Choosing the Right Preschool

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

Choosing the Right PreschoolIsn’t it fun to look at our young children and imagine what they’ll grow up to be? Look at that tower your daughter is building with blocks: Surely she’ll be a well-renowned architect! Your son is constantly asking for more bandages for his stuffies: Perhaps nursing school or med school is in his future! It’s natural to feel ambitious on our children’s behalf, but the first step is to get them into a good preschool.

Studies are increasingly showing the importance of the preschool years and how children’s experiences during that time can have repercussions for the rest of their lives. So your instincts are spot on—but make sure you’re considering the right criteria when finding the perfect preschool.

If your daughter is going to be an architect, she’ll need (among other things) good math skills. But here’s the key: She doesn’t need them now. So as tempting as it may be, don’t go looking for a preschool with a killer geometry program. (Do they even have those?) No, what you want is a preschool that teaches social-emotional learning.

I once said something like this to a fellow parent, who looked at me genuinely puzzled and asked, “Why? So she can be a nice architect?”

Well, no. Or rather, partly. I mean, I’ll take a nice architect over a mean architect any day of the week, but that’s not what we’re driving at here. If you ask ten kindergarten teachers what skills they want incoming students to have, nine of them will say they don’t really care whether the kids know their ABCs and 123s. What they need are kids who can learn.

Think about it: The transition from an environment where you’re allowed time at different play centers, naps, snacks, and exercise to an environment where you’re expected to do a lot more sitting at a desk or table to learn . . . well, that could be jarring if you weren’t prepared for it.

So how do we prepare kids to be good learners? We teach them to recognize and manage strong emotions so that in kindergarten, when they’re excited about the game of tag they’re going to play at recess, they can calm down and pay attention to the math lesson beforehand. We teach them listening skills so that when their kindergarten teacher assigns them a task, they can remember what it is and get it done. We teach them assertiveness skills so that when they don’t understand something, they can ask for help. And we teach them empathy skills so that they can get along with their peers and work in groups.

In short, we prepare kids to be good learners by teaching them social-emotional skills. Your daughter can’t learn to be an architect if she doesn’t know how to listen, focus, ask questions, or work as part of a team. Those skills form the foundation on top of which she’ll pile all sorts of academic knowledge—so make sure you look for a preschool that will teach them. Ask what sort of social-emotional learning program they have in place and make sure it includes the elements above (rather than simply “we talk about our feelings in circle every morning”). While you’re at it, ask them what sort of personal safety program they have in place (if the words “stranger danger” come up, cross that preschool off your list and move on to the next).

A preschool that teaches social-emotional learning will prepare your child for the academic learning that starts in kindergarten and will continue to aid her into adulthood. And turning her into a nice architect? That’s the cherry on top.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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Enter to Win the Teaching Smarter Book Bundle!

Enter to Win the Teaching Smarter BundleThis month, we’re giving away three products to help teachers maximize their efficiency, achieve work-life balance, and stay focused and energized:

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you teach smarter.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, February 23, 2018.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around February 26, 2018, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.

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Does Emotional Intelligence Matter?

By Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., coauthor of Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills (Grades 5–9)

Does Emotional Intelligence Matter?Our current students are living in a complex, information-rich world filled with many stressors, and in that world, they are going to need social-emotional skills—also known as emotional intelligence (EQ) skills. What are these skills? They include three main areas:

1. Self-awareness and self-management

  • The ability to assess and know one’s own emotions, values, and capabilities (both strengths and weaknesses)
  • The ability to cope with emotions and maintain self-control
  • The ability to persevere to achieve a goal

2. Social awareness and relationship skills

  • The ability to understand others and empathize with an awareness of individual and group similarities and differences
  • The ability to communicate effectively, both in perceiving others’ messages and expressing oneself
  • The ability to work cooperatively with others

3. Responsible decision-making and problem-solving

  • The ability to establish positive goals
  • The ability to implement effective behaviors to achieve those goals
  • The ability to resolve interpersonal conflicts constructively

We all know smart kids who make poor choices, kids with generous hearts who have trouble making friends, sensitive kids who can be hurtful to others, and kids with great potential who struggle to harness their abilities and direct them positively. These kids, and all our students, can benefit from further development of their EQ skills, which they will need when negotiating everyday challenges large and small.

