young students hugging their teacher

SEL, or Social-Emotional Learning, is an important piece of a child’s development that was left out of school curricula for far too long. SEL helps students learn how to process their feelings, both positive and negative, in order to react to situations in healthy ways and maintain positive, healthy relationships with themselves and others. SEL can be broken down into five learning competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and making responsible decisions. Each of these competencies is important for students to master to unlock their own social-emotional strengths as well as identify their weaknesses. When SEL is taught to young learners, they grow up with a better sense of their own identity, show more kindness and empathy toward others, and can live a more fulfilled life. Here are our top five SEL activities for young learners to get started on their journey toward social and emotional well-being.

1. Circle Time

Circle time is a great activity for young learners who are more open-minded and aren’t constantly focused on being cool around their peers. In circle time, students discuss different topics or issues in an orderly manner, allowing each student their own uninterrupted time to talk. Circle time topics can be provided by the teacher or suggested by students, or both. Circle time needs to have set rules that are clearly communicated ahead of time (i.e. no interrupting, wait your turn to speak, take turns in a clockwise direction, etc.). It is very important for students to understand that circle time is a time to listen to others and provide positive feedback, not criticism or ridicule. Circle time gives teachers a chance to check and redirect “bully” behavior, teach students how to use positive words to convey their thoughts and feelings, and encourage students to interact with others outside of their friend groups.

2. Random Acts of Kindness

Kindness is a concept that is essential for developing and maintaining positive, healthy relationships throughout life, however, it can be difficult for young learners to truly understand. This isn’t because children aren’t kind…but children are ego-centric by nature, meaning they often do not consider the thoughts or feelings of others before acting. Learning to proactively consider the feelings of others may be a bit hard for the youngest students, so teach them about the good feelings they’ll get from being kind with the Random Acts of Kindness activity. Challenge students to do as many random acts of kindness for others throughout the day as they can. Whenever you witness a student engaging in a random act of kindness, immediately reward that student with a prize of their choice. Some great prize options may include fun novelty toys, accessories for their locker or cubby, a no homework pass, or the first spot in the lunch line. No matter what the prize is, students will quickly begin to associate positive feelings with doing kind things for others, laying the groundwork for higher-level thoughts about kindness as they get older.

3. Famous Failures

Positive feelings are great, but the reality is that life isn’t always a feel-good experience. Students need to learn that it’s okay to fail sometimes, and that they don’t have to beat themselves up over it if they do. A great way to teach that it’s okay to fail is with the Famous Failures activity. In this activity, you’ll introduce the kids to stories about famous people who failed spectacularly before achieving success. This activity works better if you use people the children are already familiar with (i.e. musicians, celebrities, etc.) Once they learn that one failure doesn’t mean they should give up, and that success can happen even after failure, they won’t be so hard on themselves when they do fail. This teaches kids empathy, how to process negative emotions, and the importance of trying in the face of adversity.

4. Instrument Charades

Not all communication is verbal, and Instrument Charades is a great activity to teach students how to identify feelings in others without words. To play this game, allow each student to pick an instrument from the classroom supply (recorders, harmonicas, kazoos, and drums are all affordable options for a classroom instrument supply, or collab with the school music teacher to introduce even more instruments). Give the student a card with an emoji on it, but instruct them not to show the emoji to anyone. Instead, have the student “play” the emoji using their instrument while the other students try to guess which emoji they are playing. This one can get a little chaotic, but it introduces students to non-verbal communication cues, problem-solving skills, and creativity.

5. Anger Icebergs

Anger never happens in a void, but when we’re angry, it’s hard to think about what made us angry in the first place. With the Anger Iceberg activity, students can get an in-depth look at the actual emotions behind anger, such as embarrassment, shame, hurt, guilt, disappointment, etc. For this activity, create individual handouts depicting an iceberg floating in the water. Only a small amount of the iceberg should be above the water, with 90% of the iceberg hiding below the water. On the part above the water, have students write the word “Anger”. On the part below the water, have student write or draw all the emotions they can think of that cause them to feel angry. You may be surprised at what the students come up with, and this gives teachers a great opportunity to discuss negative feelings with students and how to handle them in a healthy way.

Reinforce SEL with Fun Rewards and Prizes

Teachers have the unique opportunity not just to teach students academics, but also to help them be better people. No matter what subject your students are learning, positive reinforcement with fun toys and prizes from GEDDES is a great idea. When students get immediate recognition for desired actions or behaviors, they internalize those actions or behaviors as ones they want to do again. With SEL, use rewards when students act kindly, are considerate of others before themselves, process negative emotions without anger, or stand up to bullying behavior. GEDDES is here to help teachers accomplish their SEL goals with fun, affordable prizes that students really want. Check out our catalogs, browse our online store, or call 888-431-1722 for more information on how GEDDES supplies schools with what they need to make learning fun!