Homes and classrooms across the country are beginning to move beyond traditional forms of learning and envision a more wholistic approach to education that includes social emotional competencies. As a result future graduates will not only posses stronger academic knowledge but also new levels of self-awareness and prosocial abilities that will contribute to a community-wide increase in health and wellbeing.
Parents, educators, and related service provides who work with children are at the forefront of this promising new movement as early intervention appears to hold great potential for future gains. In support of this work the following article outlines five essential elements for successfully teaching social emotional intelligence to children.
1) Focus on the Body: Our bodies are the foundation of our emotions. In turn our emotions organize our thoughts and relationships. Therefore, body (a.k.a. somatic) awareness is a cornerstone of social emotional competences. Therefore, supporting social emotional learning (SEL) should start with and continually return to somatic awareness. Somatic awareness is a first step in developing self-awareness, emotional regulation, social attunement/understanding, and other vital social emotional competencies.
For young children somatic awareness often begins with body part identification. Once children can talk about body parts they can begin exploring and expressing feelings associated with their bodies. This is early somatic awareness. Next, encourage young children to think about cause and effect relationships that link various circumstances and behaviors with feelings. This is the beginning of self-awareness and self-regulation. Lastly, support children in developing an understanding of how others feel in similar ways. This is the starting point for prosocial skills such as empathy and compassion.
For more on this topic, including multimedia teaching tools and specific lesson plans that follow and expand upon the developmental progression outlined above check out the Hello Body Module.
2) Use Multisensory/Multimodel Learning: Good teachers know the importance of multisensory/ multimodel learning, especially for children. This means that children not only engage all of their senses during learning but they are also provided with multiple ways of exploring a subject (e.g. through observation, worksheets, music, dance, art, games, etc).
This is especially important for SEL as the skill set spans multiple ways of knowing including: cognitive (e.g. cause and effect relationships, sequencing events, memory, etc); somatic (e.g. feeling, movement, empathizing); and expressive (e.g. emotive, artistic). For example, when teaching body part identification you might use:
Worksheets that target cognitive aspects associated with memory
Movement, touch, and focusing on feelings in order to target somatic learning
Art projects and songs that target expressive learning
3) Emphasize Developmental Appropriateness: This is a primary focus of Mindful Youth Project, our products and will be an ongoing topic in our blog. As a starting point it's useful to know that many states across America are developing pre/K-12 learning standards that serve as excellent guidelines for understanding the development of social emotional competencies. Even if your state hasn’t yet required SEL standards these guidelines serve as useful tools for understanding the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strengths and challenges that face young people as they grow. You can preview Illinois State Standards, which were among the first to be required statewide here.
4) Build Deeper Relationships: Children learn and develop best when they are connected to their parents and teachers. Furthermore, the connections you make with the children in your life are the most important and powerful lessons when it comes to social emotional learning as they form a template for future relationships. Make time to focus on quality relationship. This is, by far, the single most important offering you can make.
5) Have Fun: Play is a primary learning modality for all of us and is particularly important for preschool and early elementary students. The kids, however, shouldn’t be the only ones having fun. Engaging with children and demonstrating joy as well as empathy and other vital social and emotional competencies is an important way to encourage these skills in others, while also motivating young people and fostering stronger bonds.