Teaching social emotional learning skills can come naturally to a Kindergarten teacher who has ample periods and invitations to observe and assess these social skills throughout the day as a common core of their play-based learning program. But the constraints posed by smaller, more structured times together (e.g., individualized homeschool, small counseling groups or lunch bunch groups), can prove to be challenging. Here are some guidelines that will help you organize a program that is both age-appropriate and beneficial in supporting the whole-child.
Debatably, students of all ages benefit to know the general structure of your time together. Why is this so important? Primarily to alleviate anxiety and establish trust through consistency. Consistency is the backbone of behavior management as well, so try to stick with the same opening and closing routines and use visual schedules or prompts to address everything in between before it happens- it will be worth the investment.
Try: Co-creating a non-verbal cue and a visual schedule and beginning your session with some kind of a check in, such as a community circle prompt. We usually then open our toy mailbox to read a letter from a mascot or storybook character to hear what kind of "problem" they are having and then touch base to see how the children would solve this social scenario.
Don't be afraid to extend the play continuum during your time together. The engagement, growth, wonder and authentic experiences that come from play will far outreach any worksheet or drawn out lesson will. So many concepts are just too developmentally abstract for this age group. Use concrete tools such as coloring pages, puppets or other characters, invitations for dramatic play, collaborative games, etc. to make the content as accessible and as engaging as possible. Don't forget to let their interests and experiences lead the lessons.
Movement breaks are a crucial investment to support attention and focus. We need to practice what we preach when it comes to coping skills and give proactive opportunities to support self-regulation while giving them the voice to communicate when they need that extra support.
Or, check out our go-to movement video playlist on YouTube here.
Looking for something more low-key and zen? Never deny the impact that even low-impact stretching and movement has on the brain's ability to help us get grounded. Come and watch the mindful breathing breaks on YouTube that over thousands of teachers and counselors are using daily in their programs!
A no-brainer that piggybacks the idea of integrating props into your mini lesson, is to ensure that there are bright and age-appropriate anchor charts to support learning. Always involve the students in some way, try to avoid too many colors and don't even try to rely on posters that are text-heavy! You can find some seasonal SEL-themed bulletin ideas here and character education bulletin sets here (for all year round).
Singing organically supports listening and rhyming skills- both critical for speech development and communication skills. When social emotional learning topics are embedded into song, our children are more likely to connect with and internalize these important lessons, fostering not only their emotional intelligence but also their creativity and love for music in a meaningful and memorable way.
What's one thing that you think is non-negotiable when supporting Kindergarten-aged students with social emotional learning?
Let me know in the comments!