Scéalta – The Early Childhood Ireland Blog

< Back to Blog

Social Skills Versus Academic Skills – Why the Conflict?

Carol Duffy


Tuesday 25 June 2019

Recently we had a call to the Early Childhood Ireland office. A journalist was writing a piece on the importance of developing social skills over academic skills at the preschool stage, and wondered if we had a comment. As I played with the reply in my head, I quickly recognised the complexities of providing an answer that does justice to our youngest children’s intelligence, knowledge, and capacity for learning. How in a few words do you discuss the concept that in the early years social and academic skills can be intrinsically linked through play, rather than valued one over the other.  So often children’s learning is discussed in a play versus academic model rather than being seen in a holistic manner where, in fact, one supports the other. The old saying “he’s not very clever but he is very good with his hands” obviously never considered that it was the brain that moved the hands, provided the creativity and all the other skills that made the handiwork so good.  One’s interpretation or definition of social and academic skills can frame one’s perception of development and learning. Social skills and emotional interactions of children at play are often observed without reflection on the considerable cognitive knowledge that underpins it. I once watched a 32-month-old child turn and offer a hand to a younger child to help her down a muddy slope. I was impressed at her empathy and the cognitive reasoning that instantaneously occurred as she felt the give in the mud under her feet and immediately deduced that the new younger child to the playgroup might need a hand.


Where does “academic” learning start? Let’s consider some examples I have observed over the years.

Is the adult counting the stairs with the toddler on their way to bed supporting the relationship or the concept of number?

Is the bedtime story a warm social experience or the earliest introduction to academics: observation, literacy, concentration, language, mathematical reasoning and concept formation?  

What about the child displaying incredible social skills in organising their 3-year-old peers in a game of house building in the garden, mentally planning and designing the build, developing understanding of size and shape, while also articulating in-depth funds of knowledge of building terminology, gained from observations and experiences with builder dad.


Roles, professions, and life experiences are consistently replicated by very young children in their play. Children digging in a sand pit to fill the buckets at either side of an oversized scales absorb the realities of cause and effect. When I heard them shout out “That’s enough, it’s balanced”, I knew that through their play they were gaining mathematical terms and concepts. In all these scenarios accompanying the recognisable social learning and skills are cognitive academic qualities like those previously mentioned. I am reminded of the four-year-old beekeeper who taught her teacher in-depth scientific information about beekeeping as they played in the summer garden. Knowing herself as a beekeeper, the child brought her beekeeper suit and her considerable knowledge into the playgroup to teach her friends what her grandparents had taught her.  

Parental concerns for their children’s education are ever present.  Throughout the years, new concepts and models of education have gained favour. What remains constant however, is children’s innate curiosity to learn about themselves, their families, and the world around them. Children learn in many different ways. Surely the role of adults is to understand and appreciate how our individual children learn, and support them in their endeavours.  Play is universal in nature and for centuries upon centuries it has been how humans have passed on skills, and how young children have become educated in the ways of the world. It seems demeaning to recognise it only as a tool for developing social skills and thus bypass the intense cognitive and early academic elements it helps build. For me, it is play all the way. As a mother, grandmother, and early years educator, I have seen the benefits of a playful childhood across generations and experienced first-hand the foundational early education experiences it provided.

So next time you see children deep in play, consider all the things they have learnt socially and cognitively that makes such play possible.

1 comments Comments

One Response

  1. Denise Collins says:

    I always enjoy hearing your views. I wholeheartedly agree with you and find myself every September having this conversation with new parents.

Leave a Reply

Please Log In to comment:

