Social and Emotional Learning: Skills for School and Life

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

For many of us, the art of being a good friend, recognizing and managing emotions, and communicating effectively comes as second nature. What you may not realize is that these skills, like all skills, are developed over some time.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) refers to the journey a student embarks on towards improved decision-making, learning how to build relationships and how to self-manage their emotions.


Why is it Important in Early Education?

Unlike other subjects, SEL does not directly focus on the academic elements of learning, but instead can be combined with other areas, through a cross-curricular approach. As a science, math, or computer science teacher, you may bypass teaching social-emotional skills, but these skills are fundamental to a students’ ability to learn and grow.

There is strong research stressing the long-lasting benefits of teaching social-emotional skills to children and children should begin learning these skills as early as infancy. Why? Well, there are countless benefits; from improving a child’s communication to helping them make and keep new friends. Benefits that will last a lifetime for your students.


How to Develop Social-Emotional Skills:

Developing social-emotional skills is not straightforward. There is no clear route to the finish line; it is a progression with many ups and downs along the way. Unlike other academic areas, students cannot reach “mastery” in SEL, however, it can lead to improvements in classroom culture, personal growth, and increased engagement.

While there are many strategies in teaching SEL, here are a few of our favorites:

Use Storytelling for Teachable Moments:

We all love a good story. What’s more? Storytelling is a perfect tool for exploring social-emotional themes with your class. Although perfect for younger years, older students can also get involved – there are many books covering complex themes and vocabulary.

If you are looking for a more interactive approach to storytelling, then check out our lesson ‘Storytelling and Communicating with Marty’. Using Marty the Robot, this lesson challenges students to develop character, setting, and plot, before showcasing their story to the class.

Open storybook

Learn Through Practice:

Practice-based learning allows students to develop skills by experiencing real-life situations.

Lessons can take a variety of forms and will depend on the social-emotional skill being taught. Throughout all social-emotional lessons, it should be made clear they can, and should, implement their new learning in the class, along with other areas of life, such as recess or at home.

Marty’s extensive lesson library is based on practice-based learning. For example, students can gain a better understanding of risk and improve their safe travel skills by copying Marty in our ‘Thinking about and Investigating Risk with Marty’ and ‘Think Before you Walk! Safe Travel Skills’ lessons.

Learn Through Partner Activities:

We all know teamwork is crucial. But why? Well, most days we are tasked with working with other people; whether that be alongside peers in education, colleagues in work or teammates in a sports team – teamwork is central. And so, incorporating lessons that encourage teamwork can help kids learn, from a young age, the importance of collaboration, communication, and can even build a community in your classroom.

Stimulate Discussion:

Classroom discussions are incredibly helpful and can be used to encourage students’ curiosity, build self-awareness, and can give you greater insight into a student’s struggles. For younger years, discussions can be encouraged through guided questions, whereas the older years may benefit by driving the conversation, such as asking them to share their thoughts after a lesson or story in class. There are many techniques that can be used to encourage classroom conversations, for example circle time or interview-based lessons.


Go Outdoors:

Outdoor activities can help young learners develop social and healthy routines. When asked, a majority of students said they prefer to learn outdoors (95%, in fact). There are hundreds of benefits to learning outside the classroom, and most educators believe outdoor learning improves social skills. Not sure where to start? Here is a handy guide to forest and outdoor learning experiences.

Although a timely, ongoing journey, social and emotional learning is so rewarding and incorporating it into the classroom will encourage student growth. The benefits will come with time; slowly your students will start using communication as a tool to deal with tough situations, will become more accountable for their actions and will even find it easier to make and keep new classroom friends!