Social-Emotional Learning Activities

Knowledge is indeed power, but academic achievement is only one aspect of a successful education. Children must also learn social-emotional skills to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, set goals, express empathy, build relationships, and make decisions. Teaching and practicing these techniques is called “social-emotional learning” (SEL). SEL has many benefits for students, ranging from improved school performance to healthier friendships. Plus, down the road, those with strong social and emotional competence are more likely to graduate high school and attain a college degree.

If you’re asking yourself, “what is social-emotional learning?” it might help to understand the five main areas of practice. They’re defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a leader in SEL instruction.

1. Self-awareness involves cultivating a greater understanding of your emotions, goals, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses. Recognizing the link between thoughts and actions can help you make decisions with greater insight.

2. Once you understand your emotions and actions, it’s key to regulate them through self-management. You’ll reach your goals faster by practicing impulse control and evaluating your performance in certain situations.

3. Those with responsible decision-making skills think about their own goals, social factors, and self-understanding when making constructive choices. This fosters an understanding of cause and effect and the consequences of actions.

4. Social awareness helps children build and maintain healthy relationships. This skill involves understanding and empathizing with others—including those of different races, genders, cultures, ages, and religions.

5. Also important for relationship establishment, relationship skills teaches kids how to act regarding social norms. Communication, cooperation, listening, managing conflict, and understanding emotions are key components.

SEL doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom! These at-home activities can hone your child’s social and emotional skills, helping them thrive in many aspects of life.

  • Consume media with empathy. Turn your child’s TV time into an SEL lesson about recognizing social cues and emotions. Stop the show whenever something emotional happens, and ask your child how they think the character feels. For example, are they happy, frustrated, embarrassed, frightened, excited, or hopeful? You can also try this activity while listening to songs, reading books, or watching movies.
  • Make schedules and to-do lists. Does your kid need help managing their time and making responsible decisions—like completing homework or chores on time? Help them make an organized to-do list, daily schedule, or “vision board” that spells out their dreams for the future. In doing so, they’ll gain experience with goal setting and decision-making.
  • Journal for self-discovery. At regular intervals (say, once per week), encourage your child to list specific things that bring them joy—for example, walking the family dog, playing board games with siblings, and eating their favorite dinner. They’ll practice self-awareness (understanding what they like) and self-management (understanding how they react to things they enjoy).
  • Draw emotions. What does it look like to be happy or sad? How about surprised or worried? Have your child express common emotions through drawings or paintings. In creating the images, they’ll reflect upon their thoughts and feelings about themselves and others. Your kid may also associate the feelings with different colors (for example, red means angry).
  • Perform random acts of kindness. Throughout the day, have your child look for ways to help others. Maybe it’s holding open the door, complimenting a friend’s new shirt, saying “thank you,” or inviting someone new to play.
  • Play games. As it turns out, family game night counts as social-emotional learning! While playing games, children must cooperate with others, take turns, handle frustration, solve problems, and more. They’ll also see how others react to winning or losing.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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