Pre-School Services(1) Interaction(1) creche(1) Ceremony(1) Diversity(1) STEM(3) curriculum(5) Inter-generational(2) Learning Story Awards(2) Exploring(1) TOY Programme(1) early years settings(1) family time(1) Our Little Seed(1) Learning Stories(9) LINC Award for Leadership in Inclusion(2) Wrapping paper(1) Feeding(1) Policy and Implementation Panel(1) Leprechauns(1) Craft(1) SPICE Framework(1) Aistear(130) Creativity(6) awards 2020(1) Creative(1) Mealtimes(1) Deirdre Rogers(1) Inter-generational learning(2) Mental Health(4) purpose(1) Together Old and Young Programme(1) social media policy(1) Map(1) Early Childhood Ireland’s National Early Childhood Research Conference 2019(1) Covid19 crisis(1) Culture(2) National Pyjama Day(1) Infectious diseases(1) Covid pandemic(2) phone apps(1) Party(1) GoToMeeting app(1) Childcare(3) CIT(1) Kerry(1) Book Club(2) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment(1) Anthony Semann(1) Thank you(1) Inclusion(3) Identity(5) Self Help Skills(1) Summer(1) science(3) Bereavement(2) bonds(1) INTO(1) Valerie Gaynor(1) The Play and Learning in the Early Years(1) Educator Award - Leader in Practice(1) Trade union(1) Fantasy play(1) babies(7) Visual Impairment(1) Decisions(1) Leadership(1) Magnavacchi(1) Communicating(1) Penguins(1) Children and families(1) Reggio(1) Maynooth(1) DCYA(6) maternity health(1) Administrative Burden(1) play therapy(1) Pedagogy(2) Consent(1) collaboration(1) Stress(2) Design(1) COVID-19(14) United Nations(1) Brain(1) Care routines(1) COVID-19 Reopening(2) Motor neuron disease(1) Mantra(1) Breathing(2) Mixed age groups(3) Snacks(1) First 5 strategy(1) National Holiday(1) Youtube Series(1) Siolta blog(8) Treasure Chest(1) Support(1) memories(1) Investment(2) outdoor play(6) Titles(1) Communications(1) keep in touch(1) Vietnam(1) School Age Childcare(1) Lego(2) Meet the Members(1) Wesco(1) Effect of Lockdown(1) Mayo(1) Graduate(1) Giraffe(2) democracy(1) Little Buddies(1) research submissions(1) Loving Relationships(2) pets(1) Early Childhood Ireland National Awards(2) Large Doll Play(1) Time(1) dublin(2) dogs(1) Childcare Barometer 2018(1) transitions(10) Study Trip(1) Mud kitchens(1) Well-Being(10) Mo Scéal(1) Trauma-Sensitive(1) outdoors(4) ECCE(7) Minister Katherine Zappone(1) staying connected(1) lockdown(1) feisty(1) Technology(3) Vertical grouping(1) Wendy Lee(3) European Project(1) Potential(1) Leaders in Practice(1) Line-ups(1) Sessional service(1) Kindness(1) Síolta Quality Assurance programme(1) Performing(1) Learning Journal(2) Community involvement(1) Policy(2) Primary School(3) Appreciation(1) Fabric(1) Cork Institute of Technology(1) democratic citizens(1) Nuturing interactions(1) environments(1) listening(1) Light table(1) Socioemotional development(1) Love(3) Irish Childhood Bereavement Network(1) under 3's(3) Inspired Practice Awards(1) Time Out(1) Games(1) Empathy(1) Jillian van Turnhout(1) Grief(1) Reading Time(1) Hand Hygiene(2) Educator of the Year Award(3) Growing up Outdoors(1) Maynooth University(2) Engineering(3) Builders(1) Death(2) play pod(1) Trick or treat(1) PIP(1) COVID-19 landscape(1) pablo(1) multi-generational community(1) animals(2) Rituals(1) Winter(1) Performance Management(1) Sustainable(1) Halloween(2) UNCRC(2) Decision Making(1) Workplace Relations(3) development(8) bloom app(1) Learning Story(1) Nonverbal(1) Snack Time(1) Snakes(1) Challenges(1) primary education(1) Online Research Symposium(1) science week(2) AsIAm(2) Educators(2) Margy Whalley(1) peer group(1) HR(1) Aistear Siolta in Action(1) Your place(1) ICBN(1) Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland(1) Wilenski(1) Ariana Pucci(1) Valentine's