6 Ways Parents Can Bring Social-Emotional Learning Home

Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

6 Ways Parents Can Bring Social-Emotional Learning Home

Posted in Pro Tips | April 30, 2020

Social-emotional learning enhances learning. 

In their recent book, All Learning is Social and Emotional, Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Dominique Smith stated that “when students develop prosocial behaviors and self-regulation skills, they learn more.” Hence, the intertwining of social-emotional learning (SEL) into the school curriculum. So, what to do as distance learning continues? During uncertain times, it’s important to help students feel safe, secure, rested, and free of distractions so that they can focus on learning. Here are 6 ways parents can do that by incorporating social and emotional learning at home. 

1. Schedule each day with the whole child in mind. 

The internet (can you imagine sheltering in place during the 1918 flu without modern amenities?) is replete with templates and suggestions for at-home distance learning schedules. What you may have noticed is that most of them do not allocate hours and hours for typical school activities or studying. That’s because—and I say this as an educator married to another educator with educators on both sides of our families and school-aged kids at home—that’s not necessarily what’s best for kids and families right now. Distance learning schedules should prioritize the needs of the whole child and the whole family, not just academics. The sweet spot for pure academic time might be in the morning, following a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast.  

The good news?   

Academic time during distance learning doesn’t have to mean staring at a textbook—or computer—for hours at a time. Many successful college students break studying down into short bursts, spend time searching for and digesting interesting information (not just poring over the textbook content), and constantly ask themselves questions about the material. In other words, they engage with the curriculum and make learning an intellectual game. Instead of “drill and kill” memorization, why not ask your kiddos “what did you learn today?” or ask them to explain something that they found interesting instead. 

In my house, we are definitely struggling to keep three kids on something resembling a schedule, but we really are making a conscious effort to schedule time for things that make life worth living, not just schoolwork. From Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems to getting outside for a family walk or bike ride, to scheduled video chats with friends and family, we are trying our best to do things every day that have nothing to do with school, but help us to focus on learning when it is time to do so, as well as tying in “teachable moment” based on their interests throughout the day. 

2. Take time to talk about feelings.

Last week my youngest child suddenly became upset and plaintively said to us, “I want to go back to school!” and “Am I ever going to see my friends again?” It was the first time she had expressed her true feelings about the current situation. And it floored us. 

Whether they’ll admit it or not, kids are feeling big feelings right now, and one of the best things parents can do is to take time to recognize that fact and build in time to talk about it in a safe and trusting family environment. Journaling, drawing, talking, and physical activity are all beneficial SEL practices to work into your family’s daily schedule. 

When taking time to talk about feelings, keep in mind the following tips

  • Be mindful of your own tone and posture. Kids take their cues from adults. 
  • Give children your full attention.  If working from home, it’s okay to wait to talk, but be sure to follow through. (Let’s be honest, following through is a biggie.) 
  • Be truthful, use kid-friendly language, and be prepared to redirect toward age-appropriate activities, like playing outside while maintaining social distancing or video chatting with a friend or loved one. 

3. Practice mindfulness and emotional regulation. 

Thomas Armstrong called mindfulness “the quiet revolution” and encouraged its implementation in the classroom. Absent the physical classroom space, you can absolutely incorporate mindfulness into your family’s daily routine and reap the social-emotional benefits. Mindfulness generally refers to mindful or meditative practices during activities such as breathing, walking, stretching, eating, etc. and there are an endless array of apps, tutorials, and websites that promote mindfulness activities for every age group. 

Attuning one’s mind to the present and de-stressing the brain is a powerful way to prepare for learning. It is also one component of the larger concept of emotional regulation, which for children—or any of us, for that matter—may be defined as being able to “identify, respond to, and manage their own emotional states, which helps them to establish and maintain relationships.” When children learn about and practice emotional regulation, they are not only more ready for learning, but to be healthier members of a family unit. 

4. Emphasize good digital citizenship. 

A key component of social-emotional learning is the development of prosocial skills, such as a willingness to help others and to be a good team member. The current distance learning environment presents a great opportunity for families to discuss and explicitly teach prosocial skills in an online environment; 21st century digital citizenship skills that are critical in today’s schools, workplaces, social media interactions, and more. 

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recommends that students not only learn to safeguard their digital reputations (a traditional parent concern, for sure) and to respect others’ rights, but also to become successful collaborative, empowered learners through good digital citizenship. Parents can work with their children to customize the use of the school’s learning management system (LMS), developing an organization and communication system that works best for them. Put it all together, and students feel safer and more competent in a digital environment, reflecting the spirit of SEL. 

5. Maintain a “public spirit”. 

Speaking of spirit, perhaps one of the best ways parents can help their children feel connected during this time of social isolation is to maintain an “active interest and personal investment in the well-being of one’s communities.” Parents can support this by having their sons and daughters check in with others via the school’s learning management system (LMS), video chats with relatives and neighbors, and more. 

In just the last month, my heart has been warmed by seeing students in our community spending time virtually with senior citizens, writing cards and other messages to healthcare workers, and mowing neighbors’ lawns, as well as supporting each other with positive messages on social media and other socially-distanced celebrations of what the social life of a school is supposed to entail. Just a few weeks ago, our school district hosted a virtual prom for the Juniors and Seniors who wouldn’t be able to attend the event otherwise. These are terrific things for parents to support, and you will feel more a part of public life, as well. 

6. Simply do the best you can.  

Parents are feeling overwhelmed. I am hearing this from parents every day. As a parent, I am feeling this every day! Just remember: Nobody’s perfect, and nobody has all the answers. It reminds me of when we brought our firstborn home from the hospital, looked at each other, and had no idea what the heck to do next. Our wonderful pediatrician told us not to worry, that nobody really knows what to do, but you just try to do the best you can and your decisions will be correct. So take some of the pressure off your own shoulders. You don’t have to build the world’s greatest distance learning environment at home from scratch. Do the best you can, and you’ll do just fine. 

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