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Social and emotional learning important in early childhood, lawmakers told

FRANKFORT--Young children need to learn their ABCs and numbers to advance in school, but they'll need good social and emotional skills to advance in life, an early children expert told a group of state lawmakers today.

"If you want academic success, it requires social and emotional learning," said Dr. Tom Lottman, a senior director and researcher with Children, Inc., an early childhood development agency in Northern Kentucky. No matter what career path someone chooses, Lottman told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee that a person needs social and emotional learning to get ahead.

Lottman, who was part of a panel testifying before the committee on how Kentucky's tobacco settlement dollars have benefited early childhood outcomes, told the committee that research shows social and emotional learning--known widely as SEL--improves student performance. An analysis of over 200 studies involving nearly 270,000 children indicates SEL improved achievement test scores by 11 to 17 percentile points, he said.

SEL can also improve brain health, Lottman stated. Adverse childhood experiences in the first three years of life can affect not only someone's behavior but their physical health, he said, adding that a child with four or more of adverse experiences is twice as likely to have heart trouble as an adult.

"So if we want to save health care costs, we need to invest in what happens to our kids in those early years," he told the committee.

Emphasizing that research is clear on the benefits of SEL, Lottman said the "take home message" for lawmakers is that Kentucky needs to find a way to bring SEL to every child in the Commonwealth. He is helping craft recommendations for consideration by the Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) that include how to best align SEL in pre-kindergarten through grade 3, how to best support parents with young children, and how to use kindergarten screening data to build SEL programs, he said.

When asked by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, if Lottman is suggesting that the Children, Inc. model for SEL should be used statewide, Lottman said no. He said research shows SEL programming needs to be customized at the local level.

"So what we're suggesting that could go statewide is a process for choosing what is level of intensity, frequency, duration, and scope of a social and emotional learning program, and we can walk you through that process," said Lottman.

Committee Co-Chair Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, complimented Lottman and others who testified on early childhood including ECAC Acting Director Linda Hampton, Kentucky Division of Child Care Director Christa Bell, and Paula Goff with the Department of Public Health.

"You're clearly doing crucial, important work in our state that means so much to our future," said Embry.

Kentucky sets aside 25 percent of the funds it receives from a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies for early childhood education per state law. Programs funded with the money include the STARS for KIDS NOW voluntary quality child care rating system, child care subsidies, the HANDS home visiting program, the state's early childhood scholarship program, child care health consultants and others

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