Like adults, children experience a wide range of emotions during the course of a day—everything from sheer joy to frustration or confusion when things don’t go exactly as planned. While they may understand when and why they are upset, they don’t always understand how to properly verbalize what they need to correct the situation.
Enter Second Step, a character building program that Hebrew Academy implemented at the start of the year to increase school readiness and social success, as well as emotional competence and self-regulation skills. The program—an evolution of the character building programming that has existed within HAT for years—is being applied with the Strelitz Early Childhood Education Center four-year-olds all the way through HAT’s fifth graders.
“Second Step,” says Laurie Feldman, MSW, program coordinator and student support services coordinator, “offers a fun, interactive way for children to learn the lessons they need to build character and better relate to the people and world around them. Weekly lessons incorporate the use of puppets, songs and games— called brain builders—which challenge and provide practice for attention, working memory, and executive function skills. All of the activities help children improve their ability to listen, remember and control their bodies. The value and message to children is that your brain can get smarter and stronger with practice and effort.”
Feldman recently taught about empathy. “Studies show that children with high levels of empathy tend to make better progress in school, be less aggressive and more socially skilled,” she says. “In working with our younger students, we began by asking them to imagine how they would feel if they were in someone else’s shoes. Gaining this perspective—the ability to identify others’ feelings using physical, verbal and situational clues—is essential to the development of empathy. Reading various scenarios, students began to recognize others’ feelings based on their faces or body language. From here, children were able to gain perspective and show care and concern for others.”
Another unit teaches emotion management. Research shows that children who can recognize strong emotions and calm these feelings down can better cope with life’s stresses and challenges—valuable lessons that will serve children well throughout their entire lives.
“We play different songs and games,” says Feldman, “and we share additional information with parents, so they can reinforce the lessons at home. Second Step has met with great results. Students are very animated when sharing their own experiences relevant to our weekly lessons. It’s impressive to see them each arrive at creative, empathetic and commonsense ways to deal with their feelings both in and out of the classroom.”
Hebrew Academy is now accepting applications for the 2015/2016 academic year. For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Carin Simon, admissions director, at 424- 4327, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Hebrew Academy of Tidewater is a Constituent Agency of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.
by Dee Dee Becker