Going beyond Social Emotional Learning Activities: Practical Strategies for Educators to Promote SEL

Social Emotional Learning Activities

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has become part of the early education framework and there are some activities that promote SEL learning for children such as:

  • Emotion Charades
  • Feelings Journals
  • Emotion Stone
  • Gratitude Tree
  • Friendship Bracelets
  • SEL Storytime
  • Feelings Check-In
  • Mindful Moments
  • SEL Puppet Theater
  • Gratitude Circle

These activities may help a child learn some SEL skills, but it is the interactions with their teachers that provide a true foundation for academic and personal success. At Mariposa Education we work with teachers and early childhood educators to provide them real tools and strategies to incorporate SEL in their interactions with their students.

Examples of Social Emotional Learning Communication

SEL involves communicating the child’s feelings or perspectives with acceptance. It's harder than you think and yet it can be helpful throughout the day, for small and big moments. Here are some examples of SEL communication:

  • You aren’t sure what to do. 
  • It’s hard to stop and line up when you are not finished.
  • You are worried you have to give the toy up now and don’t know what to say. 

(Notice that none of these statements start with I understand, or I know. Because true empathy takes yourself out of it, and is all about the child’s perspective)

In expressing empathy, you often learn more about what is getting in the way for this child, and you SHOW your understanding. Empathy is not built by directly teaching children to empathize with others. They learn through their relationship with an emotionally skilled adult. 

Practical Strategies for Promoting SEL

As educators, nurturing SEL requires intentionality and an understanding of how SEL develops.  Here are some actionable strategies to infuse SEL into your interactions:

Describing child behaviors neutrally

Whether you are talking to a child about something they did in order to ask for change, or to reinforce it, or even discuss, how you say it matters. Many of our descriptions of behaviors to children carry bias, are vague, and create defensiveness undermining the adult-child relationship and to change behavior. 

  • Some examples of typical descriptions of behavior are:
    • You have not been participating.
    • You are not listening.
    • You are not being nice to him.
  • Some examples of neutral descriptions are:
    • I asked you about the story and you looked away.

    •  It's time to line up and you are sitting at your table.

    •  He asked you for a turn and you walked away. 

By doing so, you not only reduce the defensiveness and stress of the child, you make it very clear what you are focusing on, AND you are not making assumptions about the child’s intention. 

  • Expressing empathy, because children first need to feel understood in order to understand others. And empathy, when communicated effectively and authentically, has the power to build self awareness, (the foundation for all SEL), lower stress, build the connection that children need, AND change the way you understand children. 

In the world of early childhood education, social-emotional learning serves as the key to all learning . By prioritizing SEL in our schools, we not only equip our children with the skills they need to succeed academically but also foster compassion, resilience, and empathy. As educators, let us continue to cultivate the types of relationships that lead to stronger social emotional competency, academic learning, and deeper satisfaction and happiness in both children and those that care for them. 



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