But there is more.

To be a citizen in the digital world requires EQ skills. To make healthy decisions and avoid substance use and abuse takes EQ skills. Preventing harassment, intimidation, and bullying takes EQ skills. College and career readiness requires EQ skills. To create and perform requires EQ skills. To function well in a classroom takes EQ skills.

As an analogy, consider another skill that is of special importance: reading. Doing well in science requires reading skills. Doing well in math requires reading skills. Understanding history and current events requires reading skills. And on and on. We teach reading systematically every year because reading is essential. But for EQ, which is equally essential, we set standards and we may do activities now and then, but we don’t teach it systematically every year. We cannot expect progress in academics and our students’ character and social-emotional competence if we don’t systematically teach social-emotional skills.

Whatever your role is at school—counselor, classroom teacher, mental health professional, nurse, recess monitor, aide, administrator, or anyone else responsible for students’ safety and well-being—you are likely teaching, facilitating, and modeling EQ skills like problem-solving and conflict resolution every day. You deal directly with students’ feelings, relationships, and problems, whether they are part of the curriculum or not. If you are a classroom teacher, you are not only teaching students academic content, but you are also fostering in them essential skills for handling emotions such as frustration, worry, and anger. And you know that kids learn better in a climate of positive relationships—between you and students and between students and their peers. Now, it’s time to engage in social-emotional skill-building systematically, intentionally, and proactively—just as we do with reading.

So, my answer to the question of whether EQ matters is connected to my view of reading. If you can’t read, you are going to face many obstacles in life. And if you can’t read people and situations, you will face at least an equal number of obstacles in life.

Maurice EliasMaurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is a professor and former director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, Rutgers University. He is also director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, academic director of the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service, and founding member of the Leadership Team for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Dr. Elias lectures nationally and internationally and devotes his research and writing to the area of social-emotional and character development in children, schools, and families. He is a licensed psychologist and writes a blog on social-emotional and character development for the George Lucas Educational Foundation at Edutopia. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Ellen, near their children and grandchildren.

Boost Emotional Intelligence in StudentsMaurice is coauthor of Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills.

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Helping Students Set SMART Goals for Financial Literacy

By Eric Braun and Sandy Donovan, coauthors of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give

Helping Students Set SMART Goals for Financial LiteracyIt’s not too early to start planning financial-themed classroom activities for April, which is Financial Literacy Month. Luckily, thinking about money—how to spend it, what it can buy, and how happy they’d be to have tons of it—is pretty fun for many kids. (It’s fun for us, too. Ever daydream about retiring on a beach or making a life-changing donation to a favorite cause?) And while spending lots of money may seem like the antithesis of being financially literate, it’s really not: The overarching goal of financial savvy is to have the money we need to live the lives we want.

Setting financial goals can be a fun and inspiring activity for students of any age. And when you keep the focus on the end goal of using money to achieve the lifestyle they want, it can be easier to engage them. We like to ask kids to think about long-term goals as having to do with how they’ll use money, and short-term goals as having to do with how they’ll get money to pay for those long-term goals.

Begin with the Near-Long Term
Long-term financial goals usually reflect how a person wants to use money. In financial literacy this is the spending and donating side of the equation. Young people’s long-term goals can be anything from wanting to buy a pair of shoes to wanting to retire on a beach. For classroom purposes, it can be helpful to ask kids to think about something in the near-long term, such as a purchase they hope to make in the next year.

Ask kids to identify one near-long-term goal. Prompt them with examples appropriate to their age and economic situations. To add nuance to the discussion, talk about the difference between needs and wants. Make a T-chart on the board and brainstorm goals, discussing whether each goal should go on the Need side or the Want side. It’s fine for students to choose a want for their goal in this exercise, but it’s also valuable for them to understand that spending money in one area may mean not having the money to spend in another.

Once students have a goal in mind, ask them to either estimate or do some research to put a dollar value on their goal. But no need to spend too long on this step—the point is to use it as a foundation for setting short-term goals.

Move On to Short-Term SMART Goals
These are the steps your students can plan to take to help them accomplish their identified long-term goal. In financial literacy curriculum, this is the earning and saving side of the equation. You can easily adapt the SMART system to help students think about financial goals.

