Spotlight on Preschools in Wales

17th November | Case Study |

SEL in Preschools in Wales

Each month this year, we’re going to share a short blog with you where we shine the spotlight on a teacher, classroom, school or area where we have been extremely impressed with their implementation of Social and Emotional Learning. This month, we’re SELebrating Preschools in Wales who delivered the programme with fidelity, while facing many challenges around how they could structure the programme in a way to fit the needs of the setting and the children. They rose to the challenge superbly!

Barnardo’s has been championing the PATHS® Programme for Schools (UK Version) for over a decade and has developed a robust coaching model to support schools achieve high quality delivery and positive outcomes. The programme has shown positive impact in a number of outcome areas – reduced aggression and behaviour, increased attention and concentration, increased social and emotional skills, and improved empathy. Through our Preschool project we wanted to show that we could achieve similar outcomes for preschools. The challenge we faced was that the programme as it was written, as well as the Barnardo’s coaching model, were not fit for purpose in preschools; a number of changes were needed.

Fidelity vs. Flexibility

When meeting with settings for the first time and providing them with resources, the look of sheer panic from the staff was evident. The manuals were thick, wordy and staff were certain that they would be ‘too much’ for preschool children. As these resource manuals are traditionally used with children aged 4-5 years this reaction was totally expected. In preparation for this we prepared a summary document to be shared alongside the manuals that highlighted the sequence and content of each session, objectives, key language and suggested activities to support the learning. Each lesson from the manual was simplified in this document, enabling it to be delivered in no more than ten minutes whilst at the same time highlighting the key language and processes that would ensure fidelity to the programme content. Armed with the summary document, a manual, story books, puppets and a supportive coach, the preschool staff felt reassured and ready to begin implementation.

The settings have found the resources easy to follow and have loved the puppets and story books that are provided. Staff have also made use of the additional resources shared such as book lists and stickers. The children adore the puppets and in the majority of settings they have become very much a part of the preschool daily routines

Bespoke Coaching Support

Barnardo’s Coaching & Implementation Plan, devised to support schools with programme implementation, has been extremely successful in helping schools to maximise outcomes for primary aged pupils. We knew that in order to make this pilot project in preschools a success the role of the coach would be crucial. It was the coaching role that would see the most adaptations during this pilot phase.

Core Concepts

The main concepts focussed on when implementing in preschools are; rules, complimenting, feelings and self-control. Many staff have been surprised by how attentive the children were from the very beginning and many children surpassed expectations in terms of their ability to concentrate and focus on the concept introductions.

A Whole-Setting Ethos

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of delivering the PATHS® Programme in a preschool setting is the need for generalisation. Our traditional coaching model would see schools focus on generalisation from year 2 of the programme. In preschools we felt this was something we needed to prioritise from the outset. Each new concept is introduced within a short 10 minute session every day; however it is the learning that is taken from that session and introduced into a wide range of additional activities that really has the impact. By ensuring key language and strategies are built into daily routines, play activities, daily interactions and communications with staff member the children become immersed in the programme. Staff are encouraged to recognise ‘teachable moments’ throughout the day where key language and strategies can be used to support children in managing ‘real life’, whether it be acknowledging emotions when a friend won’t share, recognising that a child is feeling frustrated as someone has what they want or supporting them to ‘do turtle’ to calm down and find a solution. It is these ‘real moments’ that provide opportunities for the best learning.

To support generalisation, settings are encouraged to display resources throughout the setting as constant reminders for both children and staff to bring PATHS® Programme into all they do and say. All adults in the setting are encouraged to model strategies and key language not only when helping children respond to challenging situations or uncomfortable feelings but also when they experience problems themselves.

Integrating Homes and Communities

For the programme to be most successful, it is fundamental for both the preschool and parents to work in partnership. When parents are informed about the programme and know more about how they can introduce the key concepts, use consistent strategies and develop a shared language at home, the more confident and competent children will become. A number of Parent Information Sessions were delivered in a few of our preschools. Feedback from these sessions was extremely positive and enthusiastic. Many settings reported good news stories of children teaching family members to ‘do turtle’ at home and regularly giving compliments.


To summarise, implementing in preschools during our pilot project has been as huge success. Both staff from across the preschool settings involved in the project and staff here at Barnardo’s have been bowled over by the amount the children have achieved and continue to achieve. The programme has provided the children with the building blocks needed for them to be healthy, happy individuals who can not only manage themselves but can also recognise the importance of showing kindness to others. Through small adaptations to the programme and amending our coaching model to best fit the settings we were supporting, the project has by far exceeded our expectations. Using our learning from implementing this project we hope to continue with our preschool work and extend our reach in preschool settings across the UK. Impact has shown Social Emotional Learning is fundamental to learning in the Early Years and we send our sincere thanks to all of those that have worked alongside us during this project.

You can read the full case study here!

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