Social emotional learning (SEL) has been a topic of interest in the academic field for many years. Countless studies have linked social and emotional skills to academic achievements and future success, yet in places like Hong Kong, there is still a distinct lack of emphasis placed on SEL, especially in early childhood education. We want to take a deeper dive into how SEL is taught in schools, and how caregivers can reinforce it at home through simple activities.
SEL can and should be taught at school
There are common misconceptions that SEL cannot be explicitly taught in schools. Perhaps some people believe it’s a ‘soft skill’ or that children just have ‘different personalities’ that can’t be changed. While true to some extent, personality does not dictate whether or not a child is able to identify, communicate, and manage their emotions. An example of an SEL program is the ‘Second Step Program’, which Tutor Time incorporates into their Nursery and Kindergarten programs.
2 to 3 years old
At the Nursery level, we harness students’ energy and potential by teaching them:
- Listening skills: Children need to be able to listen just as much as they need to sit still in order to absorb what the teacher is saying.
- Focus and attention: Every parent knows this is one of the greatest challenges of this age. The Second Step Program provides our teachers with simple strategies to promote attention.
- Sharing with peers: Children at this age are learning to share, whether that’s sharing toys, books, or a snack. It’s hard for them to understand why they have to share.
- Appropriate behaviour: Children often don’t know how to react appropriately to difficult situations, such as having their toy snatched away. Should they hit? Should they cry?
By the end of the academic year, students will have gained the necessary social and emotional skills that will allow them to thrive in kindergarten.
3 to 6 years old
At the kindergarten level, we begin to introduce class responsibilities in rotation so that each student can practice being a leader. For example, children will take turns being line leader, custodian, librarian, safety captain and so on. We also like to do a lot of role-play scenarios with props to allow students to work through problems they might encounter in real life. Take this scenario as an example:
Jim was playing with a puzzle and he agreed to share after 5 minutes. 5 minutes later, Jess takes the puzzle from Jim before he finishes. Jim snatches the puzzle back and they both get upset.
- What should Jess say to Jim before taking the puzzle?
- What should Jim do instead of snatching the puzzle back?
Strategies for SEL at home
Use puppets to act out scenarios that your child has trouble dealing with. Ask your child what the puppet can do and engage in role play.
- Visual routine chart
Create a visual daily routine chart so that your child knows what they have to do each day. This will help a lot with tricky transitions (like play time to bed time).
- ‘Time in’ instead of ‘time out’
Use tantrums and meltdowns as learning opportunities. Remove your child from the situation, sit with them, help them identify their feelings, then work on a coping method.
- Feelings chart
Print out a ‘feelings chart’ with the names and facial expressions of different feelings. This will help your child understand, identify, and express their feelings.
- Develop resilience through play
Play time is a great chance to let your child develop resilience. When they fail a task (i.e. a puzzle), encourage them to try again. If needed, assist them just enough so that they can complete the task.
Social and emotional skills are definitely teachable. Caregivers and teachers just need a little bit of structure and guidance so that they can effectively implement SEL in their classrooms and homes. With the right guidance, we can raise a generation of mindful, resilient, and empathetic individuals who can also achieve great academic success.