Reach for the Stars (Part 2)

Area(s) of Focus: kindergarten, well being, curriculum
Division(s): Primary
Level(s): Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2

Social readiness is a key factor in promoting well-being in children and directly impacts their health in all areas and success in school. As educators in early years, we desire to promote healthy relationships and social thinking with our students.

Social thinking is something that most people take for granted. It is generally an intuitive process that allows us to consider the points of view, emotions and intentions of others. Over the past five years, we have observed that more of our students are struggling to develop and maintain positive, healthy relationships with others. Specifically, many young children who are entering our kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms at the start of their school career are lagging in their ability to understand, recognize, manage and cope with their emotions in a positive and healthy manner.  They are lacking the strategies to solve problems and show flexibility or resiliency. As educators, we find that we have to explicitly teach our students how to think socially and to apply social skills as they interact with their classmates and adults. Through this project, we would like to explore two current teaching resources, have the time to develop lessons and also to gain a better understanding of the research behind emotional and social development in young children.

Team Members

  • Charlene Stein

    Avon Maitland District School Board

  • Jeanette Hill

    Avon Maitland District School Board

  • Tracy Marshment

    Avon Maitland District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  •  We were able to continue our work from last year (Reach for the Stars project – Part 1). Our school nutrition program continued and is now available three times per week to all of our primary students. Our outdoor daily morning walk continued this year and we have seen more classes join us in this daily activity. We also planned a family night (co-ordinated by our parent council and funded by a PRO grant). All of our school families were invited to attend an evening event in April where a nutritious supper was provided, along with a presentation by author/illustrator, Werner Zimmermann. The event was very well-attended.
  • We met as a team for two full days and enjoyed networking with our newest team member, Tracy Marshment. Her expertise and experience as our Student Support Co-ordinator for our school board was invaluable in our discussions and planning.
  • On our release days, we planned and developed lessons from two resources, “The Zones of Regulation” and “Social Thinking – We Thinkers!”.  We also developed a teacher survey which we have used to guide our discussions and reflect on our progress and learning throughout the project.
  • We had planned to attend a seminar or conference in the areas of social/emotional development and mental health. Unfortunately, the conference we had planned to attend was not available this year. We have made alternate plans to attend the “Social Thinking Annual Global Providers’ Conference” in California from June 22 to 24. As a team, we are excited to extend our learning by participating in the seminars and workshops that will be provided at this three-day event.

Activities and Resources

We read the five stories to our classes that accompany Volume 1 of the “Social Thinking – We Thinkers!” program. We were able to have rich discussions about topics such as “Following the Group Plan,” “Body in the Group” and “Thinking Thoughts and Feeling Feelings.” At the kindergarten level, the students were able to be explicit when they were having a thought. By Grade 1/2, the children were able to discuss the stories and have rich discussions about the topic. They did not necessarily require the visual aids and mini lessons to help them apply their learning to the classroom context. This may have been different at the start of the year when routines were just forming and the class culture for group discussions was not well-established.

We also implemented some of the lessons from the “Zones of Regulation” program in our Grade 1/2 class. Each coloured zone (red, green, blue, yellow) was discussed with either a read-aloud story, mini lesson from the teacher guide or movie clip (Inside Out). A permanent display was put up in the classroom which showed each coloured zone and the children’s individual pictures were also displayed. Throughout the following days, the children were asked to do a “Zones Check-in” where they were encouraged to post their picture under one of the four colours to represent how they were feeling. It is interesting to note that as the days progressed, some children began to move their picture on the Zones board without prompting.  This procedure became a very useful way to communicate their emotions and feelings with the class and teachers.

Unexpected Challenges

We were disappointed that the “Mental Health Conference for Educators” was not available this year in Toronto. We would have liked to be able to reflect on our learning from this conference and to have that professional development reflected in our final report.

