Social and emotional learning

When children go to school, it’s obvious that they are there to learn about academic topics like math, science, and literature. But sometimes, the most important skills that a child can learn at school can’t be found in a textbook.

Social and emotional learning (SEL), is a vital component of a child’s upbringing that is often overlooked in the classroom — even though it is seen as important by teachers and parents alike. In fact, the “implementation of SEL and [service learning] (SL) opportunities in schools continue to lag behind demand from parents and teachers,” a 2021 report by Hart Research Associates found.

So, what exactly is SEL and how can we close that gap?

SEL and why it is important

SEL teaches children important knowledge about themselves, how to interact with others and how to healthily deal with their emotions. Coined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) about two decades ago, SEL is slowly becoming integrated into all classrooms as a core part of the teaching curriculum.

SEL is made up of five key components:

  • Self-awareness: Being able to identify one’s own emotions and assess one’s emotional well-being.
  • Social awareness: Being able to identify others’ emotions and sympathize with other people.
  • Self-management: Being able to manage stress, one’s own thoughts and emotions.
  • Responsible decision-making: Being able to make good choices for one’s self and others.
  • Relationship skills: Being able to maintain and create healthy relationships with other people as well as conflict resolution.

Although emotional smarts may sound like the knowledge that just comes with time, SEL in the classroom can help speed up that learning process. Studies have shown that children who are taught SEL through classroom activities tend to have better academic performance, a general decline in anxiety, and more connections to their surroundings and peers. Holistically, this could lead to great changes in a child’s future — including better job prospects, increased economic mobility, and improved overall health.

How can I teach SEL in the classroom?

SEL can be taught in school in several ways. Sometimes, even the smallest actions — like checking in with students about how they’re feeling — already counts as one form of SEL.

Here are a few other activities you can do to promote social and emotional growth in the classroom.

1. Teach students social and emotional vocabulary
Students often have trouble expressing themselves — especially when it comes to describing how they’re feeling. By teaching children the vocabulary necessary to facilitate these discussions, you can give them the tools to be more in tune with how they are feeling. Encouraging conversations using statements that start with “I feel…” could also help your students open up.

Hanging up posters that teach these key emotions or assigning additional vocabulary worksheets can provide supplemental support for these efforts as well.

2. Schedule daily structured talk time for students
Many students aren’t the type to initiate a conversation with their peers. Help your students out by creating a structured talk time for them to get to know one another in a controlled environment. Give your students a topic of discussion and allow them a few minutes to talk to one another. Encouraging such discussions can allow your students to become more comfortable with one another.

Even when it’s off the playground, students need to interact to develop these vital social skills.

3. Encourage art in the classroom
Vocalizing how you’re feeling is not something that all students are comfortable doing. In those cases, it might be good to add some art to your curriculum.

Art is often a good way for children to express on paper how they feel. Assigning art projects could help a student realize that words aren’t always necessary to communicate their thoughts, and it could even help them find a new pastime that they enjoy!

Visit TCI for more information
At TCI, we’re always dedicated to providing new ideas to engage your students with new teaching tips and exciting curriculum features.

For more ideas on how to integrate social-emotional learning into your classroom activities, explore our SEL landing page.

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