Social and emotional learning happens everywhere—in the classroom, on the bus, at the kitchen table, on the playground, at a neighborhood barbecue—and families are core to a child’s social and emotional development. Supporting social and emotional growth at home impacts not only the children but the entire family. When children and their grown-ups have the tools to navigate stressors, challenges, changes, and really big emotions, we build more emotionally resilient families and communities.
Educators have worked hard to build closer bonds with families during the pandemic, and maintaining and deepening family engagement is top of mind. Social and emotional learning is at the intersection of home and school, and supporting social and emotional development at home should be a critical aspect of any SEL initiative. Building a common language at school that’s reinforced at home allows all of us to recognize the diverse and sometimes big emotions we have, express them in healthy ways, manage them appropriately, and hold one another accountable to do the same.
Here are five ways that educators can empower families to reinforce SEL at home.
1. Help Families Understand What SEL Means
Educators may have a clear understanding of “social and emotional learning,” but families may not be as familiar with the definition or how it’s referenced in education. Provide resources to families that will help them understand what SEL is and build awareness for their children’s social and emotional development. Introduce them to the important terms they may hear about SEL, like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship-building skills, and responsible decision-making.
Find out what families already know about SEL, and meet them where they are. SEL can be a vulnerable process, and families may have strong feelings on the subject. Be ready for these sometimes difficult conversations, and have research and data on hand to help address concerns.
Throughout the year, support ongoing engagement that enables families to connect with each other and the school community. Districts have done this through building an SEL resource page on their website for families, incorporating SEL strategies or activities in the school newsletter, sending resources home in backpacks, and coordinating monthly SEL family events to bring the whole school community together.
2. Provide Lists of Recommended Books
There are endless benefits to encouraging families to read together at home. Educators can help families build their home library with books that highlight SEL skills in action. Providing additional discussion questions can help families more deeply engage with their learner and strengthen specific social and emotional competencies.
There are many helpful picture books that teach social and emotional learning—like the ones listed here, with the SEL competencies and skills that are featured in each book listed. The list includes How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?, by Margaret McNamara, which fosters social awareness skills like respect and empathy; Rulers of the Playground, by Joseph Kuefler, which teaches relationship skills like listening and teamwork; and The Dark, by Lemony Snicket, which teaches self-management skills like resilience, to name a few.
3. Spark Creative Reflections With Prompts
Young learners may not be ready to put pen to paper, but they can still reflect on journal prompts through creative reflections and creative expression. Provide families with prompts like these:
- Create a list of five specific things you’re grateful for at this moment.
- Pick one person and write a letter to them expressing gratitude for something they said or did.
- If you could visit anyplace in the world, where would you go? What would you do? How do you hope to feel when you get there?
Offer families some reflection questions and creative modalities that their learners can use to share their ideas, like drawing their responses or acting them out. Families can also share these with older siblings as journal prompts.
4. Promote Family Bonding With Interview Activities
Another great way to promote SEL at home is to invite conversations about emotions. Educators can send home questions that invite young learners to speak with the adults in their family to learn about how they experience emotions.
Simple questions like “What does being happy feel like to you?” “How do you show that feeling in your face, your body, and your actions?” “When was the last time you were happy?” "What are some things or people who make you happy?” can ignite powerful learning conversations for preschool students.
5. Inspire Interaction With Participatory Podcasts
Interactive podcasts that encourage participation, movement, and social and emotional development are an easy way for families to engage their preschoolers in screen-free learning. Good options include storytelling podcasts like The Emotion Motion Podcast, from the Move This World Audio Network, which leads listeners through participatory SEL exercises, music, and movement; and Julie’s Library, from American Public Media, which invites listeners to hear Julie Andrews read her favorite children’s books.
Engaging families in SEL means giving families the resources to foster social and emotional experiences at home and the tools to reflect on those experiences together. When families reinforce key social and emotional skills and language at home, the impact ripples beyond the walls of a classroom. Now more than ever, educators play a key role in supporting social and emotional development at home.