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Key Takeaways:

  • Introducing social-emotional learning activities for all ages helps children become more self-aware, ambitious, and motivated.
  • SEL activities can range from simple actions like daily greetings to more complex explorations of feelings and experiences, like journaling.
  • The best SEL activities are easy to incorporate as part of a routine, straightforward, engaging, reflective, and stress-reducing.

Social-emotional learning activities can reinforce soft skills like emotional regulation, self-awareness, and communication in children and teenagers, whether at school or home. However, capturing a child’s attention can be a challenging task. So, how do you keep them entertained and educated?

This guide will walk you through 25 social-emotional learning activities for every classroom and home.

Social-Emotional Learning Activities for Kids and Teens

It’s easy to incorporate social-emotional learning activities for kids and teens in home and school settings. Here are a few simple yet engaging SEL activities to introduce to your child’s daily routine.

1. Daily Greetings

Start your day with personalized greetings like high-fives, fist bumps, waves, thumbs up, or silly gestures. This simple SEL technique makes children feel acknowledged and more comfortable in the classroom.

2. Emotions Check-In

Expressing and identifying emotions is a simple way to reduce stress [*]. Use a feelings check-in worksheet to gauge your students’ mindsets at the beginning of the day and explore healthy solutions to problems they may encounter.

3. Calm-Down Corner

Children should have a safe space to go through the motions of negative feelings. Dedicate a calm-down corner where kids can sit apart and learn to regulate their emotions. Here, they can practice breathing exercises with a teacher or counselor.

4. End-of-Day Reflections

The end of the school day is the best time to reflect on what went right and what needs improving. Ask your students questions like:

  • What are you most grateful for today?
  • What challenges did you experience?
  • What positive choices did you make?
  • How did you make others feel today?

5. Regulation Zones

Developed by Leah Kuypers, the Zones of Regulation enable children to identify better and understand their emotions [*]. The framework employs colors, with blue indicating sadness and exhaustion, green indicating happiness and calmness, yellow indicating frustration and worry, and red indicating anger.

Introduce a feelings thermometer in your classroom to help kids identify triggers and develop healthy coping skills.

6. Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations can do wonders for children feeling insecure in their abilities. Adopting daily mantras like “I am always doing my best,” “I’m constantly working toward my goals,” and “I learn something new every day” can put kids in the right mindset to succeed.

7. Alternative Progress Reports

Basing their self-worth on grades can force children to develop perfectionist tendencies, making it more challenging to succeed socially and academically. Providing feedback regarding a student’s enthusiasm to learn, perseverance, kindness, communication, and curiosity can help them identify strengths and weaknesses.

8. Social Scenario Roleplaying

Some aspects of SEL can be challenging to instruct explicitly. Thus, asking kids and teenagers to explore hypothetical situations can open productive discussions regarding ethics and differing perspectives.

Roleplay social scenarios by asking, “What would you do?” in specific circumstances. For instance, you might explore the appropriate ways to respond when a friend needs to make a difficult decision.

9. SEL Question of the Day

Reflecting on a question of the day keeps kids imaginative, even when the school day is over. Ask engaging questions like:

  • Who is your role model, and why?
  • If you had superpowers, what would you use them for?
  • What is your favorite color, and what does it make you think about?
  • What are you most afraid of, and why?

10. Gratitude Lists

A gratitude list can increase happiness, reduce stress, and encourage children and teenagers to think positively [*]. Ask them to write three things they are grateful for daily: small victories or grand changes.

11. Mindfulness Journals

Journaling has many proven benefits, including improving communication skills, sharpening memory, encouraging creativity, challenging negative thoughts, and enhancing immune function [*]. Some prompts for mindfulness journaling might include:

  • What made you worry today? How did you handle these thoughts?
  • What three productive things did you do today? Why are you proud of them?
  • What were three urges you resisted today? Why do you have the urge to do them?

12. Peer Biographies

Children develop more positive social relationships when they recognize and appreciate each other’s diversity. Ask them to interview a peer and write a short biography highlighting unique features and facts.

