Personal space, active listening, working with others, sharing, taking turns, making friends, being kind and so on. When it comes to teaching kids social skills and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons, it is hard to know where to start. There are so many different skills to teach.
What is SEL and why is it important?
SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) is about getting kids to feel safe in their own skin and make sure they are taking care of themselves emotionally, too. It’s also about teaching them the importance of personal space, active listening, sharing, working with others and taking turns, just to mention a few things.
SEL is an important way to help young children develop important skills and live happy, healthy lives. Teaching SEL skills sets the foundation for understanding social norms.
What does SEL look like in practice?
SEL in practice can look different in various classrooms, but here are some examples:
- kids are taking turns nicely when they are playing together
- kids are demonstrating empathy when they see someone is sad
- kids are sitting comfortably apart from one another during group time
- kids are actively listening when talking with someone by responding and reflecting back what they said
- kids are collaborating with others
- kids are sharing experiences and materials
How do we teach SEL?
Learning SEL skills such as personal space, active listening, working with others, sharing and taking turns can be challenging for young children. With thoughtful instruction using engaging stories or examples of what it looks like and feels like, teachers can help show young learners how to interact with respect and kindness.
It's important to explain what these concepts look like and feel like for young children so that they can understand the expectations.
For example, when showing them what active listening looks like, generally focus on three main ideas: making eye contact, nodding and smiling during conversation, and paraphrasing back what was heard.
Through role play, you can show children the proper distance they should keep when talking with friends and how standing closer than this would make the other person feel uncomfortable.
Young learners often thrive from collaboration when paired up with a partner for pair-share activities that help build communication skills like sharing ideas and taking turns talking.
What if SEL doesn't seem to be working?
Sometimes SEL doesn't always work out as expected or desired. There can be a variety of scenarios that need more guidance and redirection. For example:
- one student doesn't follow directions
- a child is having a difficult day
- there's too much squabbling over toys or hogging the game board
- two children are arguing or have different ideas about how to process a task together
- two students are struggling over a shared toy or not cooperating together
When SEL isn't working among the kids in your classroom, it's important to remain positive and offer some guidance. For example, reinforcing positive behavior when SEL techniques are used successfully or explaining concepts again until everyone understands. Simple redirection tactics such as calmly asking questions can also be a great way to guide playful conversations towards more positive behaviours.
It is important to refocus the energy into talking about possible solutions. Encouraging discussion around topics such as what each person wants, why respectful boundaries are important, coming up with compromises, or enabling imagination through hypothetical situations can help teach children these essential SEL skills in a safe and caring environment.
It can also be helpful to check in with each student individually and work towards understanding what their needs are - if they need more tools like visuals or if they already know the skills but need encouragement or support in using those tools consistently.
Through thoughtful guidance and clear examples of what these concepts look like and feel like in a practical setting, it is possible to foster an environment in which SEL becomes an integrated part of the day-to-day experience. Whether it be helping a child understand how being mindful of personal space boundaries feels safer for all or developing communication strategies so everyone has the opportunity to share their ideas and take turns without conflict, effective SEL can lay the foundation for productive learning environments. It's not always easy but we certainly can make SEL work for us.
It's all about making SEL fun while still emphasizing its life-long importance! It takes consistent practice and patience, but SEL makes all the difference when building positive relationships in our classrooms!
With SEL activities embedded in the routine, young kids can develop invaluable skills for interpersonal relationships throughout their lives. Ultimately SEL helps foster a sense of community, respect for others, and self-confidence within a classroom setting.
This is a social story for young kids that helps explain several positive behaviors. Sign up for my newsletter and get a free copy of this positive behaviors social story now.
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About Me Charlene Sequeira
I am a wife, mother of 4, grandmother of 9, and a retired primary and music teacher. I love working with kids and continue to volunteer at school and teach ukulele.