According to prominent findings in neuroscience, neuroplasticity is the process of creating new neural pathways through activities which are visceral, novel, intentionally focused, experiential, redundant, aerobic, meaningful, and consistent (Siegel, 2011, 2012). Engaging in activities which include these ingredients strengthen synaptic connections allowing us to learn, practice, and master new skills or reacquire skills we may have lost due to lived experiences which lacked necessary social contexts for these opportunities, or learning that was disrupted due to various trauma, mental illness, or other significant disruptions in one’s developmental trajectory (see the A.C.E.’s Study). More recently however, we have noticed an exponential increase in emotional and behavioral dysregulation in younger and younger children, as well as these manifestations increasing in frequency and intensity.
it appears we may have reached the tipping point in our obsession with convenience (easy, fast, fun, now) as evidenced by more screen-based learning, and children consuming more and more screen time. Although learning about and understanding technology is important, our obsession with convenience and efficiency has lead to a lived experience which lacks time spent in a social context necessary to develop social and emotional intelligence. There is only so much time in a day, and based on what now seems like common knowledge, youth ages 8-18 in the United States consume over 60 hours of screen time each week. The amount of time left for lived experience is virtually non-existent. This lack of lived experience inhibits and/or prevents opportunities for social and emotional learning resulting in more incidents representing emotional and behavioral dysregulation. Without real lived opportunities to deal with frustration, disappointment, failure, rejection, discomfort, etc. children’s nervous systems repeatedly miss out on opportunities for their bodies to learn, practice, master, and generalize dealing with these experiences which help us become socially and emotionally intelligent.
What is social and emotional intelligence:
Lived experience is required for social and emotional learning to take place (see neuroplasticity above). Although technology is very important to learn, it does not provide lived experiences which promote or foster social and emotional learning/intelligence. It may actually do the opposite.
The DIRT GROUP Paradigm is the integration of experiential learning, social learning, symbolic interactionism, strength-based, and ecological systems theories and neuroplasticity, also referred to as the “MARINADE”.
A “marinade” is a great metaphor to understand how these combination of ingredients (through lived experiences/experiential learning) are necessary for social and emotional learning to take place. Just like we “soak” foods in a marinade of various ingredients sometimes for grilling/cooking, we create the MARINADE (milieu) with the ingredients of neuroplasticity and applied theory in practice, creating a social context which provides rich experiential learning opportunities to “soak” (learn, practice, master, and generalize) in this context and thereby increase social and emotional intelligence through lived experiences.
The DIRT GROUP Paradigm is an award winning after school youth development and children’s mental health application grounded and informed in theory and neuroscience. DIRT GROUP is rooted in social and emotional learning in the context of a gardening, farming, foods, and creative arts project.