Strategies to support social and emotional growth in transitional kindergarten

This mixed-methods study examined strategies used by Transitional Kindergarten (TK) teachers to support the social and emotional growth of their students in the Central Valley of California. Transitional Kindergarten is a new grade level in California first implemented in the 2012-2013 school year. It was established as a result of Senate Bill 1381 which amended the California Educational Code to gradually move back the required birth date for admittance into kindergarten from December 2 to September 2. Those whose fifth birthday falls between September 2 and December 2 are eligible to enroll in TK. The study consisted of three separate but parallel stages. Initially a survey was sent to nearly 70 TK teachers in the county database. Concurrently, 10 TK teachers from two school districts were interviewed to gain more information about their perceptions of critical areas of social and emotional development along with the strategies they use to support its growth. Finally, five receiving Kindergarten teachers were interviewed from one of the two districts to determine their perceptions of their incoming TK students. A review of the literature indicates Kindergarten teachers perceive that social and emotional competence is considered critical for school readiness and is an indicator of future academic success. Findings indicate Transitional Kindergarten teachers perceived the most critical areas of social and emotional development needed for school success were the students’ ability to communicate needs and wants, to follow routines and directions, and to play cooperatively. The way in which teachers supported the development of these areas was to provide an enriching environment for all their students, provide in-the-moment interventions, utilize social skills curriculum, and role-model expected behaviors. Additional accommodations for ELLs and students from low SES included a focus on vocabulary development and use of tangible and visual materials. Additional findings from TK interviews indicate the foundational role of language development in early childhood education. Teacher comments suggested that English language learners and students from poverty especially benefited from the language-rich environment provided by TK. The results of these findings may inform policy makers as to the future of quality early education for all four-year-old students. Keywords: Transitional Kindergarten, social and emotional development, early childhood education, early language development, English Language Learners