The importance of social and emotional learning is being recognized more and more these days. School is no longer thought of as a place for academic development alone, but a space where children can learn about their relationship with themselves, each other and the wider world.
Learning about social responsibilities, social acceptance and social interactions, can really help our little ones to become confident and conscientious members of society.
In the same way, learning how to talk about and cope with their own emotions helps them to grow into rounded and happy individuals.
Teachers and parents are already juggling so much, so we have put together a list of 25 fun ideas for how you can incorporate these vitally important lessons into children’s daily learning and lives.
1. Morning Aspirations
A great way to get any school day off to a flying start is to write morning aspirations. You could have prepared ‘aspiration cards’ that you hand out, or your kids could each have a specific ‘morning aspirations book’ that they write in.
All you have to do is provide a writing prompt on the board, such as: ‘3 things I hope to achieve today are…’, or ‘today I am going to try to check in with these 3 people…’ or ‘one new thing I am going to try today is…’ The prompts should be short and simple, so that the kids can quietly complete their aspirations as they are filtering into the classroom in the morning before their lessons officially begin.
This exercise will encourage them to develop proactive mindsets with a ‘can-do’ attitude.
2. Daily Journal Reflections
The counterpoint to morning aspirations are ‘journal reflections’. This is when the kids take a few minutes at the end of their day to reflect on what they have learnt about themselves and each other.
A great idea is to ask them to re-read their morning aspirations and reflect on whether they achieved them and how it made them feel. Of course, there should never be a feeling of failure attached to not having achieved your morning aspirations, but an ability to recalibrate and try again tomorrow.
This activity bookends the day’s learning with self reflection and awareness, and creates a very healthy emotional scaffolding for each day.
3. Monthly Mood Board
Not all kids like to write, so cutting and sticking pictures and keywords onto a mood board is a great artistic alternative. Mood boards are visceral and expressive, and better still they can be built up gradually over the course of many weeks.
By giving each of your kids a fresh sheet of sugar paper or card at the start of each month, you can encourage them to add images that relate to how they are feeling each day and watch the overall collage emerge.
These can be kept private or displayed on a feature wall at the end of the month, and will demonstrate the great array of emotions that one person can feel.
4. Emotions Chart
Not being able to articulate how you are feeling is the cause of frustration and misunderstanding for many children. Creating a colorful and easy to understand emotion chart can alleviate much of this frustration. The chart could be in poster form, or be more interactive, like a wheel or paper click-clack.
The most important thing is that the emotions should become more specific and nuanced as they progress through the chart. What may start as a choice between ‘happy’ and ‘sad’, can then be developed into ‘angry’ or ‘frustrated’, and then ‘stressed’ or ‘worried’ and so on.
This will not only help children to recognize more nuanced emotions in themselves, but in each other as well.
5. Circle Time
Scheduling a few minutes of ‘circle time’ each day can really help children to voice concerns or emotions that may have arisen in the playground over lunch, or at home over dinner.
During circle time, the class can come together in a sitting or standing circle and only the person holding the ‘conch’ (be that whatever object you so wish) can speak.
This teaches children to wait their turn and to hear each other out. It promotes respect and discussion rather than bickering, and also allows kids to feel the support of their classmates when they have the floor.
6. Diversity Awareness
Making children aware of diversity in a healthy and positive way is essential in any classroom.
Discussing different races, cultures, genders and religions is a great start, but you should also be sure that those diverse cultures and races are represented in the posters on your classroom walls and the picture books on your shelves.
You can normalize difference by using diverse names and references in the examples you describe during maths, geography and science lessons, and by picking class stories that reflect the whole of the human experience, not just that of your local area.
7. Feeding The Class Pet
Kids learn so much from animals, and whether you have a class duck, rabbit, guinea pig or snail, a class pet will bring lots of fun and meaning to a classroom. Drawing up a feeding and cleaning timetable is a great way to introduce kids to the idea of responsibility and routine.
Stroking and petting the animal is a great reward for good behavior and opens up discussions about how to be loving, caring and gentle with other creatures and other people.
