Social-emotional activities can support distance learning at home. Use the ideas to support your lessons online and encourage families to make SEL a priority at home.
Social-Emotional Activities for Distance Learning
It may feel like it’s not enough to teach as usual in these unprecedented times. Our students are going through a confusing, scary, and confusing time of distance teaching and learning. The social-emotional component is more critical than ever. Therefore, everyone can use strategies, tactics, and activities that address social skills. Some are communication, cooperation, emotion regulation, empathy, and impulse control. Everyone is cooped up at home for an extended and unknown length of time. Therefore, it’s a great time to explore social-emotional learning (SEL).
Addressing CASEL 5 Core Competencies for Social-Emotional Learning
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning highlights five essential areas for academic and relationship success. They are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. There are easy ways to incorporate social-emotional activities both in class or at home. Most importantly, be present, and take time to share with your kids. Help them develop these necessary skills with CASEL competencies to set them up for success.
Self-awareness (understanding yourself) begins with recognizing and identifying emotions, needs, strengths, and limitations. For example, this involves managing anxiety, stress, and worry. Explore self-awareness by introducing emotional vocabulary. Teach kids how to model proper behavior. Mindfulness, as well as staying focused and on track, are also part of self-awareness. Having a growth mindset, along with the other factors, will result in self-confidence.
- Using Children’s Books – Find quality children’s literature to teach children emotional awareness. Then, use book activities to engage, have discussions, and further their ability to express their emotions.
- Scavenger hunt – Set up a scavenger hunt to work on attention, focus, and mindfulness. Focus on ways children can show responsibility at home.
- Journaling – Instruct students to keep a special journal to record challenges and emotions, events, and memories. Encourage them to try to think of one positive thing each day. This self-regulation and mindfulness activity can also include writing prompts. Try our Feelings Journal to get you started!
- Growth mindset – Use positive quotes about growth mindset to get kids ready to learn. These growth mindset posters can be colored and then hung around the house as reminders to persevere and not give up when things get hard.
- Managing emotions, anxiety, stress, worry – Check out this resource that helps parents teach their children to work on managing emotions at home. Use it to introduce and practice emotion vocabulary.
- Vision board – Have kids create a vision board of things they want to do in the future. You could suggest they think about tomorrow, next week, or over the summer, or even next school year! This activity is included in the free SEL activity pack for distance learning below!
- Self-affirmations cards – Spend some time creating self-affirmation cards at home and post them throughout the house as gentle reminders. Grab some for free below!
- “I Am” Mirror – Suggest that families find a small mirror and post the saying, “I Am” at the top. Add sticky notes with positive words, such as special, kind, and hardworking, around the mirror that they can recite.
Self-management involves managing impulses, emotions, and stress. Discipline, motivation, resilience, and perseverance are also part of self-management. Help kids continue to build self-management skills at home with the following activities.
- Help Others – Remind children that they can offer to do a favor or perform a chore for someone in their family. Make it a goal to work towards – once per week, or perhaps every day!
- Morning Meetings – Use Mind + Heart Morning Meeting slides to guide students in a virtual morning meeting to start your online class. This exercise will help them build self-management skills. Kids will enjoy connecting and sharing with their teacher and peers online.
- Be My Best Self Hat Craft – Learning from home can be hard and takes adjustment. Discuss how kids can be their best selves while learning at home. They can then color and create the “Be my best self” hat found in the distance learning activities pack (free below).
- Self-motivation, perseverance, and resilience – Work with the kids to learn that they can overcome challenges with persistence and hard work. Remind families to resist immediate assistance with rushing to help so their child can learn on their own. Ask them to use empowering language such as “you’re hanging in there, I’m proud of you,” and “You’ll get through this and be so happy with your progress.”
3. Social Awareness
Social awareness is understanding others and their feelings and perspectives. It starts with acknowledging and appreciating that everyone is different. With this understanding, empathy and respect for others are essential steps in social awareness.
- Empathy with movies – With distance learning and extended time at home, videos will likely be popular. Have students pause to discuss feelings, emotions, consequences, and other valuable concepts. These books and videos that encourage empathy provide helpful examples!
- Random Acts of Kindness – Create a list of ways to be kind at home and then make a calendar of acts to complete in a month. Encourage students and their families to do them together.
- Donations – Encourage students to collect unused toys and books to donate when this is all over.
- Connect with Others – Be sure to address each child during your online chat by name. Encourage them to feel free to talk to you directly. For example, try to limit times when students must remain muted. Or, allow a few minutes at the beginning or end of your meeting with them to allow them to see and talk to each other. Share your email address and allow them to email you. Although it’s hard, attempt to respond to each one personally. End the email with warm comments to let them know they are special and loved.