Day(3) EECERA 2016(1) Covid response(2) Trade Unions(1) continual professional development(1) Leargas(1) Blocks(1) risk assessment(1) Document Learning(1) Mount Everest(1) Sweets(1) Cognitive development(1) interacting(2) Loss(1) Annual Conference 2017(2) Prexit(1) Graduation(1) Professionalisation(5) University(1) Sport(1) Maria Montessori(1) Malaguzzi(1) NAEYC(1) value(1) apps for children(1) Engineering Ireland(1) Department of Education and Skills(1) EECERA(1) San Miniato(4) Exit interview(1) MECPI(1) Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(1) code of professional responsibility(1) Sustainability(3) children development(1) Annual Conference 2019(1) mushrooms(1) Dr Mary O'Kane(1) experience(1) Early Childhood Care and Education(2) Certificate(1) education system(1) Capable(1) AIM(2) preschool(4) Awards 2019(1) Plastic(1) research(6) Seanchaí(1) supportive environments(2) Engagement(1) Special Needs Assistants(1) RTE Investigates(1) Spiders(1) reading(5) Pen green(1) outdoor environment(1) Inspirational(2) curiosity(3) Digital(1) Laugh(1) Visitors(1) Facebook(1) Equality(1) Looking Back(1) Building Resilience(1) National Bereaved Children's Awareness Week(1) National Childcare Scheme(1) Health(2) Small World Play(1) Covid-19 lockdown(1) Proceedings Journal(1) quarantine(1) baby room(1) mental health problems(1) National Research Conference 2019(1) National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education(1) Emergent Curriculum(1) child-centred approach(1) Equality & Inclusion Guidelines Training(1) Italy(1) Event Guide(1) behavioural science(1) Home Corner(1) ECEC Setting(2) Reflective Practice(1) outdoor space(3) Universal Design Guidelines(1) ELC(1) Learning Stories Award(3) Anxiety(2) Touch(1) International Narratives(1) Story(2) trust(4) iOS(1) scéalta(56) Iraq(1) Cork(1) Degree(1) Research and Professional Learning(1) Gratitude(1) World Health Organisation(1) preschool settings(1) listen(1) CPD(1) Thanks(1) Awards(2) Art(6) Confidence(1) Digital Devices(1) Children's Rights(3) National Awards 2018(2) stories(3) Recycling(2) Rising to the Challenge(2) Arlene Forster(1) ears(1) General Data Protection Regulation(1) Fee Play(1) early years learning(1) Thinking(1) Liz Kerrins(1) Pobal(1) christmas(9) The Jelly King(1) Easter(1) Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years(1) Afghanistan(1) Plants(1) Inspiring Practice(1) Limerick(1) Engineers Week(2) role playing(1) Behaviour(3) Early Childhood Ireland(10) movement behaviours(1) Research Conference 2019(1) Maths Week(1) Universal Design(2) Adoption(1) relationships(18) Sequins(1) Scéalta Blog(104) IGL(1) Eritrea(1) E.coli(1) Belonging(3) Exclusion(1) emotional well-being(1) responsive relationships(1) Early Years Educators(3) Partnership with Families Innovation Award(2) Laughter(1) First 5 transitions for children award(1) story time(2) Early Years Education(1) risky play(2) Early Learning and Care Centres(1) DES Inspection(1) Autism(4) Window(1) Participation(2) learning hub(1) community(5) Children's Research Network(1) refugees(1) Montessori(3) Awards 2018(3) Oireachtas(1) Learning journals(1) Sleep(1) childcare services(1) inspiring interactions(1) Interests(1) Staff Motivation(1) Self-Esteem(1) art of the relationship(1) Educator - Leader in Practice Award(1) Budget 2018(1) Running(1) Masterclass(2) play stories(2) UN(1) children’s learning(1) Drawing(2) Childhood(1) Christmas Creativity(2) conversations(1) Flowers(1) documentation(4) Mathematicians(1) keezy(1) gender stereotype(1) annual conference(1) Imagination(3) Counting(1) healthy eating policies(1) man up(1) Albert Einstein(1) Return to Work Training(1) Meal