As educators and youth development leaders, some of the most important things we can teach to the kids we work with are learning how to manage emotions and interact with others. Social emotional learning (SEL) addresses children’s ability to learn about and manage their emotions and interactions with others – the skills all kids need to succeed in school, form healthy relationships, and eventually excel in the workplace.
At WINGS for Kids, we believe that building social emotional skills can happen anywhere and anytime. Every interaction and activity, from doing a group art project to having a serious conversation, is an opportunity for SEL. We weave a comprehensive SEL curriculum into a fresh and fun daily afterschool program that teaches kids in grades K-5 how to manage emotions, make good decisions, and develop empathy – all while playing games, participating in engaging small group discussions, and doing their homework.
Any program can incorporate social emotional learning into their curriculum or activities. Here are five easy ways to integrate SEL in your program:
- Use books and movies to explore different types of emotions. After reading a book or watching a movie, discuss what the characters were feeling in a certain situation and why. Then have kids draw a picture or create a collage to illustrate a time when they have felt that emotion or have been in a similar situation. Talking about characters’ feelings – and expressing their own feelings in different ways- helps kids identify emotions and build empathy.
- Use kid-friendly SEL vocabulary. We might use terms like “self-management” and “social awareness” when talking about SEL, but these aren’t always the easiest phrases to understand, especially for kids. Use phrases like “understanding my feelings” instead of “self-awareness” or “being a good friend” instead of “relationship skills” to create a culture and language of SEL that everyone can be a part of.
- Teach the power of positive feedback. Giving positive feedback is an excellent way to build strong relationships, communicate well, and cooperate with others – all important aspects of SEL. Create a weeklong challenge where kids and educators give five pieces of positive feedback to someone else every day. Start with five pennies in one pocket, and move them into another pocket each time you give a compliment to track your daily progress. Remember that effective feedback describes the situation, describes the behavior, and states the effect.
- Embrace the excitement of trying something new. Encouraging kids to do something that’s new to them, whether it’s eating sushi or skateboarding, is a great way to build self-confidence and self-awareness about what they like or are interested in. Start a weekly or monthly “Try Something New Day” where kids and educators have the opportunity to do something they’ve never done before, and then talk about how the experience made them feel.
- Step into someone else’s shoes. Learning about what is important to others is a great way to develop empathy and learn how to build positive relationships with others. Pair kids who may not already know each other or who come from different classrooms or schools. Have each student draw a picture of their family or create a map of place that is special to them, and then exchange the craft with their partner and talk about why it’s special to them.
For more ideas on how to incorporate SEL into your program in a fun and engaging way, visit our website to download our free DIY social emotional learning toolkit.
About WINGS for Kids
WINGS for Kids is a nonprofit education program whose mission is to equip at-risk kids with the skills they need to succeed in school, stay in school, and thrive in life. The program weaves a comprehensive social and emotional learning curriculum into a fresh and fun afterschool program—specifically targeted toward supporting low-income, minority students. Kids get the life lessons they need to succeed and be happy, and a safe place to call home after the school day ends.