In preschool, developing and teaching social-emotional skills is EVERYTHING ! Many of our young learners are stepping away from their families for the first time, and it can be challenging to figure out how to act in different classroom settings, especially since most (if not all) our students have grown up in this Covid pandemic. It’s needed now, more so than ever before!
Our students need us to up our game. They need us to put social emotional learning above all else so that they may thrive when they enter the school arena. They’ll learn to read. They’ll learn to count eventually, but without a solid foundation in social emotional skills, it will be so much harder to soar.
I know, a lot of you are buried under the amount of work you already have to do in your preschool classrooms. I get it. It is endless and sometimes it feels like SEL is just another thing added to the growing list of demands and since it isn’t measurable to outsiders, it may feel easy to set aside for a later time. That’s why I created a free guide to help you.
Click on the image below to download my free guide to easily sprinkle SEL into what you already do. I’ll show you using a template I developed and use in my own classroom! Go make your life easier today and download it!
The Importance of Social Emotional Development in Preschool
So why bother with social-emotional learning? Some people say those are ‘soft skills’. I know growing up in Asia, the emphasis in the early years focused on literacy and numeracy skills above all else. In that competitive Asian society where parents want to see ‘tangible results’, teachers feel the pressure to deliver.
The main reason to bother is, social-emotional learning increases positive behavior like kindness, sharing, empathy and understanding of our own feelings and emotions. Learning about these major character education areas will increase our students wellbeing, help develop positive relationships with others, create a more positive attitude towards school, and in turn decrease anxiety, depression and stress.
When developing social-emotional learning activities for preschool, you want to include activities that help students with CASEL’s 5 key Areas of SEL . These skills are self and social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
Students are successful in school and their lives when they are able to self-regulate, show empathy, and make thoughtful choices when it comes to personal and social decisions.
How to Integrate Social Emotional Development in Preschool
I’m sure you want to know what’s the secret to just weave SEL into your day. I used to think social emotional learning was a seperate thing, like Numeracy, Science or Physical Education. But then as the years went by, I realized that social emotional learning had to just become part of our classroom culture.
So here’s my secret sauce to integrating social emotional learning into your preschool day!
- Identify where your students need help.
All our students will need help with different social-emotional skills. That is a given. Although you want to focus on all aspects of social-emotional learning in preschool, the most pressing needs of your students may differ from year to year. You may have one class that starts off the year struggling with friendship skills and conflict resolution; whilst the following year, the class may need more help with asking for help or problem solving. So start with the most pressing social emotional skill your class needs.
- Incorporate social-emotional learning into your everyday routine
It can become very overwhelming when you are expected to add another thing to your already packed school day. To stop it feeling like one more extra thing to accomplish, try putting social-emotional learning at the heart of EVERYTHING you do. It just becomes a part of your classroom culture.
Here are some social-emotional activities for preschool that you can include throughout your lesson plans to help with social-emotional development.
a. Read Stories
Picture books are a great resource. Consider reading a picture book during circle time or the morning meeting. Here are a couple of book recommendations. Books provide us with so much opportunity for unpacking any area of focus. There are so many books out there to choose from that focus on exactly the social emotional skill you need for your most pressing area. Check out these lists below, save the list or print it so you always have it when you need it! All these books can be found on YouTube so even if you don’t have access to them, YouTube can be your friend!
b. Sing Songs
Preschoolers love to sing and dance; songs are a great way to help teach social-emotional skills! I have a couple of favorites that I use in my classroom each year! Super easy to incorporate into transition times or at the end of the day.
c. Play Games
Games are always a hit in the classroom, and you can easily incorporate social-emotional learning. You want to bring games into your preschool classroom because they help your students practice skills like turn-taking, following rules and fairness, listening, empathy, kindness and so much more… without you having to plan a thing!
- Activities promoting teamwork – Having games and activities around the classroom that require teamwork is always a great idea. Simple activities like puzzles, parachute games, and scavenger hunts can easily be added to your school day if you are looking for specific teamwork games for a team building day or afternoon. You can try adding three-legged races or tug of war into the mix!
- Board games or card games – Uno, dominos and The Shopping Game are always a hit.
- Integrate into Existing Lesson
There are many ways to bring social-emotional learning into your already planned lesson.
- Partner work- allows students to practice listening skills, problem-solving, and building relationship skills.
- Morning Meetings/ Circle time- practice daily affirmations, use question prompts focused on SEL to encourage conversation and connection between you and your students, and have students share aspects of their lives and themselves.
- Discuss Common Scenarios
We know what social situations may pose a problem in our preschool classroom. Someone takes a toy without asking. A child feels left out of a game during recess. A child feels left out of a game. You could highlight during group time different scenarios you have seen in the day and discuss what happened, how each person felt, how the problem could have been resolved or avoided. You could even role play those scenarios to bring it to life!
What I use in my classroom are pictures or I read out common scenarios to them during our morning meeting to stimulate discussions.
- Friendship Scenarios
- Use picture prompts for discussion
- Social Scenario Problem-Solving Task Cards
- Inference Pictures to help identify the feelings of others
Inference pictures are super fun and help your students develop their social-emotional learning skills and try to figure out exactly what people are feeling based on the situation, facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. If you want to learn more about how I do that, check out how to use inference pictures to teach social inferencing here.
- Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness is an excellent skill for students while inside and out of the classroom and is a great social-emotional tool. Mindfulness is something our young learners can easily grasp and use to help them work through different emotions and problems they may be having inside and outside the classroom. Things like Mindful Breathing, Yoga, Mindfulness Coloring in, Daily Affirmations or Mindfulness Scavenger Hunts are all easy ways to incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine.
Want to know more? I have some excellent mindfulness practices in this blog post.
- Develop a Culture of Kindness
You want your classroom to be a safe space for students, and creating a classroom culture that revolves around kindness is definitely important. Being king sounds like a challenge for our preschoolers, doesn’t it? How can I get my preschoolers to understand kindness at a deeper level?
It is more than just “being nice” or “sharing”. Our young learners have to understand so many parts of themselves and others to really get to the depth of kindness. Creating a positive space is key. You want your students to know and feel when they walk in those doors, there are classroom mottos we live by.
Come up with a list of classroom mottos you want to promote in your classroom and create posters or signs to illustrate them to place around your room, so that they are a constant reminder.
- We will help each other
- We will listen to each other
- Kindness counts in our classroom
- We will use kind words
- We use gentle hands
You could also consider decorating your classroom or putting out activities in a way that puts kindness at the heart of your classroom. What do I mean here? I’m just thinking about classroom posters that promote qualities of a good friend, words to articulate feelings, calm down corner posters and displays.
I’m also thinking about centers that reinforce those different learning areas. For example, a kindness sorting activity, kindness clip cards or being a good friend clip cards.
Want more ideas on teaching kindness? Check out this blog post.
Social Emotional Development in Preschool
I don’t know about you, but I feel like this has been an action packed blog post!
I really wanted to make sure you got as many practical tips on how you could easily integrate Social Emotional Learning into your preschool classroom as possible!
Don’t forget, if you are looking for ways to intentionally bring social-emotional learning into your classroom easily and with little prep. Check out one of my favorite resources. It gives you 6 steps and ways to sprinkle SEL into your preschool classroom without feeling overwhelmed and stressed out!
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