Specific: Remind students to be specific and concrete when setting their goals. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to save all my money,” a student can write, “I’ll put any birthday money I get into a savings account,” or, “I’ll put half of my allowance into a savings jar.”

Measurable: It can be simple to make financial goals measurable. Students can measure either in dollar amounts or in percentages—for instance, saving one-half of their income.

Attainable: There’s nothing more frustrating to young money managers than having lofty goals they can’t possibly meet. Help kids make their goals attainable by encouraging them to reflect on their past financial experiences as well as what’s realistic in their world. It’s not helpful for a 10-year-old to set a goal of saving $100 in a month.

Relevant: Help kids think about the relevance of their goals with some prompts. What’s important to you? Is attaining your goal worthwhile? How will you feel if you achieve your short-term goals? How about your long-term goal?

Time-bound: Encourage students to have a defined time period for their goals. When will they begin? When do they want to successfully complete each step?

Make It More Rigorous if Appropriate
If you’re working with more sophisticated students (upper elementary or middle school), you may want to make this activity more robust. An easy way to do this is by having students create a budget. Here’s how that can affect their SMART goals.

Specific: Have students identify specific sources of income or plans for raising money and include these on their budgets. Make sure their budgets show exactly how much they’ll save each month, and have them check that against their spending needs to make sure it’s feasible. You can also have them calculate sales tax on the items they’re saving for or add additional savings goals (perhaps one for spending and one for donating).

Measurable: Using their budgets, students can track their savings over time and compare them to what they planned.

Attainable: Their budgets will provide evidence-backed indications of whether their goal is attainable.

Relevant: By shining a light on their spending and saving decisions, budgets give students more information with which to judge the relevance of their goals. Do I really want to put all my lawn-mowing income into saving up for a drone (for example)? If I give up my streaming music subscription, I can save faster—do I want to make that trade-off? Remind kids of their discussion about needs and wants. Do their answers change when they see the actual numbers? Take the discussion further by talking about personal values.

Setting SMART Goals WorksheetTime-bound: Students can make adjustments to their timelines by increasing or decreasing the amounts they plan to save each month on their budgets. What timelines work best for their lifestyles?

Bonus! Download a free printable SMART goals worksheet.

Financial education is largely about learning to make smart decisions. Working on SMART goals with students helps them gain experience making decisions about values as well as money smarts—experience that will help them in all areas of life.


Author Eric BraunEric Braun writes and edits books for readers of all ages, specializing in academic and social-emotional topics. Books he has worked on have won awards and honors, including the Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, a Foreword Book of the Year Gold Award, a Benjamin Franklin Award, and many others. A recent McKnight Artist Fellow and an Aspen Summer Words scholar for his fiction, he earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.

Author Sandy DonovanSandy Donovan has written nonfiction books for kids and young adults on topics including economics, history, science, and pop stars. She has worked as a journalist, a workforce policy analyst, and a website developer. She currently works for the US Department of Labor, developing online tools to help people of all ages meet their career, education, and employment goals. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in labor and public policy. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two sons.

The Survival Guide for Money SmartsEric and Sandy are coauthors of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give.

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7 Lessons for School Counselors to Help Students Navigate Life’s Ups and Downs

By Barbara Gruener

7 Lessons for School Counselors to Help Students Navigate Life’s Ups and DownsI was roughly 25 years old when friends invited me to join them on a ski trip to Idaho. Without much thought, I accepted their kind invitation. When we arrived, I naively boarded the chairlift and followed them up the mountain to a black diamond slope. The ride up took my breath away, but I didn’t realize what I’d agreed to until it was time to get off that breathtaking ride. Unloading from the lift led to the first of many falls as I attempted to teach myself to ski atop a mountain in Boise. I fell down. I got bruised. I screamed and cried. I felt frustrated, scared, and angry. And I promised myself that if I got down safely that day, I’d never go skiing again.

Fast-forward 30 years. This summer, our sons requested an experience in lieu of a party for their graduations. As we brainstormed, the initial idea of taking a cruise before they cruised into their journeys’ next steps morphed into a trip over the holiday break. Since it would take place in winter, they requested something in the snow, which quickly became a family trip to try downhill skiing. I hoped that time had healed my ski-warrior worries from all those years ago. And though a twinge of anxiety lingered, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and give downhill skiing another shot. Mostly for the boys. And a little bit for myself.