- Wrinkled heart – Cut out a paper heart as in this meaningful activity and write on it – “Before you speak, think and be smart, it’s hard to fix a wrinkled heart.” Afterward, crumble up the heart and open it again. Discuss how you can’t remove the wrinkles just like you can’t take away those hurtful words.
4. Relationship Skills
There is a continued need to build relationships at home. Communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution are essential to healthy relationships in and out of the home. Successful role play, working in groups, and parent interaction will help develop relationship skills. Try these activities during distance learning to encourage kids to connect with family members and peers online.
- Paper Hearts – Instruct students to cut out paper hearts. Have them write personal messages of thanks, kindness, or appreciation for others. They can leave them on the windows or front door for service workers to see. Alternatively, they could post them in their house for family members to find.
- Virtual “Playdates” – Encourage families to connect their child online with a friend for a virtual chat on a platform, such as Zoom, Facebook Messenger Kids, or a Facetime call.
- Write & Send an Email – After a short lesson on how to write an email, have kids write one to their teacher, a friend in the class, or a family member. They will enjoy getting an email message in return! An adult can also write an email message from a child.
- Phone a Friend or Family Member – Encourage kids to connect with one friend or family member on the phone each week. This exercise is beneficial for everyone!
- Friendship Books & Videos – Remind kids how to be a good friend with the book and video examples in this post.
- Spend Quality Time Family – Kids are naturally spending extra time with family. Provide them with home connection ideas that build a strong family foundation. Suggest a family game night, eating meals together at the table, having daily check-in chats to talk about how things are going, and so on. These ideas and more are included in the home learning calendar below.
5. Responsible Decision-Making
Responsible decision-making involves thinking through the parts of a problem and identifying various solutions and consequences. Discussing and predicting situations with teachers or parents can help kids learn to analyze, evaluate, and reflect on their own. Most important is knowing how to make good decisions to be your best self.
- Responsibility – Use this Responsibility unit to guide students in learning what responsibility means and how they can be responsible.
- Confidence – Build your kids’ confidence by having them practice making their own decisions. Encourage parents to refrain from running to the rescue every time there is a struggle. Remind them to focus on their strengths and nurture their unique skills and traits. Give them responsibility and set them up for success with achievable goals.
- New Accomplishments Jar – Every time the child accomplishes something new, have them write it down on a slip of paper and place in a special jar. After some time, encourage kids to share the entries to see the growth.
- Organization skills – Encourage families to establish routines and a dedicated place for learning in the home. Provide a schedule and ask families to post it visibly for kids. Teach kids how to organize the work they complete or take photos of their work for sharing virtually.
- Circle of control – Discuss situations that you can or cannot control. Create a poster with a circle on it. Inside the circle, draw and write things you CAN control. Outside the circle, draw and write situations that you CANNOT control. This will help calm children who experience anxiety during uncertain times.
- Goal-setting – Help kids set a home learning goal and discuss things they can do to work towards it. Create a plan! Use the template provided in the distance learning activities pack to learn how to establish goals.
- Caught Being Responsible – Encourage families to “catch” their kids when they are being responsible at home. Every time they are helpful with extra chores, remembering responsibilities, or working hard at their schoolwork, they can get a hole punch in a card (click here for this free incentive). Reward kids with a virtual high-five when they have all the spots punched out!
Once distance learning is firmly in place, it’s a great time to incorporate these social-emotional activities and ideas at home. They can be adapted for home or school and should be an essential part of any child’s education plan. Learning can’t happen with children in chaos, unable to self-regulate. A calm, focused, centered mind is necessary for maximum growth and development. Use the ideas, strategies, resources, books, and tools at school and home to empower children.
Social-Emotional Activities and Resources for Distance Learning
The Social-Emotional Learning, Social Skills, & Character Education Curriculum bundles, as well as our Morning Meeting resources and slides can help you develop social-emotional intelligence at home while distance learning. These comprehensive packages include units on Emotions, Self-management, Growth Mindset, Relationships, Social Awareness, Kindness, Respect, and Responsibility.
- Social-Emotional Learning, Social Skills, & Character Education Curriculum K-2
- Social-Emotional Learning, Social Skills, & Character Education Bundle 3-5
- SEL Morning Meeting Slides for K-2
- Emotional Awareness Book Companions – Printable & Digital
Free Social-Emotional Learning Pack & Calendar for Distance Learning
Grab a free copy of the activities mentioned throughout this post by clicking the image below.
