What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)? 5 Easy Ways to Begin

What is Social-Emotional Learning? Photo of two young adolescent girls walking home from school, smiling. suchalittlewhile.com

What is social-emotional learning (SEL)?

Simply put, it’s when we learn and adopt the knowledge, beliefs, and skills necessary to identify and cope with emotions, set and achieve personal goals, connect with others, maintain relationships, and engage in responsible decision-making.

What is social-emotional learning?

"When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts."

-Dalai Lama

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wealth of research demonstrates that students of all ages who participate in school-wide SEL programs tend to have higher academic achievement, better emotional well-being, and a more positive outlook on learning, along with decreased behavioral issues.

Integrating SEL into daily activities helps nurture well-rounded individuals who can navigate life’s challenges with resilience, confidence, and empathy.

Let’s dive deeper into what SEL is all about and how you can get started with your child or students in 5 simple steps!

Wondering what is Social-Emotional Learning? Discover the power of social-emotional learning (SEL) and how it can positively impact your child's development! Learn what SEL is and why it's crucial for building essential life skills such as empathy and self-awareness. Dive into our blog post for practical tips and five easy ways to incorporate SEL into your child's daily routine, starting today! By Such a Little While LLC

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What is Social-Emotional Learning?

The CASEL 5

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been the pioneer of SEL since coining the term over 30 years ago. 

Educators and parents worldwide strive for CASEL’s 5-part framework when engaging children in social-emotional learning.

  1. Self-Awareness (understanding our thoughts, feelings, and culture)
  2. Self-Management (ability to regulate thoughts, emotions, and behaviors across different environments)
  3. Social-Awareness (understanding others, embracing diversity, and empathizing with those who are different than you)
  4. Relationship Skills (our ability to connect and positively interact with others)
  5. Responsible Decision-Making (our ability to use components 1-4 to form healthy, safe choices, thinking critically about the impact of our decisions and actions)

CASEL further advocates that the responsibility of social-emotional learning should not fall on individual shoulders, but rather, become a joint mission across classrooms and homes, along with school and local communities at large.

In 2020, CASEL revised some of the framework’s language, noting:

The benefits of SEL according to research

Hundreds of research studies worldwide and across students of all ages demonstrate a wide range of benefits associated with social-emotional learning programs and activities including:

  • Higher academic achievement
  • Improved social-emotional skills
  • More positive mindsets and outlooks on learning
  • Decreased behavioral issues
What is Social-Emotional Learning: Two girls sitting in a woven rattan chair playing with bubbles.

5 Simple Ways to Introduce Social-Emotional Learning to Children

Introducing social-emotional learning (SEL) into your child’s or student’s lives can seem daunting at first; however, by focusing on one skill, one step at a time, it becomes much easier.

With these five simple strategies, you can start fostering social and emotional knowledge, beliefs, and skills that will benefit children both now and for years to come!

What is Social-Emotional Learning: "5 Easy Ways to Get Started with Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). (1) Identify Targeted skills. (2) Model Targeted Skills. (3) Read Related Children's Books. (4) Find a Curriculum/ Resources. (5) Incorporate SEL Topics Into Daily Conversations. More information at: suchalittlewhile.com" Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

#1: Identify Social or Emotional Skills to Target

The first step in implementing SEL is to pinpoint which skills you want to focus on.

Specific skills to consider may include areas such as identifying feelings, learning assertive communication, managing stress, resolving conflicts, and building self-esteem.

If working with an individual child, you may consider areas where they demonstrate a skill deficit, such as managing worries or anxiety in a healthy way.

For classroom or school-wide SEL initiatives, educators often focus on more universal skills, such as developing empathy and how to become an “upstander” against bullying.

Schools are encouraged to utilize a data-driven approach to SEL, drawing on school-wide behavior data as well as community needs assessment results.

Tailoring these skills to the unique needs of your child or students will help ensure that your SEL activities are both relevant and impactful.

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Photo of a middle-age woman smiling and embracing a young adolescent girl.

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#2: Model Targeted Skills in Everyday Life

Children learn significantly by observing the behavior of the adults around them. By modeling the social and emotional skills you aim to teach, you will provide a powerful example for them to emulate.

For instance, a parent can model emotional regulation by remaining calm during a stressful situation and talking through their feelings. For example, “I’m feeling really frustrated right now, so I’m going to take a few deep breaths to calm down.”

An educator can model perseverance by tackling a challenging task and verbalizing the process. For example, “This math problem is tricky, but I’m going to keep trying different approaches until I solve it. Sometimes it takes time and effort to figure things out.”

Modeling is perhaps one the most underrated yet most impactful (and free!) SEL tools at our disposal.

