelings now and in the future. The teachers have strategies at their disposal that enable children to talk about feelings, as well as a “calm down box” filled with breathing exercises.
In addition to focusing on the individual, the Gurim class is learning that how we act in a group (“we think”) may differ from individual behaviors (“me think”). What does it take for kids to cooperate as a group? Throughout the day, the Gurim class is learning how to read others in the group and recognize what the expected and unexpected behaviors should be. The Gurim students are learning how to understand their role and how to socially attend, interpret, and problem solve in order to figure out expected behaviors.
Throughout each week, Gurim students are learning the social thinking method, which, over time, helps students to develop their social competencies.
By Eve Margol
Eve was an integral part of the team that developed the structure and curriculum for Gurim Junior Kindergarten, now in its third year at CESJDS, and is currently the program’s director and general studies teacher. With a master’s degree in early childhood education and a concentration in special education, training in the Phono-Graphix® reading technique, K-Reading KickStart Orton Gillingham approach, Handwriting without Tears®, and Lindamood-Bell® Learning Process, Eve’s guiding philosophy is to create an environment that offers differentiated instruction designed to help students learn.