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How Can Teachers Support Social-Emotional Development

Many people assume that it’s the parents' job to support the emotional development of their kids. While providing this support is certainly part of a parent’s job description, some of the most impactful emotional and social lessons are learned in the “real world” where children don’t have the protection of their parents. 

When we’re kids, school is the place where we socialize with others and learn some of life’s hardest lessons. That’s why many teachers often wonder how to support social and emotional development in the classroom as children traverse these important periods in life.

The good news is that there are many effective social-emotional learning activities for teachers to implement with their students that have been shown to positively affect children's development.

If you’re a teacher looking for strategies to promote social and emotional development in the classroom, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how teachers can nurture their students’ holistic development and what their role is in the process. We will also suggest different learning activities that can fit into your lesson plan and make things a bit more fun and engaging for students.

What is the Role of the Teacher in Social-Emotional Development?

There is no simple guidebook telling you how to promote social-emotional development in the classroom, as there are many factors that have to be considered. First—the age of the students, as social-emotional development usually begins at a young age. Second—the role of the teacher. It can be difficult to recognize how involved a teacher should be and what the boundaries are, so exactly what is the role of the teacher in emotional development and social support in school?

Teachers are often the emotional leaders in a classroom. One of their primary roles is to identify, understand, and manage the emotions that run in their class. Teachers notice the dynamics between students and find the right time to intervene if needed, they should recognize when students are struggling and provide the necessary support, etc. Additionally, the behavior and emotional state that teachers exhibit is especially important in primary school environments, as younger kids often look to teachers to know what they should be doing. 

All in all, the role of teacher in social development of children is to be a role model, a supportive adult, and of course, a teacher! Teachers should do what they do best and help support social-emotional learning in the classroom by implementing engaging activities and lessons. With all of that said, let’s get into some specifics on how you can use activities to promote your students’ development.

Activities to Promote Social-Emotional Development

When it comes to teaching social skills in the classroom, games can be your best friend. It can be uncomfortable and ineffective to directly ask kids about emotions and social topics, as they can be very personal and it may be difficult for younger students to conceptualize them. However, games and activities provide an organic way to expose students to social situations and get them thinking about their emotions. 

Social-emotional-related activities can help students develop new skills and learn the boundaries of proper social interaction. This is one of the reasons why school is so important for children; in addition to learning about writing strategies, grammar, mathematics, and science, school gives kids their first taste of interaction with peers and allows them to learn about and build relationships.

If you’re looking for activities to promote social and emotional development in toddlers and elementary school children, here are a few good suggestions to start with: 

Make emotion masks. They are a great way to start talking about emotions in a fun way. Draw the emotions of happiness, anger, silliness, and sadness on a few pieces of paper and then show them to the class and make them guess the emotion. You can also have the students draw their own versions of emotions. 
Teach them yoga poses. Not only is yoga a great way to calm down and give the mind time to rest, but it’s also an excellent way to get some activity in the kids' school day. While doing a short yoga lesson, you can encourage your students to think about things that make them happy and relaxed.
Tell stories. Sharing stories is one of the best ways to teach kids about emotions, whether it’s through reading a book out loud, showing a short film, or making up a story together. For children that are old enough, you can encourage them to write their own stories based on some fun writing prompts. After reading/watching the story, you can ask your class questions about what emotions the characters were feeling.

Social-Emotional Learning Activities: Virtual

For almost two years, educators have worked hard trying to figure out the best way to teach and support their students’ development online. It can be challenging to socialize and forge emotional connections remotely because we’re used to being physically close to people so we can read body language and make eye contact.

Despite the challenges, it’s important that teachers continue to support their students’ development, especially if they have younger classes. Gaining strong social-emotional skills as a child is essential to so many aspects of adulthood, including the ability to form healthy relationships, set boundaries, interact with others appropriately, and be self-confident and assured in one’s emotions.

There aren’t any step-by-step instructions on how to promote social development in the classroom in an online environment, but we can give you some recommendations for implementing social-emotional learning activities virtually: 

Show and tell. Get students to pick a favorite book, toy, movie, etc., and then have them explain to the class over Zoom why it’s their favorite. You can also have discussion threads on a platform like Google Classroom.
Live quizzes or Kahoot. There are plenty of emotion-related games that you can play online that will get your students interacting. You can play emotion matching games, small quizzes that support emotional intelligence, or online games where students have to work together to find a solution (riddles or puzzles).
Get your class laughing. Get your students’ creativity flowing by asking them to come up with their funniest jokes. Have them share with their classmates on Zoom or post them on your online classroom platform.
Guess who. Kids submit facts about themselves, the teacher reads them, and then the class has to guess who that person is.

The Importance of Social-Emotional Development in Early Childhood

Our childhood significantly impacts who we become as adults, so proper social and emotional development in the early years of life is critical. The importance of social-emotional development in early childhood can’t be overstated. Young children have difficulty managing and identifying their emotions, and they often find it challenging to interact with others at first. Their brains are not yet fully developed, and in addition, they don’t have a lot of experiences that could help them understand these concepts.

This is why social interactions are so important for kids. Interacting with others helps children learn how to deal with disagreements, how to make friends, how to control their own reactions, and so much more. The role of the teacher in this process is to lead and to teach kids the proper way to communicate with one another, as well as to nurture their understanding of their own emotions. 

Young kids don’t need complex lesson plans and hour-long activities. Social-emotional development activities for preschoolers can come in the form of simple games that allow kids to have fun while developing these key life skills. Social and emotional development activities for 2-3 year olds can be even more basic, such as:

   • Roleplaying with toys
   • Telling stories
   • Playing make-believe
   • Reenacting plays or scenes from movies

Social-Emotional Learning Activities: Kindergarten

Kindergarten is an interesting time for many children. They begin understanding the world around them and are old enough to retain fundamental academic lessons as well as social-emotional lessons. At this age, fun and exciting games should be used to engage kids and make learning a positive experience.

If you’re a teacher of young classes that wants to implement some social-emotional learning activities for kindergarten students, consider the ideas below:

Draw a self-portrait. Get kids to draw themselves and add details about how they’re feeling today with colors and facial expressions. Have them write a few words describing their picture.
Do puppet shows. Puppets can be a great tool for explaining emotions to children. You can also find videos online starring puppets that talk about emotions and display social interactions.
Dancing. This physical way of getting energy and emotion out can help kids express themselves.
Playing sports. Competition can teach children many valuable life lessons, and playing on sports teams is an excellent way to show kids how they can resolve issues, work together, and accept both wins and losses. Of course, the sports will have to be age-appropriate, like gymnastics, tee-ball, soccer, and dancing.

Teaching kids to deal with their emotions and socialize with others is vital, and lessons should start at a young age. Teachers can help ensure that their students’ social-emotional development is prioritized along with their academic advancement by implementing age-appropriate activities and acting as a great role models.

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