Children’s Books about Social-Emotional Learning
Here is a helpful book list that can help with social-emotional learning while we are in distance learning mode. You can choose to read a book to your class virtually, encourage families to seek out a book online, or share a link to a video of a book being read.
- Waiting is Not Easy by Mo Willems – Piggie has a surprise for Gerald, but he is going to have to wait for it. And Wait. And wait some more…
- The Invisible String by Patrice Karst – The Invisible String the perfect tool for coping with all kinds of separation, anxiety, loss, and grief.
- There’s Nothing to Do by Dev Petty – Young Frog learns an unexpected lesson about how NOT to be bored.
- Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin – Charlotte discovers a quiet place she never imagined.
- I Am Enough by Grace Byers – This book celebrates loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another.
- Worry Says What? by Allison Edwards – This book helps children (and adults) flip their thinking when anxious thoughts begin and turn them into powerful reminders of all they are capable of accomplishing.
- The Feel Good Book by Todd Parr – This book will inspire kids to celebrate the range of emotions that make them feel good. Use the free Feel Good writing and drawing activity that goes along with the book in the FREE SEL distance learning pack below.
- I Think I Am: Teaching the Kids the Power of Affirmations by Louise Hay – This book will help kids find out the difference between negative thoughts and positive affirmations.
- I Will Be Okay (Mindful Mantras) by Laurie N. Wright – This book helps reinforce the idea that they are not helpless. It teaches that they can do things for themselves when they have tricky feelings, that will help them feel okay again.
- Be You by Peter H. Reynolds – Be curious, be adventurous, be brave, be you.
- The Don’t Worry Book by Todd Parr – This book reassures kids everywhere that even when things are scary or confusing, there’s always something comforting around the corner.
- When You are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller – This is an inspiring picture book. It includes affirmation about having courage even in difficult times. Because, some days when everything around you seems scary, you have to be brave.
- The I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr – This book explores the subject of all things scary and assures readers that all of us are afraid sometimes.
- What Were You Thinking? by Bryan Smith and Lisa M. Griffin – This book helps kids learn self-control and reduce disruptive behaviors.
- The Color Monster – A Story About Emotions by Anna Llenas – This book helps young children identify emotions and feel more in control.
- The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee and Jacob Souva – This book helps children experiencing anxiety and extreme emotions.
- Train Your Angry Dragon: A Cute Children Story To Teach Kids About Emotions and Anger Management by Steve Herman – This book is part of a series with social-emotional learning elements.
- What Should Danny Do? by Adir Levy and Ganit Levy – This interactive book (part of a series) helps develop an understanding of perseverance, empathy, kindness, growth mindset.
- I Can Handle It by Laurie Wright and Ana Santos – This book is part of a series that has positive mantras to deal with tough situations.
- MySELF – Self Control & Self Esteem by Newmark Learning – A book series that helps children develop self- control and problem-solving skills, form healthy relationships and identify feelings.
- Grumpy Dinosaur: (Childrens books about Anger) by Michael Gordon – This book teaches how to control your actions when you’re angry.
- A Little Peaceful SPOT: A Story About Mindfulness by Diane Alber – This book (part of a series) helps identify your emotions and bring them to your calm, peaceful spot.
- Kindness Snippet Jar by Diane Alber – This book shows fun and creative ways to teach children kindness.
Social-Emotional Games, Activities, and Kits for Home
Check out these resources that will help reinforce social-emotional learning in the classroom. They may also be helpful to suggest to parents as at-home activities.
- Emoji Stories – These cubes express emotion, build self-esteem, improve verbal communication, and develop creativity and storytelling.
- Match Master – This card matching game helps identify emotional triggers, among other benefits.
- The Self Esteem Thumball – This ball teaches about healthy self-esteem.
- Let’s Mingle Kids Card Game – This card game is a great conversation starter activity.
- 52 Essential Conversations – This deck of cards (featured by Harvard University and CASEL) builds necessary emotional intelligence and social skills.
- Strong Suit – The Tower of Self Esteem – This deck of cards encourages positive thinking and develops self-confidence.
- Don’t Go Bananas – This card game deals with five strong emotions – anger, sadness, worry, fear, and jealousy.
- Feelings & Choices Flip Book – This flipbook teaches about feelings, emotions, and moods. It uses a playful style to encourage emotional development, self-regulation, relationship building, and independence.
- Social Skills Board Games – This game pack targets six critical issues that children often struggle with. Topics include morals, manners, empathy, friendship, showing emotions, and managing emotions.
- Anger Slayer – Fun Anger Management Kit – This game helps kids discover easy, fun techniques to manage anger without making them feel like anger is a bad emotion.
More Social-Emotional Learning Activities
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