In order for students to be successful in the classroom, they must first learn how to be successful in making good choices. After all, they can't effectively learn if they can’t regulate their emotions and behave appropriately in the classroom. Social emotional learning might not seem like something that should fall under our realm of instruction but it is a crucial part of our job as educators of young learners. And, like all other skills we teach, we need to make sure that we teach these explicitly so that young children can continue to grow in their social skills and foster positive relationships. We also need to teach this to increase their chance at academic success. These are (in my opinion) some of the most important skills to address for social-emotional learning in kindergarten.
Many students come to us without the vocabulary to express themselves. This, in turn, leads to behaviors that display how a child is feeling. For example, when sad, they have crying outbursts. And when angry, they hit another child. When feeling scared or confused, students may show another type of behavior that is not appropriate for the classroom. As you can see, feelings really are the root cause of behaviors. That's why it's so vital to help create healthy ways for younger students to express feelings.
For that reason, it is so important to arm our kindergarten students with a ‘feelings’ vocabulary. Providing clear lessons about each feeling and what that feeling looks like helps them express themselves appropriately. While this is hopefully being taught at home as well, this is not always the case, so we might be able to help them there too. Being able to identify feelings is a crucial first step to take in teaching social emotional learning and this will take their social-emotional skills to a whole new level.
When teaching students about behavior, it all comes down to choices. Students can make good or negative choices. However, we can never assume students come to us with the knowledge of what good or negative choices are in the classroom. This makes it vital for us to show students what each type of choice looks like, not only with pictures and sorting activities, but also with our behavior as the teacher. Model the behavior you want your students to display. For example, have a positive attitude (which surely you are already doing). Give students a chance to practice the behavior, and then keep on giving them opportunities to repeat it.
It is also important to tell students that all choices have consequences. Many times positive choices have positive consequences, and negative choices have negative consequences. Students need to know what the consequences are for different behaviors within the classroom. This can help them learn how to think before acting and then make more informed, responsible decisions.
After students learn about different feelings and how those feelings might lead to negative behaviors, it is important to teach them different coping strategies. What can the students do themselves that will help them to reel in that big feeling and stop from making a bad choice? Again, this social emotional learning skill is something that has to be clearly taught to students. Let them know what coping strategies would work well inside the classroom, like counting to ten or taking a break to get a drink. Then, give them opportunities to practice the strategies before the need to use them arises.
You might even want to keep an area in your classroom dedicated to coping strategies by creating a “calm down corner”. This is an area that you can create that gives students access to calming strategies and is a safe place for them to identify their feelings and work through them. You can read more about creating a calm down corner in past posts like I have done here and here.
It's so important that children’s feelings are validated but they definitely need assistance in how to better channel and express those feelings. Coping strategies they can incorporate into their daily routines in their early years is the perfect way to help them not only in their school success but at home and long term!
Another key social emotional learning skill to teach to our students is how to be a good friend. For many of our students, this is the first time in their life to build friendships. They need to know that the choices they make impact others, even when it is outside of a classroom setting.
As with behaviors, it comes down to the kinds of choices students make. Only now, it's based on the treatment of a friend, rather than choices in a classroom. What kinds of things do good friends do? Would you want to be friends with someone who treated you badly? What might hurt a friend's feelings? These are all good questions to discuss when teaching students about friendship. Setting the foundation in kindergarten for both being a good friend and identifying a good friend helps students. Especially as they continue to form supportive relationships down the road.
Like any other kindergarten skill, social emotional learning needs to be incorporated early and revisited throughout the year. Not only will focusing on these four skills help set up students for success in later social emotional skills, but it will also help them academically. As we all know, students are more successful in the classroom when their emotional needs are met.
Social Emotional Learning Wrap-up
As you can see, social emotional learning in early childhood education is vital for them to develop emotional competence, create healthy relationships, achieve better academic behaviors, and more. Giving them these implementation tools and foundational skills are a great way to enhance their emotional health in general. Do you have any best practices when it comes to social-emotional development? I'd love to learn more about what you feel is the best way you've found works well. This could be for kindergarten students or at different ages! Comment below your experiences teaching social emotional learning techniques!
It’s truly amazing the impact we can make on children’s lives. Sure, it will help during the school day, but these skills can easily carry them through as high school students and beyond. Students of all ages can benefit from social emotional learning.