Club for playing also builds important skills

Not all childhoods are created equally. But what happens when that impacts the entire kindergarten class?

Jennifer Vukonich, an early childhood educator at Elliott Elementary School, noticed a need and created an afterschool program to help students learn social-emotional skills in a play-based setting with its after school Community Learning Center partner, the YMCA. 

The skills can then be transferred to the classroom setting during the school day.

“We noticed many of our youngest students coming in with little to no experience being in a school setting. They might not have had an opportunity to develop and practice those important social-emotional skills in their home environment, or been able to participate in a quality early childhood preschool setting,” said Vukonich, a former kindergarten teacher. 

“Kindergarten teachers embed social-emotional learning in many aspects throughout the school day, our Second Steps curriculum does a nice job of introducing many concepts and skills, but with the increasing academic demand in kindergarten we don’t have as much time that’s needed to really practice it, especially with our kiddos that haven’t had any prior experiences.’ 

Many children across the city have opportunities and access to a quality preschool, where skills like coping, sharing, and dealing with disappointment are taught and practiced.

But not all students have access to those programs. Students who haven’t had the opportunity to develop and practice these crucial life skills often require more teacher and principal attention, taking away from other students (who may be lacking a different set of skills). This can make for a very challenging first year of school.

So an afterschool club was piloted last year, with about ten first-grade and kindergarten students meeting every day for an hour. 

“We needed to find a place for them to have a safe environment to learn and practice those skills,” she said. “It has a made a tremendous difference. Some only needed a semester, some needed an entire year, some have needed a bit more. But it has made a difference in their school day.”

“The academic demands on a five-year-old are so high right now, it’s nice to have the bar set high, and a lot of kids rise to the occasion,” she said. “But some children needed more support in areas other than academics to begin with, to be able to be a successful member of a class, so they can navigate through their day being able to deal with the emotional ups and downs they were experiencing in their interactions with others.”

“The extra attention and guided support that each child in the after school ‘Jump Start’ play-based social skills club really helped so many little ones carry those much-needed skills over into their regular school day and become more successful all around.”


Published: February 17, 2017, Updated: February 17, 2017