8. Gardening Duties
Learning to be environmentally aware has never been more important than it is today, and having a class gardening rota is a great way to get the discussion going. If you don’t have a school garden then some simple potted plants work just as well.
Plants wilt and wither if they are not looked after properly, so your kids will be able to see the consequences of neglect if they don’t keep up their duties.
Watering, observing sunlight, clearing dead leaves and noticing new flowers are all eye-opening experiences for children that will help them to appreciate the natural world and the need to take care of it.
10. Buddy System
Pairing kids up with a buddy (either in their own class or a higher class) is a fantastic way of providing them with a support system that does not necessarily involve adults.
The older children gain feelings of responsibility and independence, and the younger children gain confidence and the ability to vocalize queries and concerns to their peers.
Buddying can create a wonderful atmosphere across a whole school, as it bridges gaps between school years and encourages oneness and inclusivity.
10. After Lunch Debate
‘Debate’ is sometimes associated with negative connotations, but it is in fact an essential part of democratic life, and being able to debate respectfully and meaningfully is an important social skill.
Dividing the class into two, so that no one feels too exposed, and setting a light topic such as ‘what is better, summer or winter?’, or ‘school uniforms, good or bad?’ is a great way to teach kids the art of listening as well as discussing.
The two halves of the class can take a stance each and come up with three key points in their defense.
Then you can oversee a back and forth, with elected speakers reading aloud so as to avoid any shouting out. The exercise should only last a few minutes and is a fun way to encourage critical thought and openness to other ideas.
11. Whole Class Star Chart
Star charts are an age-old technique used by teachers to encourage good behavior and reward individuals, however they can make those without many stars feel despondent and ashamed.
Creating a ‘Whole Class Star Chart’ avoids cultivating competitiveness between students, and instead creates togetherness.
If someone does something good, or the whole class has a great morning, a star can be added to the collective chart. This way the kids work together to reach a common goal, and can enjoy a whole class treat as a reward!
12. Recycling Rota
Having clearly marked recycling bins in your classroom will not only encourage your kids to recycle at school, but will broaden their awareness of recycling in the wider world as well.
Having to consider what materials you have used, what you are wasting, and what you can save, promotes really healthy thought processes in children and a sense of social responsibility.
Creating a recycling rota whereby different kids take the bins out for collection each week, increases this responsibility and integrates environmental awareness into their everyday learning.
13. Litter Picking
In a similar way, sending small teams of children out onto the school playground or field to do litter picking is a great way to raise their awareness of the rubbish on our streets and sidewalks.
Encouraging your kids to take pride in their school environment from an early age will then filter through into their daily lives.
It is important that the task of litter picking is posed as a treat, not a punishment, and that kids who have finished their work early or done something good get to go outside in the fresh air. Presenting the task as a treat will really impact how the children respond to the task then and in the future.
14. Kindness Box
Creating a Kindness Box is a wonderful way of promoting good feeling and harmony in your classroom.
The box can sit on your desk and kids can write down small acts of kindness that they have experienced or seen throughout the week on slips of paper.
Each slip of paper is anonymous and you can read them aloud to the class at the end of the week.
Children will feel a real sense of pride if their name is mentioned, and a general feeling of gratitude and kindness will be shared. This box will not only encourage your kids to perform acts of kindness, but to observe them in each other as well.
15. Audience Applause Game
A great group game is ‘audience applause’ and it can be played whenever you feel your class needs some good vibes and some re-energizing. All the kids have to do is stand in front of the rest of the class on their own and make one gesture.
Anything goes; it could be as small as a thumbs up, or elaborate as the funky chicken. But the rule is that whatever they do must be greeted with rapturous applause from the rest of the class.
It is very silly and daft, which is important for kids who need to let go and not take life too seriously, and it promotes laughter, gratitude, appreciation and self worth.
16. Coping Strategies
Talking about emotions and feelings is hugely important, but coming up with workable coping strategies is just as vital. Carving out individual one-to-one time with each of your kids and chatting through some specific coping strategies for their personal anxieties will facilitate each of them with the mental tools necessary to overcome problems and worries.