13. SEL Literature

Digesting SEL literature is an excellent method of introducing soft skills for shy kids who prefer independent learning. Choose books appropriate to your child’s age and interests.

14. Quote of the Day

Sharing quotes can be character-building. Have a few students share their favorite quotes daily and explain what they mean to them. Observe what kind of quotes they share—are they about friendship? Family? Goals? Use these quotes to open a discussion.

15. Goal-Setting

Depending on your daily structure, set aside time to help your kids set weekly, monthly, or yearly goals. Ensure these goals are specific, measurable, and actionable, then check in with your students occasionally. Goal-setting is a vital skill that keeps children organized and ambitious.

16. Habit Tracking

Tracking habits can teach kids to identify what works and what doesn’t. It also provides a sense of accomplishment, a desire to pursue ambitious goals, and a willingness to work harder.

17. 30 Days of Service

School-aged children can learn the value of helping others through a simple 30 Days of Service challenge. For instance, you might include these acts:

  • Compliment a classmate.
  • Volunteer at the local community center.
  • Write your favorite teacher a letter.
  • Repurpose something instead of throwing it away.

18. Collaborative Art

Art activities provide fun opportunities for self-expression. Ask your students to pool their talents to create a collaborative piece, like a mural, painted rocks, or parts of one big picture. You’ll notice each child’s individual style and how they mesh together.

19. Classroom Debates

Conducting debates doesn’t just open the floor to tough discussions—it provides a safe space to disagree and express opinions. If facilitating a debate with younger children, introduce simple but enjoyable topics like why ice cream is better than cake or why you should only eat fries with ketchup.

If facilitating a debate with teenagers, consider deeper topics like whether schools should enforce dress codes or whether letter grades are a good measure of a person’s intelligence.

20. Board Games

You’ll be surprised how much a board game can bring out of a person’s traits and habits. In addition, board games provide entertaining opportunities to improve decision-making and collaborative skills. Some classroom favorites include Outfoxed, Rush Hour, Battleship, and Scrabble.

21. Current Events

While learning about current events can be distressing, reading the news together can teach kids to consume media content responsibly. Teach kids to discern between fake news and reliable resources and corroborate facts. By reading the news, kids can separate provable facts from opinions.

22. Mind-Body Exercises

Children and teenagers are hormonal, and their emotions can occasionally feel unbearable. Practicing mind-body exercises like visualization or guided breathing can help them restore a sense of calm.

Use our Unwind Your Mind poster to remind your students (and yourself) to take a step back and breathe!

23. DIY Stress Balls

Making DIY stress balls nurtures creativity and provides an excellent opportunity for teachers and parents to discuss what their kids might be stressed over. You can use easy-to-find materials like balloons and slime—even teenagers will enjoy this activity!

24. Classroom Jobs

Assigning classroom jobs allows for a sense of responsibility and provides opportunities to enjoy achievements. Classroom jobs can also make management easier for teachers and help them identify their students’ strong suits.

25. Interest Presentations

All students are passionate about something. Why not provide a judgment-free space to share their interests? Interest presentations allow students to connect with their classmates while discussing something they love.

The Bottom Line

Social-emotional activities equip students with real-life skills they’ll use in and outside the classroom. Developing their social skills early on will guarantee greater success and enhance their ability to connect with others.

Make your child’s learning experience more enriching with our social skills worksheets!

Sources:

  1. Kane HS, Wiley JF, Christine Dunkel Schetter, Robles TF. “The effects of interpersonal emotional expression, partner responsiveness, and emotional approach coping on stress responses.” Emotion, 2019.
  2. “The Zones of Regulation.” 2023.
  3. Gottlieb R, Froh JJ. “Gratitude and Happiness in Adolescents.” Advances in psychology, mental health, and behavioral studies (APMHBS) book series, 2018.
  4. Woodbridge L, Brenda Rust O'Beirne. “Counseling Students’ Perceptions of Journaling as a Tool for Developing Reflective Thinking.” DigitalCommons@SHU, 2017.