time(1) educating(1) Through the looking glass(1) Confident(1) Arithmetic(1) Storytelling(7) Book Review(1) Irish(1) Online(1) Quality(4) Trigonometry(1) communication(4) Academic Skills(1) Super Shed Stories(2) Teamwork(1) overhear(1) Shapes(2) aistear blog(3) books(4) Care-giving routines(1) Funding(1) Vivian Gussin Paley(1) blog(53) coronavirus(1) Family wall(1) Playdough(1) Pobal sector profile(1) playleader(1) First 5(1) Patterns(1) Kindness Challenge(1) Aldo Fortunati(4) Inspired Practice Award(6) Exploring and Thinking(1) learning(19) structure(1) Names(1) Arts(1) Budget 2019(2) Dr. Emer Ring(1) racism(1) Self-regulation(1) Body Language(1) Early Childhood Education(1) early life(1) Favouritism(1) National Annual Awards 2020(1) friendships(1) Shoes(1) Magda Gerber(1) Horizon 2020(1) Inspections(1) SAC(1) Social Skills(1) European Early Childhood Education Research Association(2) Routines(2) Growing up in Ireland(3) Workplace well-being(1) Japan(1) Environment(2) Elders(1) Syria(1) child-centric(1) Department of Children and Youth Affairs(2) Infection Control(1) Irish Early Years Research & Practice Seminar 2018(1) Painting(1) risk(2) online training(1) Toby Bears Camping Trip(1) Wonder(1) Interactions(3) early years research(2) Settling in(4) Frosty the Snowman(1) Traffic Lights(1) Reggio Emilia(2) dining(1) linc(1) educarer(1) Iceland(1) early childhood educator(2) budget(1) Gardening(1) EM Standing(1) Santa(2) Opportunities(1) routine(2) Scéalta Book Review(1) Employee(1) Learning through Storytelling(1) Weather(1) Budget 2020(1) Academics(1) reopening ireland(1) Xbox(1) Competent(1) journey(1) NCCA(3) Glitter(2) Photographs(1) Nutrition(1) Traditions(2) Obesity(1) National Awards 2019(1) Child Care(1) play pods(2) Yoga(1) eating(1) learning bias(1) play(35) Kids Own(1) Buddies(1) Change(1) parents(6) social science(1) Rich Documentation(1) Exploratory Play(1) ReCreate(2) Independence(1) Qualifications(1) Síolta(137) life long learning(1) Magic(1) learners(1) show and tell(1) UN Sustainable Development Goals(1) Supernanny(1) Whole Group(1) ERASMUS+(3) gender bias(1) Twitter(1) Mindfulness(3) Early Learning and Care(1) code of ethics(1) Adverse Childhood Experiences(1) GDPR(1) UD(1) Child mental health(1) early childhood(1) Maths(6) Early Years(1) MA(1) Mark Twain(1) Intention(1) dining experiences(1) Looking Forward(1) Pretend Play(1) conference(1) Training(2) The Lullaby Book(1) Family(1) Kilkenny(1) Seas Suas(1) Sculptures(1) Children(4) Orla Kenny(1) Providing Leadership to the First 5(1) Human Resources(1) Frustrations(1) Tuscan Approach(2) Positivity(1) Playschool(1) Children's Voice(1) Awards Night(1) Pedagogical leaders(1) RIE philosphy(1) june29(1) Reopening Childcare(1) Recycle(1) Reggio Children Network(1) Smiles(1) Affordability(1) ECEC(3) Identity and Belonging(4) St. Patrick's Day(1) planning(1) reopening(1) UNICEF report(1) Music(3) annual awards(1) Advocacy(1) youdoodle(1) emotional environment(2) Dance(1) developing motor skills(1) grandchild(1) Maths Week Ireland(1) ECIAwards20(1) Aistear Siolta Practice Guide(1) education(2) Role play(1) an post(1) social media(2) New Appointments(1) Maternity Leave(1) Norway(2) CCTV(1) Treasure(1) food(1) Upcycling(1) Jenga(1) Impact(1) Sociodramatic play(1) Scents(1) Exercise(1) Workforce(1) Buddy Bench(1) respect(5) Síolta QAP(1) Celebrations(4) worries(1) Queues(1) Irish guidelines(1) Celebrate(1) National Early Childhood Research Conference(1) Biting(1) imotion(1) meals(3) emotions(2) Access and Inclusion Model(2) Relaxation(1) College(1) TRAP(1) toddlers(3) Research Seminar(1) COVID-19 crisis(1)


Site maintained and developed by Cloud Nine