We do look forward to attending the “Social Thinking Global Providers’ Conference.” On the first day, two psychologists will talk about the infusions of social thinking vocabulary and philosophy in the education system in Denmark. On day two, the author of the “Social Thinking – We Thinkers!” program will present and discuss the understanding of self as the undercurrent of all forms of communication. The complexity of emotions with the dynamics of self-regulation and social communication will be discussed. On day three, an expert in the area of executive functioning will discuss the development of processing speed in children. Methodologies to help children to follow routines, make decisions, process directions and think flexibly are expected topics to be covered. We know that we will come away with a wealth of new learning and are so glad to be able to debrief together at the end of each session.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

  • Students are now able to follow instructions and demonstrate an understanding of terms such as “body in the group,” “group plan” and “thinking thoughts and feeling feelings.” These phrases have been discussed in class and we have modelled the expectations with the children.  It minimizes dialogue in specific situations as most things relate to “group plan,” etc.
  • Students now possess a tool to communicate their feelings and emotions. They can identify with a colour and use the Zones board to show their emotion explicitly. This sparks conversation and also concern for fellow classmates. We can develop a more collaborative classroom climate where children are more aware of and look out for the well-being of one another.


We have shared our resources with the other primary teachers in our building. Some are already using the programs and others have an interest in developing it further. We also have a group of teachers in other schools in our board who have an interest in networking together in the future. We plan to approach our curriculum team and principal to see about forming a focus group in the next school year. Perhaps a Professional Learning Community could be formed so that we could share our learning from this project and network with interested teachers in other school buildings.  We have also discussed the possibility of applying for another TLC grant which would provide us with further release time to network with other teachers in our school board. The Student Support Co-ordinator has the privilege of working in half the schools in the board and regularly shares examples, situations and possible next steps with other primary classes, referencing the positive outcomes of individual emotional awareness and increase use of social thinking vocabulary. The Student Support Co-ordinator is able to offer suggestions of how teachers can access resources, begin implementation, discuss next steps and troubleshoot challenges. Early years teachers are typically the teachers who often share that their students have lagging skills in the area of social emotional readiness, however information from this project is also shared with junior and intermediate teachers when the situation arises.

Project Evaluation

We feel that our project was largely a success. We were initially disappointed that the conference we had planned to attend was not available this year. We are excited, however, to be given the opportunity to attend the “Social Thinking Global Providers’ Conference” in June.

We have come to realize that the implementation of the Zones and Social Thinking programs have the most impact when they are delivered at the start of a new school year. Due to the timelines of this project, our mini lessons and focused teaching did not begin until November of this school year. It was still highly beneficial, but we are interested to begin the program next year in September so that the language of the programs can be implemented at the start of the school year when routines and expectations, as well as the class culture, are beginning to take shape.

With implementation earlier in the school year, we will be able to cover the topics in Volume 2 of the “We Thinkers!” program which covers the concepts of expected and unexpected, smart guess/wacky guess, flexible and stuck thinking, size of the problem and sharing an imagination. These additional concepts will further develop our early years students’ social emotional development with explicit teaching.

Resources Used

The Zones of Regulation® – Self-regulation is something everyone continually works on whether or not we are cognizant of it. We all encounter trying circumstances that test our limits from time to time. If we are able to recognize when we are becoming less regulated, we are able to do something about it to manage our feelings and get ourselves to a healthy place. This comes naturally for some, but for others it is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. This is the goal of The Zones of Regulation (or “Zones” for short). ​

At Social Thinking®, our mission is to help people develop their social competencies to better connect with others and live happier, more meaningful lives. We create unique treatment frameworks and strategies to help individuals as young as four and across the lifespan develop their social thinking and social skills to meet their personal social goals.

Social Thinking Conference – June 22 to 24

The “Social Thinking Global Providers’ Conference” is our biggest and most exciting event every year! This summer in South San Francisco, join hundreds of practitioners from around the world to share ideas, network, and discover new strategies for teaching social competencies. This conference is intended for those who are already familiar with the methodology and would like to expand their skill set.