#3: Read Relevant Children’s Books Together

Reading books that focus on social-emotional themes is a wonderful way to introduce and discuss these concepts. Even children’s books that are not marketed as “SEL” can open the door to meaningful conversations.

Consider stories that highlight emotions, relationships, and problem-solving. Use the characters’ experiences as a springboard for discussions about feelings and appropriate responses.

Ways to Add Social-Emotional Learning to Homeschool: Two dads and their daughter sitting on a couch reading a book.

Here are five examples of processing questions you can ask a child while reading together:

  1. “How do you think the character felt when that happened? How do you know?”
  2. “Why do you think the character made that choice?”
  3. “What would you do if you were in the same situation?”
  4. “How do you think the other characters felt about what happened?”
  5. “What are the character’s greatest strengths?”
  6. “What could the character have done differently to solve the problem? What advice would you give them?”
What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Best Books for Kids Who Give Up Easily (chosen by an elementary school counselor!)

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What is Social-Emotional Learning?

How to spark a thankful heart: Must-read kids books!

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#4: Identify a SEL Curriculum or Individual Resources That Will Engage Children in Learning and Practicing Targeted Skills

Districts that budget for school-wide SEL initiatives often opt for comprehensive SEL curricula that can be implemented universally across classrooms. Ideally, these programs are data-driven, inclusive to all learners, and engage students through a variety of learning activities.

For parents, helping professionals, and community agencies that reach a smaller and mores specific audience of children, it’s often more practical to opt for “a la carte” resources that can be tailored to meet the needs of individual or small groups of children.

Additionally, educators may also rely on finding their own resources if their school districts do not provide one.

Empathy BINGO Printable for Kids: cover photo Empathy BINGO 30+ Compassion Exercises! (Layflat image of Empathy BINGO card PDF with three layflat images of examples of kid empathy exercises. Image includes a clipart of a girl with a thought bubble of 3 other clipart people above her head.) Such a Little While LLC
Self-Esteem Activities for Students Bundle: cover photo Self Esteem Kids Mega Bundle (Image of 7 layflat images of PDF pages & images of elements from the Self-Esteem Worksheets for Kids, Self-Esteem BINGO Game, and Self-Affirmations Printable Cards. Such a Little While LLC
Calm Down Poster: Coping Skills for Kids

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Here at Such a Little While, it’s our mission to help SEL superheroes save time and money searching for and accessing high-quality learning materials for the kids they love.

We invite you to stick around to explore our resources and learn more about how you can save 70% on our expansive library of SEL activities.

Social Emotional Learning Activities Membership: cover photo SEL All Access Membership 70% Off All SEL Activities Mega Shop Bundle 500+ Pages Current + Future Resources (Text overlay a collage image of the cover photos of the SEL activities.) Such a Little While LLC

#5: Incorporate SEL Topics in Daily Conversations Using Open-Ended Questions

Engage children in conversations about their feelings, interactions, and experiences using open-ended questions.

Here are 10 sample questions you can use to build resilience, self-esteem, identify feelings, and learn new problem-solving skills:

  1. “Can you tell me about a time when you felt proud of yourself?”
  2. “What do you do when you feel frustrated or upset?”
  3. “How do you handle it when something doesn’t go the way you planned?”
  4. “What is something you’ve done recently that made you feel brave?”
  5. “How did you solve a problem you faced today?”
  6. “Can you describe a time when you helped someone and how it made you feel?”
  7. “What are some ways you can calm yourself down when you’re feeling angry?”
  8. “How do you feel when you try something new and it’s difficult?”
  9. “What’s a challenge you’ve faced recently, and how did you deal with it?”
  10. “Can you think of a different way to solve a problem you encountered today?”

Aim for open-ended questions that encourage children to think critically, reflect on their experiences, and practice the social and emotional skills they are learning.

Key tip: Ask questions only when kids are calm, rather than when they are dysregulated (or in other words, emotionally unavailable for learning).

What is Social-Emotional Learning: A boy pushing another boy in a play cart.

The last thing you need to know about teaching social-emotional skills to children

Starting small and focusing on building genuine connections with children is absolutely essential when teaching social-emotional skills.

Establishing trust and strong relationships lays the foundation for healthy development and nurtures a child’s ability to learn and apply new social-emotional skills.

Begin with simple, everyday interactions. Listen wholeheartedly to what they have to say and convey empathy. Celebrate small successes and create an environment where children feel safe to express their feelings and thoughts.

Remember, the goal is not perfection but progress. By prioritizing connection and trust, you will lay the groundwork for children to develop the emotional intelligence and resilience they need to navigate the complexities of life.

My toddler refuses to brush their teeth blot post, written by Tana from Such a Little While
Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you foster social/emotional wellness through positive parenting.
Managing Routines & Transitions in Early Childhood: Positive Parenting Challenge PDF Workbook by Such a Little While

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