Art can be a powerful tool to discuss and build social and emotional skills we all need for everyday success. While there are endless opportunities to integrate SEL skills into the day, art is one of the clear winners. It’s fun, engaging, creative, and motivating. There are also so many activities that allow you to talk about skills like emotions, problem-solving, relationships, coping skills, values, and more.
Reasons to Use Art
Here are some simple reasons why using art to target SEL skills might work best for you and your learners:
- Using art can motivate kids and young adults to learn new skills. Since art can be fun and creative, it can become the perfect tool to help draw kids and young adults in who may need extra motivation, encouragement, and support.
- Art encourages conversations. There are many questions we can ask before, during, and after art. Kids can discuss their art with others, including both peers and adults.
- Art serves as a brain break. Academic work can be challenging. Adding some art activities into the classroom (that also work on other meaningful skills) can be an excellent way to add breaks into the day.
- Art is the perfect window to work on other skills. Educators can use art as a pathway to help focus on other skills, such as self-awareness, confidence, social skills, problem-solving skills, and collaboration. Since art can be fun and motivating, it is often a perfect approach to working on those challenging but critical skills.
- Art is a coping skill. Art can be an extremely calming coping strategy for people of all ages. Teaching how to engage in art can be a lifelong strategy that helps someone manage emotions.
How to Use Art to Build SEL Skills
When using art to build SEL skills, the recipe for success is a simple three-step process.
- Introduce a SEL skill. Talk about a specific skill (such as self-awareness, values, or friendships) and discuss. This gives kids background knowledge before they start.
- Assign an art activity. Choose an art activity that helps kids work on that specific skill (some examples are below).
- Discuss. Have a group/class discussion about the art activity, integrating questions that help kids think about the skills they are using.
If you love these ideas, the activities listed below are from my Social Emotional Learning Art Activities lessons. These lessons and activities come with student printable pages and educator lesson plans to help you lead your students through learning about SEL as they get creative. It actually includes 40 lessons and activities to integrate SEL, giving you lots of resources for managing emotions, problem-solving, self-awareness, relationships, and more.
Of course, I also have them listed out 8 unique, fun, and engaging art activities below. Each art activity explains what skills they target, how to start the activity, and some discussion questions you can use to build on those skills in a meaningful way. One of the best part of using art for SEL is that you can choose how to introduce the topics and what materials to use getting started. Give some a try today!
SEL Skills: self-awareness, interests, being unique, confidence
Art Activity: Talk about self-awareness and what it means. Discuss that every person is made up of many different parts (like a puzzle). Using magazines, pictures, or newspapers, have students cut out words and pictures to create their own self-collage. This collage should represent parts of who they are.
Discussion: Share what is included in your collage and what it means to you.
Empathy in My Heart
SEL Skills: social awareness, empathy, kindness
Art Activity: Discuss what empathy means and why is it important. Explain that we can use our empathy skills to think and care about others around us. Have students draw a heart. Inside the heart, students should write out “EMPATHY.” Then, they can add colors, designs, or tear paper and glue it on the heart.
Discuss: Ask students to share how they can show they have empathy in their hearts.
SEL Skills: self-awareness, values, decision-making
Art Activity: Discuss what values are and how they help us make good choices. Read and talk about different values. Have students create an image or symbol to stand for each value (family, friends, respect, education, and so on).
Discussion: Discuss which values are most important to you and why.
SEL Skills: managing emotions, mindfulness, coping skills
Art Activity: Discuss what it means to be calm or relaxed. Explain that there are ways we can teach our bodies and minds to become calm. These are called coping skills or strategies. Coloring or drawing is one of those ways. Encourage students think about what colors they picture when they imagine calming colors. Have students color or paint calming colors across a paper.
Discussion: Talk about different calming techniques and strategies to use when overwhelmed or upset.
Free Draw Your Feelings
SEL Skills: understanding emotions, self-awareness, managing emotions
Art Activity: Talk about emotions. Have students independently draw and/or write about how they are feeling right now.
Discussion: Discuss how you are feeling. Talk about different emotions you might feel at different times.
Draw Your World
SEL Skills: self-awareness, interests, values
Art Activity: Discuss self-awareness and what it means. Before starting, let kids share some ideas of what is important to them (friends, family, food, sports, education, kindness). Have students illustrate on paper what is important in their world.
Discussion: Talk about what people, places, ideas, and things are most important in your world.
Flexible Thinking Clay
SEL Skills: flexible thinking, problem-solving
Art Activity: Discuss what it means to be mentally flexible. Talk about how we can change (or mold) our thinking to problem-solve in different situations, just like we can mold with clay. Sometimes that means going with the flow when things don’t go our way. Give each student some putty. Have them make at least 3 different designs. They can take a picture of their design or sketch it out before making a new one.
Discussion: Talk about times when you might need to be a flexible thinker.
SEL Skills: mindfulness, self-awareness, coping skills, emotions
Art Activity: Explain that mindfulness is learning to be present in the moment. That means not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. One way to become more mindful is just color and be! Hand out coloring pages and have students color independently. You can choose to add calming music while they color.
Discussion: Discuss times when you might practice mindfulness.
Calm Down Jar
SEL Skills: emotions, coping strategies, mindfulness
Art Activity: Discuss that there are many different ways we can calm ourselves down. This is an important skill so we can think clearly and do our best. Using jars (water bottles work great!) have students create their own calm-down jars. They can add glitter, beads, and other materials. Then, use them!
Discussion: Talk about different ways to calm down and relax in the moment.
MORE SEL ART ACTIVITIES
Just a remind that you if love these art activities, they are all included in this Social Emotional Learning Art Activities set. They walk educators through how to use art to build on skills for problem-solving, self-awareness, relationships, managing emotions, and more. With 40 unique, fun, and engaging activities, you can have enough for one art activity for the entire year. Click here to get started!
I hope these ideas have been helpful for you. Feel free to share and pass along the ideas if so!