Coming up with individual mantras that they can repeat is a great start, and practicing breathing exercises and positive visualization techniques will also be really helpful.
17. Class Book, Listening Together
Setting aside some time each week to read a few chapters of a class book is a wonderful way of promoting discussion amongst your kids. As you read aloud they can have a quiet time where they simply listen, which is so important within the busy school schedule.
At the end of a chapter you can ask them about the character’s, how they behaved and how they felt. Speaking about how a character acted compared to how they really felt inside is a great way to get kids to reflect on their own inner feelings and how perhaps they hide or disguise them in social situations.
18. Everyday Problem Solving Cards
A brilliant way to teach your students about problem solving and conflict resolution is to create hypothetical scenarios for them to discuss in groups. You can write the scenarios out on colorful cards and hand a different one to each group of 3 or 4 kids.
The cards might read: ‘My best friend has started to spend all their time with another kid and I feel jealous and left out. What should I do?’ or ‘My Mum has just had a new baby and she is too tired to play with me anymore. What should I do?’.
The kids can chat about the problem and come up with positive and proactive solutions that they can then feed back to the rest of the class.
19. Positive Affirmation Posters
The power of words can be hugely impactful, and having positive affirmations on posters and signage about your classroom is a great way to reinforce self confidence and self love in your students.
Better still, why not get your kids to write their own mantras and positive affirmations, and paint or draw their own posters? The act of making them will be fun and creative, and the children will have a greater sense of ownership and understanding of the words from having written them themselves.
Doing some gentle yoga practice with your class will not only keep them strong and flexible, but will also help to calm them down after recess or lunch, when they may have become hyperactive and excitable.
Yoga also promotes mindfulness, the ability to forget the problems of the past and worries about the future, and simply be present in the moment. This is an incredibly useful tool in everyday life.
What is more, controlled yoga breathing helps to lower the heart rate and lessen anxiety, and can result in a happier, healthier classroom overall.
21. Boogie Breaks
Of course, sometimes kids need to let loose and go wild, and there is absolutely no reason why that should be considered a negative thing. Scheduling tiny, micro dance breaks into your classes’ academic lessons will aid their concentration, energy levels, physical fitness and enjoyment.
But most importantly, happy music and funky movements promote feelings of freedom and liberation that are so important for children’s mental wellbeing.
22. Chillout Zone
Having a ‘chillout zone’ in your classroom or school can be very useful when you have students who are feeling overwhelmed or stressed as it gives them a designated space where they can step away from those emotions.
Try to make the chillout zone as cosy and comfy as possible, so that it feels like a treat and not a punishment to spend time in there. This can be a place where children can say things in absolute confidence, or can simply sit in silence and gather themselves after an upset.
23. Group Board Games
Board games help to develop team building skills, negotiation skills, critical thinking skills and they’re fun! Having a stack of favorite board games in your classroom is a brilliant way of rewarding good behavior and kindness.
They could even be used as a reward when your class reaches their target on the whole group star chart! Learning to take turns, win graciously, and lose without losing sleep, are all key life lessons that your kids will benefit from.
24. Active Listening Game
An important life skill is active listening, and a great way to encourage this in your classroom is through a game called Nod, Nod, Swap. You simply split your class into pairs and name each kid either A or B.
You put a minute on the clock in which As can tell Bs all about their family/ holiday / breakfast or any other topic. Bs must nod along and listen carefully. When the time is up the pair swap roles and As nod while Bs talk.
Then the class comes together as one, and each pair must introduce their partner to the rest of the room, remembering all that their partner told them!
25. Paint It Out
And finally, integrating arts and crafts into your lessons is a fantastic way of enabling kids to express their feelings and emotions without having to be literal or over analyze themselves.
Painting, coloring, moulding clay sculptures and making paper cut pictures are all ways that children can be creative, spontaneous and inventive without having to feel restricted by academic thinking.
Art is a wonderful way to lift the mood of a class, encourage mindfulness and dispel anxieties.
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