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Design your own social-emotional learning activity for middle childhood

In this video, Dr. Stephanie Jones and Rebecca Bailey from the Harvard EASEL Lab discuss how they create SEL activities for children.
Picking up from where we left off in the last step. In this step, we’re going to learn about what it takes to create social and emotional activities for children. We have Stephanie, and Rebecca here who are going to guide us and they are true experts on the subject. They’ve spent over 10 years creating SEL interventions for children. So to start us off, I’m curious about what inspires you to create these activities, interventions or kernels, as I’ve heard you call them. That’s a great question. We really wanted to think about how we can make social-emotional learning or SEL everyday. So there’s lots of great work in social-emotional learning. There are lots of great programs and curricula, but they can be complicated.
And even though they are complicated, they are great. But we really wanted to distill down to practice and essential strategies that could happen at home, that could happen in the community, that could happen at school. They could be everyday. That’s right, so the idea behind kernels was really to get to the heart of the activity where kids are really building skills with each other with their peers, with adults in their everyday environments and really get to the kind of nugget of the skill building and make it fun and interactive and something that kids could do in different places at different times. So walk us through how you create these SEL kernels.
At the risk of oversimplifying, we’re going to take a lot of ideas and concepts that we’re going to distill them into just a short number of parts that we’ve have honed over the years, wouldn’t you say? And it really begins with thinking about exactly what you want to focus on and then making it very clear. And sometimes we say explicit, which is like if we were to work on emotions, we should be really clear about what emotions they are and how those emotions play out in real life, in real behavior with kids. So that’s the first step and I’ll let Becca say the second step.
Sure, so the second step is really to create an activity, something that’s fun and engaging. Something that kids want to do, whether they’re doing it by themselves or with peers or with adults, but the idea is something that is active and engaging and gets them working with concept or trying something out. Trying out some kind of interaction, which can be talking about emotions or learning how to resolve a conflict or just practicing effective communication with peers and to make it fun, we look to the things that kids love to do. So playing games, doing crafts and activities, telling stories, reading stories, building on stories that the kids are already familiar with.
And I think one idea is really that it’s something that kids can do many, many times. So practice and multiple opportunities to try something out is really important. So if we were to describe that in just a few words, which is always hard, we would probably say something like doable, really fun and something that is adaptable. So it could change. So as you do it multiple times it could change or it could change to suit the particular needs of any particular child. Yeah exactly, and we want the activities to be adaptable so that they can get harder or easier, which might be about meeting the child right where he or she is at.
So that something is challenging and engaging, or that it’s simpler if it needs to be simpler but also adaptable so that you can use different materials or different things that are in the environment. And also build on different interests of different children. Yeah, so the last step is, that we partner with parents, with families, with caregivers, with teachers in schools to try things out in their setting and then give us feedback and then we revise them. Yeah, that’s been an important part of our work at the Easel Lab. That’s definitely a big piece of how we design SEL as we try something out with kids and with adults and really get feedback and see how it works.
So one thing I would say just I was thinking about it before and I didn’t say it. Now I want to say it, which is if you’rethinking about designing something, something that you might do on your own. Think about the things you do everyday and use those things and turn them into games to build skills. OK I love this and it actually sounds like creating SEL activities has a lot in common with my experiences writing educational television for kids or family. But here’s a question. How do you know that the kids participating in these activities have actually learned something?
Everybody wants to know the answer to that question, and it’s really lots of different things, but one area we begin with always is to ask kids like what was it like to do that activity with me to play that game with me? What happened? What did you notice? What did you learn? What happened between us when we were doing that game? So we really try and build a conversation with children and with adults about what happened. That’s right. So one example might be if kids are doing some kind of activity that helps them to talk about their emotions, talk about their feelings. We might ask kids afterwards. What did that feel like?
What do those emotions feel like to you and what does it look like when you see them in others and how can you tell if someone else is feeling something? And those kinds of questions are an opportunity to reflect and to think, but also an opportunity for kids to share and in listening to what kids say? That’s kind of how we see what they’re learning and what they’re thinking about. And of course, we always have to throw in an oddball question just to
make it fun, like: Do plants have feelings? First of all.
Definitely look how happy this plant is. That’s a happy plant Stephanie and Rebecca. Thank you for walking us through your tried and true process of creating doable, adaptable, fun SEL activities. And we’re going to take everything that’s definitely in Rebecca said, and break it down into a guide that you can use to create your own SEL activities.

In this video, Dr. Stephanie Jones and Rebecca Bailey from the Harvard EASEL Lab discuss how they create SEL activities for children.

After watching the video, go to the next step and download the template for you to create your own SEL activity.

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