The COVID-19 pandemic is still significantly impacting the lives of our students. We, as educators, must not forget to infuse opportunities for teaching the five competencies of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). There has never been a better time to provide activities to engage children and support them in expressing and dealing with the varied emotions they are experiencing.

Children are being subjected to enormous and abrupt changes from the loss of a family member or loved one, to fear of parents losing employment or their health. Probably for the first time in their lives, they are deprived of physical interaction with friends. They need to be concerned about safety when shopping for and handling groceries. They must get used to a different way of learning. In so many ways, they have lost the familiarity of life as they knew it months ago. These changes and more produce anxiety and stress—which can prevent and interfere with learning. The intent of infusing SEL activities in home learning is to offer opportunities that help children and families cope with disruptions that are occurring daily.

Studies show that when children experience social and emotional learning, it helps them to improve attitudes, behaviors, and achievement.  So, what can teachers do as they plan home-based instruction or remote learning? Due to social distancing, it seems educators might be limited in opportunities, yet it is more important than ever that SEL ripple into the home environment. Teachers have an opportune time to nurture SEL skills as they plan learning experiences. Teaching self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making is a necessary component of daily instruction. Remember the suggestions shared can be integrated by teachers into home instruction as well as made available for parents and caregivers to implement. Ideas can range from quick tips to experiences that children might participate in with siblings or with the entire family unit. Examples are shared here, in hopes that other ideas will be developed.

Self-awareness

  • Encourage conversations with children about the practices currently being used to remain healthy at home (e.g., wash hands, social distancing, personal habits).
  • Brainstorm additional ways to stay safe in the home. Create reminders with songs, images, or lists.
  • Encourage parents to provide appropriate information about the pandemic while limiting excessive exposure to social media to prevent misinformation.
  • Provide prompts that increase awareness and sustain good use of time:
    • What hobby can you begin?
    • What new exercises can you start on your own and then invite a family member?
    • What can you do to help your family reduce stress?
    • What are things for which you are grateful? What could be worse than situations currently experienced?
    • Think about and discuss the meaning of this statement: We can’t be together during the pandemic, but we are in this together.
  • List how the pandemic personally affects you and how it makes you feel.
  • Use prompts to guide children to self-reflect about home-based learning during and after the pandemic: I can, I enjoy, I believe, I wish, I regret.
  • Brainstorm a list of emotions. Have students go on an emotion search to see those displayed by family members or people observed on tv or online during remote learning. 

Self-management

  • Encourage the development and following of a schedule. Post if a visual reminder is needed during the day.
  • Foster a sense of safety and security with routines for school, mealtime, bedtime, etc.
  • Guide children to identify stress triggers or cues and discuss what actions to take when those triggers arise.
  • Teach children strategies for regulating emotions when overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious.
    • Pause, take 3 deep breaths, and think positive thoughts.
    • Use positive self-talk strategies to prevent outbursts.
    • Self-monitor to check and adjust behavior, thoughts, actions.
    • Engage in self-reflection to clear the mind and help gain control.
    • Pause and exercise to prevent emotions from escalating.
  • Have children respond to prompts by writing in a diary or journal when emotions interrupt routines or task focus.
  • Guide children to express feelings (e.g., conversation, movement, writing, music, art).
  • Weave break time into the schedule to ensure intervals of quiet or free time are infused throughout the day.
  • Teach children to take extra downtime or choose a strategy to regulate emotions if patience is lost with a family member due to spending increased time together.

Social awareness

  • Role play how you think others (e.g., health care workers, first responders, governors, small business owners, news anchors, delivery personnel) feel about their jobs during this pandemic.
  • Brainstorm: What might you and your family do to support others during this quarantine?
    • Promote family discussions using prompts, such as the following.
    • Why is it necessary to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak?
    • Why are we social distancing?
    • How is social distancing a way to prevent the spreading of this virus?
    • What are other ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
  • Encourage parents to continue to update their families about the pandemic—yet use caution and refrain from overloading or overexposure to what is broadcast on television or accessed via phone.

Relationship skills

  • Determine how technology might be used to maintain, improve, or extend connections with family members and friends.
  • Explore alternative ways to demonstrate encouragement while practicing social distancing to minimize germ spreading (e.g., handshakes without touching, elbow bumps).
  • Create opportunities to build connections with family members (e.g., family mealtime, family dance parties, family exercise).
  • Design creative solutions for building connections in the home among siblings and parents (e.g., send snippets of affirmations or video clips to lift spirits when sheltering in place and home learning is taking place).
  • Take virtual family tours of places of interest and engage in conversations about what you encounter, remembering to value the shared observations of others.
  • Prompt conversations with questions.
    • How can we use this stay-at-home opportunity to improve family relationships and interactions?
    • How does adding structure benefit our lives?
    • What thoughts and feelings do you think healthcare workers are experiencing? How is collaboration a necessary ingredient of their job success during this pandemic? Why is it important they continue building caring relationships with their own families?
  • Discuss why empathy is necessary for developing and sustaining positive relationships.
  • Recommend a compilation of actions to take that increase being a positive family (e.g., respond with a polite tone, be patient with each other, use words that express your manners like thank you and please).

Responsible decision-making

  • Invite children to voice or express concerns or worries, and then openly address them.
  • Teach children how to use their words to talk through problematic situations and learn how to compromise or use consensus.
    • Discuss: If you have a conflict in your home, how should you handle it?
    • Discuss: How do you maintain calm during the coronavirus outbreak?
    • Present a scenario that could occur in real time in the family and guide children to reach a reasonable resolution.
  • Model Thumb Decision Options to provide children with an opportunity to be heard: Thumbs-up-I agree, Thumbs-Sideways-I do not agree but am ok, Thumbs Down-I need more information or another solution. After solutions are presented, children voice their beliefs by displaying thumbs.
  • Present a situation: Your community and state will slowly change and return to a new normal after the COVID 19 crisis. Compare it to a metamorphosis. Life may be different but sometimes better than before.
    • Discuss this changing normal with family members (or a virtual conference with peers) to explore the impact on you and your family. What might this look like? What might be your responsibilities? Is that good or bad? Do you agree or disagree with what is being shared?
  • Discuss these statements, interpret the meanings, and draw consensus in shared understandings.
    • Staying home can be difficult but it can be positive.
    • We must always work together to get through difficult times. During the pandemic, there are no rules to help us navigate the situation.
    • A decision maker must be able to collaborate, adapt, inquire, examine, create, strive, make connections, communicate, and reflect.
    • It is essential for family members to be flexible when learning occurs in the home, whether it is online or with print packets.
  • Use puzzles, charades, cards, checkers, chess, and other games to explore strategies for making decisions that result in win-win situations.
  • Facilitate discussions on the importance of reflection during decision making (e.g., questioning what you did and why you did it, determining if there is a better way to behave in the future, talking about choices made and not made). Record thoughts in a problem-solving diary or reflection journal.

Attending to the social and emotional needs of children along with adults—during these unique and ever-changing times—can help all thrive with thoughtful interactions in managing anxiety and handling emotions. Social-emotional learning isn’t something we do only at certain times, nor is it limited to teachers in the classroom. It is a part of our culture, whether in school or at home. It will still be applicable when we can freely move about in our communities. SEL skills will always be used by children and adults as they navigate throughout life.