Teaching social and emotional skills from young age has proven to be beneficial in many ways. The ability to understand and regulate emotions is likely to result in more positive and supportive relationships, and can help children achieve at a higher level during early years in school.
The importance of the matter was officially recognized in 2016 when social and emotional skills were introduced to the Finnish early childhood educational plan. Postdoctoral Researcher Shupin Li is pleased about the recent developments.
– Learning these skills in kindergarten prepares children for school and protects them from having mental problems later in life, she says.
Scientific evidence matters
Funded by a research grant from the PoDoCo program worth 28 000€, Li has started collaboration with the University of Turku and Aittokoski Experience Oy, a Finnish startup company producing educational materials for young children based around a bird character called Pikkuli. What started off as a book was first turned into a TV series, and then a social emotional learning application developed together with kindergartens in the city of Espoo in 2018 and 2019.
The company is currently preparing to expand to the Chinese market, where they have already established partnerships and secured funding. In order to do so, Li and Aittokoski Experience will conduct a study in six kindergartens – three in Finland and three in China – with 200 children aged from three to five. In the first part of the research project the children, their teachers, and parents use the existing Pikkuli app as part of their daily routine. After examining the results, the technical team at Aittokoski Experience will optimize the application for a second round of studies. The final outcome determines whether two different versions of the app are needed for adapting to two culturally different markets.
– We have already received great feedback from the users of the app and we know that the pedagogical content works. But considering that we operate with large organizations in educational market, it is important to have scientific evidence to back it up, says Metsämarja Aittokoski, founder of Aittokoski Experience and the creator of the Pikkuli brand.
Preparing children for future
Working with technology comes with preconceptions because it is sometimes thought to be harmful to young children. Li say that the subject is not black and white; it is proven that excess usage can indeed cause harm but she also points out that technology is unavoidable – especially in the future.
– That's why it is important to provide guidance to children and prepare them for their future life. Playing outdoors with other kids is one way to learn social and emotional skills but technology provides new opportunities. We just need to teach children to use it in a productive way.
Text: Laura Iisalo
Photo: Ting Xu