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Incorporating SEL Skill-building into Daily Preschool Routines

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a crucial component of early childhood education and of the preschool curriculum.  As educators, we seek to offer young children playful experiences through which they can develop self-awareness, learn to regulate emotions, and enjoy interactions with their peers. These foundational social-emotional skills set the stage for successful relationships in kindergarten, elementary school, and beyond. 

In this article, you’ll find suggestions for building social-emotional learning into your classroom routines, so that the children in your care have opportunities to practice these skills throughout the day. 

Circle Time Feelings Check-in

Most classrooms have circle time or a morning meeting built into their daily routines. This is a time when all of the children sit down together as a group to greet each other and engage in a shared activity. This is a perfect time to do a feelings check-in, during which each child can tell you how they are feeling that morning. This helps children to become more aware of the variety of feelings and emotions they might experience, and to practice using language and communication skills to describe the way they are feeling. 

Young children are still developing an understanding of their feelings, and might not have the vocabulary they need to connect their feelings to words.  It can be helpful to offer children guidance by using a visual tool that illustrates a variety of feelings. That way, children can select a feeling that resonates with them, rather than having to come up with one on their own. 

This simple chart, from the SEL-focused website Kimochis, uses different characters and colors to help children identify how they are feeling. You might hang it up in your room or laminate it and pass it around so that children can see the characters up close and point to the one that they relate to. The printable chart is free to download and is available in English and in Spanish

Mindful Transitions 

Transitions, especially the daily transition to nap time, can be difficult for young children. Because they are still developing their ability to regulate emotions, little ones can find it hard to calm their bodies down and get ready to rest. Gentle mindfulness activities, such as simple breathing exercises or a child-friendly yoga pose, can be used to encourage children to slow down and move calmly through transitions. The short videos below feature simple mindfulness activities designed for early learners. 

  • Monster Yoga with Elmo and Grover. This free one-minute video from Sesame Street guides children through a simple yoga pose. 
  • ABC Yoga Read Aloud. This is a read-aloud video of the children’s book, ABC Yoga, which guides children through a series of different poses that are inspired by animals and insects. Or, find the book available for purchase here
  • The Dragon Song. This video from First 5 California guides children through a fun, simple breathing exercise to help them calm their bodies and minds.
  • Free Mindfulness Resources to Nurture Young Minds and Bodies. This G2K article from the archives shares additional mindfulness resources to share with the children in your care. 

Collaborative Activities

When children are given opportunities to work with one another, they get to learn and practice important social skills, such as communication, problem-solving, taking turns, and more. You can help children practice collaborating by including play areas in your classroom that encourage activities involving peer interaction. For example, you might create a dramatic play area with room for multiple children to take part. Or, you can offer children open-ended materials, such as blocks, Magna-Tiles, or Legos, and invite them to explore alongside their peers. You can even invite children to work together on a cooking activity that features a fun, child-friendly recipe.

Through these experiences, little ones have opportunities to develop friendships and relationships with the other children in the classroom. These experiences pave the way for them to continue to develop relationship-building skills that will provide social-emotional support as they grow and mature. 

Storytime Discussions 

Reading books with children is a great way to facilitate conversations about SEL, such as understanding emotions, developing empathy, and being a good friend. These topics can be introduced during almost any story by asking children questions about how they think the characters are feeling, or by reflecting on the different relationships in the story. You might also choose books that have a specific SEL focus. A few of our favorites are listed below. 

  • The Color Monster: A Story about Emotions tells the story of a monster who is experiencing a variety of feelings and uses colors to understand the meaning of each feeling. 
  • The Boy with Big, Big Feelings is a story about a boy who experiences really big feelings and ultimately learns that his feelings are something to be celebrated. 
  • Kindness Makes Us Strong is a colorful book that describes different ways that we can demonstrate kindness towards others, from saying hello to taking turns. 
  • The Colors of Us celebrates our differences and similarities, by exploring diversity through the eyes of a child. 
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