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Why is Social Emotional Learning Important in Early Childhood Education?

By Tvisha Patel, Pretzel Kids contributing writer

As you grow up, you develop many social skills along the way – from preschool on up to adulthood. 

Some of these skills include: learning how to take responsible actions, building a healthy relationship with ourselves and others, and developing a positive attitude. This is where social emotional learning (SEL) comes into play.

In fact, early educators can implement SEL practices to help even the youngest students succeed. Whether you’re a preschool teacher, daycare provider or yoga instructor, SEL practices are key to a child’s development. 

But, you may still be wondering: What is SEL? And, why is social emotional learning important in early education? Luckily, this article answers those questions and then dives into some key SEL practices, including welcoming activities, yoga and mindfulness, and more. 

Social Emotional Learning

What is SEL?

According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. “It’s the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions,” states CASEL.

Why is SEL Important for Kids?

There is a lot of evidence suggesting that social emotional learning plays a key role in a child’s development. SEL not only helps kids develop positive social skills and problem solve, but it leads to a happier and calmer classroom environment.

SEL Helps Kids with Problem Solving

How can social emotional learning help children solve problems? Well, if they’re stuck on how to complete an art project or do a math problem, instead of feeling frustrated, they can tap into their self-management skills and reach out to a teacher for guidance. Furthermore, tools like how to regulate emotions and manage stress are skills children will use throughout their lives. 

5 Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Core Competencies

When it comes to implementing SEL in an early education setting, a good roadmap to follow is The CASEL 5. This addresses five areas of competence and highlights examples for each of the following: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. 

This framework can be taught at various developmental stages from childhood to adulthood. “Many school districts, states, and countries have used the CASEL 5 to establish preschool to high school learning standards and competencies that articulate what students should know and be able to do for academic success, school and civic engagement, health and wellness, and fulfilling careers,” states CASEL.

Here is more information about these SEL skills, according to CASEL:

  1. Self-awareness

This skill helps kids learn how to understand their own emotions, mindset and values. Armed with self-awareness, kids can understand their strengths and weaknesses. This can greatly improve their confidence and help them later on in their professional and personal lives.

  1. Self-management

Even as adults, it’s important to learn how to understand your emotions, balance work and life, and more. Kids can learn from a young age how to deal with stress and how to strive for their goals. These skills help children balance academics, work and social life. 

  1. Responsible Decision Making

SEL practices can help kids understand how to make smart and considerate choices. It’s important to get kids to start thinking about what impact their actions can have on themselves and others. This way, they can make better decisions. 

  1. Social Awareness

Kids grow up with several peers around them. It’s important for them to learn how to respect diverse backgrounds, including different cultures. This skill also helps them get along with their family and friends. All of this leads to healthier relationships.

  1. Relationship skills

Talking about relationships, children have to navigate relationships with friends, family, teachers and others. It’s important to teach them how to speak to others and build healthy relationships.

How do you Implement Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom?

As a teacher, you can choose how to incorporate SEL into your classroom. For example, you might want to create SEL lessons or integrate practices daily. 

SEL Practices that Early Childhood Educators Can Use Every Day. 

To get started, here is a 3-step signature practice recommended by CASEL:

  1. Welcoming Activity

When a class starts, try to incorporate a welcoming activity. This means that, instead of starting class with a lesson right away, maybe you can begin with a routine to help ease into the activity. 

For the activity, you can select a few skills discussed earlier. For example, ask the children to share an act of kindness. This creates an inspiring environment and enhances social skills. As another idea, you can implement a fun mindfulness activity that can help them with self-awareness. The choices are endless! 

  1. Engaging strategies and activities

This is the age where it’s crucial for the little ones to understand how to focus, work in teams, and learn from each other. So, assign group work where they can meet new peers and set realistic expectations. This way they will learn to work towards a common goal. Be sure to add in breaks that incorporate movement. This can include yoga poses for kids, stretches, yoga activities or other fun games that can help them destress.

  1. Optimistic closure

This doesn’t always mean putting on a smile and being cheery. It means to be authentic and real as this can help kids understand true emotions. This may include implementing a quick exercise like asking kids to sum up their class experience that day with a few words. Or, you can ask them what they learned that day. Make the connection to the skills we pointed out earlier, and ask yourself how these activities can help enhance those core competencies. For example, ask them about one aspect that they are grateful for today. A gratitude activity, perhaps an art project or gratitude journal, can also enhance social awareness and self-management. 

Get Creative with SEL to Encourage Positive Behavior

Remember, SEL practices don’t always have to be the same every day. However, routine is important. Since the kids are still in a development stage, it’s important to create a welcoming environment and allow them to open up about their emotions. 

When it comes to academics, you can even teach them how to monitor their own progress. This builds self management skills and helps them become more aware. For example, you can create posters around the room that encourage positive behavior. These posters can include a list of appropriate words that enhance their behavior such as “excuse me,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome”. 

Supporting Social Emotional Learning with Yoga Programs

Practicing yoga has been proven to improve anxiety, well-being and physical health. 

Indeed, kids might be experiencing anxiety and stress – not unlike adults. So, it’s important to manage that and use different methods to help them. Yoga and mindfulness can be incorporated into SEL practices to enhance many of the skills we listed above – and help reduce stress levels.. 

Incorporate Yoga Poses for Kids 

Focus is a key element in developing social awareness, relationship skills and self-management. How exactly can you incorporate yoga poses? We discussed engaging activities in the classroom above, and yoga can be one of these activities! So, create a comfortable space, turn on calm music and do a few yoga poses every day. Many schools also have after-school programs with yoga classes. This is a great way to work yoga into the school day!

Keep in mind that yoga has many physical and mental benefits. Each pose also requires breath work, focus and balance. Overtime, kids will be able to do different poses and breathing exercises –  and once again, this helps them with goal setting skills, self awareness and much more!

Yoga and SEL Helps Children Develop Healthy Habits

Yoga creates healthy habits that kids can use for a lifetime. As an early educator, you can even learn to teach yoga to kids in your school. Or, you can hire a yoga instructor to offer classes to your students. 

Regardless of whether you teach yoga in schools or bring in a skilled instructor, it’s important to include a lesson plan with activities for each class. This way they will learn poses, breathing techniques, mindfulness activities and more – all helping to create lasting healthy habits!

About Tvisha

Tvisha Patel is a blog writer at Pretzel Kids. She loves doing yoga in her downtime and is currently a business student at Schulich School of Business – York University, in Ontario, Canada. Tvisha also enjoys exploring nature, music and photography!

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