This time, we’d start slow to go fast, beginning with ski school to learn the basics before hitting the slopes—I mean the bunny hill. It was during those three hours with Rich, our amazingly patient and kind ski instructor, that I drew the following parallels between the skier’s responsibility code and what school counselors routinely do to help students ski through life.

  1. Always stay in control and be able to stop or avoid other people and objects. Ah, the all-important skill of self-regulation and control—a counselor’s dream come true. Throughout the ski lesson, Rich shared examples galore of the catastrophic chaos that results when people don’t follow this guideline. His thorough review of this rule helped us understand its importance on the slopes, and I couldn’t help but connect it to a few of the life lessons we school counselors want our learners to embrace: Do everything in moderation, achieve a healthy balance that works best for you, and maintain self-control so you don’t recklessly knock people (or things!) over in your passionate pursuit of your wishes, goals, and dreams.
  2. Do your best to prevent runaway equipment: You are responsible for possible damage or injury as a result of runaways. Since falling down is pretty much a given in downhill skiing, Rich cautioned us to keep track of our equipment after a fall. He humorously shared that it was indeed frowned upon to hold a garage sale out there on the snow. Truth be told, stuff can easily snowball out of control and get away from us. School counselors can help students identify and keep track of what’s really important and streamline the rest so it doesn’t create an avalanche. This can be key to going through life organized instead of overwhelmed.
  3. People ahead of you have the right of way. School counselors help students strengthen their character muscles as they learn to be courteous, live responsibly, and always respect others. We teach students that how they treat people matters, regardless of who people are and where they stand. Consider the people ahead of us—adults and older peers—to be agents for our growth. They can help us get better as we learn from their successes and failures.
  4. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above. Actor Will Rogers put it this way: Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. School counselors know that emotions sometimes get in the way and stop us in our tracks, so we teach our children that it’s okay to get stuck by a big feeling, like fear. Then we give them tools for keeping those feelings from paralyzing them. We encourage them to practice positive self-talk, like I’ve got this!, and to use deep-breathing exercises to stay in the moment. We might even suggest they dedicate that moment to a gritty role model who has made it through a tough time and is now thriving. Counselors coach students to always stay visible and to keep their eyes and ears open as they move forward.
  5. Whenever starting downhill or merging onto a trail, look uphill and yield to others. In skiing, as we head down a hill, it might seem counterintuitive to look up, but watching out for those who are already en route down the hill creates a win-win: it clears the way for others and ensures an open pathway for us. Likewise in life, counselors teach our students that yielding can move us from operating solo in ME-mode to collaborating in WE-mode—being empathetic, helpful, and aware of others’ needs. In a community where WE-mode is prevalent, everyone benefits.
  6. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off of closed trails and out of closed areas. Rules aren’t meant to hold us back, but to keep us safe and out of harm’s way. School counselors remind students every day that students have the power to choose to obey rules or not, and we caution them to keep in mind that all choices have consequences, positive and negative, making it critical to choose carefully.
  7. Prior to using any lift, have the knowledge and ability to load, ride, and unload safely. This last guideline creates a kind of conundrum: How can students know how to use the lift safely until they’ve actually done it successfully? School counselors know that it’s important to begin at the beginning, so we start with the cognitive: We encourage our students to always ask questions and to listen intently to the answers. From there, we help move them to the affective as they embrace the process and feel its value. Then it’s time for hands-on practice to sharpen their new skill. Despite tackling all three of those domains on the slopes, I fell down every single time the lift unloaded me. In fact, I’m the passenger they had to stop the lift for so I could gather my garage-sale garb and clear the path for those behind me. This is the perfect time for me as a school counselor to model vulnerability by sharing my story. It will assure students that it’s okay to fall down as long as they get back up. Then I can encourage them to stick with it because persistence will pay off in everything they do.

School counselors get to wear so many hats (and helmets!), the most rewarding of which is helping our students navigate life’s ups and downs—eventually making it up and down those steep slopes successfully without us.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 34th year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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