In the midst of a challenging situation, it’s critical to make time and space for social emotional supports for learners. Simply put, social emotional skills are the foundation for overall well-being. Kids and teens need to feel safe, respected, loved, and valued. They need to have strong coping skills to work their emotional challenges and they need to improve cognitive flexibility to deal with the changes that are happening, so many outside of their control.
For these reasons, it’s important that social emotional skills take the front seat when it comes to distance learning. While these skills are important all of the time, it’s easy to argue that learners need them now more than ever.
Whether you are a classroom teacher, school counselor, social worker, paraeducator, or parent, this list includes specific strategies and ideas to help support all learners during this distance learning experience.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Read Stories
It’s easy to say that literature is a great way to integrate SEL into the day. Pretty much any book or short story targets a variety of social emotional skills like kindness, empathy, perspective-taking, and more. It’s important to note that picture books aren’t just for little kids. Many older kids love a good read aloud, too!
Record a video of you reading a text (making sure the author gives permission for this first) and send to your students. You could even do a live read aloud with some videochat tools, like Zoom or Screencastify.
Use this free digital and printable list with ideas for SEL read alouds.
If technology isn’t an option, you can always recommend students and families read books as use. Use this free printable that highlights picture books for every area of social emotional learning.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Virtual Morning Meeting
Morning meeting is the semi-structured time of day when students and educators greet each other, check-in, and learn some important skills before starting the day. While it’s certainly preferable to lead a morning meeting in a face-to-face way, it’s also important to note that virtual morning meetings can work, too!
One of my favorite ways is to use a video conversation app, like Flipgrid, to start the conversation on a daily SEL topic. Topics you could choose might be positive self-talk, staying organized, or showing kindness. The specific topic is really up to you. After choosing the topic, record a video of you briefly explaining the skill.
Then, ask a question you want kids to respond to. If you are focusing on kindness, you might ask them to share a kind act they’ve done in the past week. If you are highlighting strengths and abilities, you might ask kids to talk about something they are great at doing. The best part is that with a video conversation app like Flipgrid, kids get to connect with you and each other.
Another option is to schedule a weekly or daily time with your learners to meet online using the software or programs your school is encouraging. That might be Zoom or any other program, depending on your school or student needs.
If you need some extra ideas for morning meeting topics to discuss, I’ve created this set of morning meeting cards for older learners and this set of morning meeting cards for elementary students. They specifically target one SEL skill every day, making it easy to go over all the skills kids need in every domain of social emotional learning.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Virtual Emotions Check-Ins
This is a stressful time for everyone, kids and teens included. Spend 1:1 time with individual students and check-in with how they are doing. Use this virtual conference time to ask students how they are feeling, what strategies they are using to focus on wellness, and techniques for managing stress.
Virtual check-ins can be simple messages through emails or Remind, or they can be in the form of videos using Google Hangout or other video programs.
Use this free digital and printable activity as a mindful morning check-in.
I also created this free digital and printable mindful morning activity to help learners start off the day in the right way.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Digital Task Cards
As an educator, I have always loved task cards. They are a simple activity to teach skills in a way that feels so different from a worksheet. Of course, in times of distance learning, it might not be as practical to send sets of task cards to each of your students. That’s where digital task cards come in.
For many of my favorite social emotional task cards I’ve already created, I have added a digital component. This makes it easy for kids and teens to still get the social practice they need, while responding to the cards right on the digital Google Drive page.
While there are many distance learning activities to choose from, these social problem-solving task cards are a free set to get learners started.
Use these free digital task cards to help learners work on social skills.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Video Instruction
Using videos can be a valuable tool in teaching a variety of skills. Some educators are using pre-recorded YouTube videos to share with their learners, while others are recording their very own personalized videos to send to their students.
If you aren’t quite sure how to get started, try recording yourself on your phone while teaching a mini-lesson to your students. For example, you might record a lesson teaching about using coping strategies, using positive self-talk, or practicing mindfulness (all skills that are extremely important right now).
Make a quick video just to practice and get started. Then, send it to your learners. Not only will you be sending valuable skills, but your students will love seeing you teach again.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Digital Lessons and Workbooks
One of the best ways to provide lessons through digital learning is Google Classroom. Using Google Drive digital-friendly resources, students can respond right on the workbooks and activities. Not only does this make things much easier for the student and families at home, but your students can then send their completed assignments straight back to you for review.
Browse a complete collection of digital resources for kids and teens.
I have added digital versions to a number of social emotional resources already. The reason why I’m adding digital version to pre-existing materials is simple. If you have already purchased a social emotional activity from me, you get the update for free. You deserve to have both options so that you can use digital materials now, but always have the choice to using print/paper copies in the future. Browse through the complete collection of digital resources to get started. Many resources are paid, but some are free, too!
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Using Apps and Websites
There are a number of websites and apps that students can use to practice social emotional skills. Some are free all of the time, while others have offered free membership for a period of time. Some possible apps and sites to try out include:
- Breathe, Think, Do
- Emotional ABCs
- Smiling Mind
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Daily Journal
More than ever, now is a great time to get kids journaling on a daily basis. Not only is writing in a journal a calming and mindful activity, but it’s also a great way to help kids share thoughts and feelings. Even more, you can use journaling as a specific way to target social emotional skills.
Each day, assign a journal topic for kids to write about. For example, you might have them list out some positive thoughts and then writing in a journal about how positive thoughts can be helpful.
Another simple strategy is to encourage kids to journal about their thoughts and feelings each day. Not only will this help them in the moment, but we are living through historic times, so it will be meaningful to them later on.
If you are looking for a simple solution, there are many pre-made digital journals to choose from. You might have students fill out a daily mindfulness journal, for example.
Use a daily journal to target social emotional skills.
My favorite journal, though, is a daily SEL Journal, with every week targeting a different social emotional skill. I created this SEL Journal for elementary students and this SEL Journal for older learners.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Family Check-Ins
With all that is going on, it’s also important to check in with families. If we want kids and teens to do well, we need to also support the families they live with. Provide a weekly check-in with families just to briefly ask how things are going and if they need any support.
With a weekly check-in, educators can also suggest a couple of simple activities for families to help build SEL skills at home, such as reading literature, playing board games, having conversations, or even watching a movie together and talking about how characters feel. It’s important to note that there are numerous strategies to work on SEL at home, but we have to give families the tools to get there.
SEL Distance Learning Strategy: Assign Mindful Activities
Whether learners have technology or not, educators can always encourage mindful activities at home. Assign 10 minutes of mindful time each day. You can ask students to complete a specific activity or have them choose from some ideas below:
- Drawing or coloring
- Free journal writing
- Spending time outside
- Go on a mindful scavenger hunt
- Practicing deep breathing
- Listening to music
Use digital mindful breathing cards to help focus on self-regulation skills.
One of my favorite mindful activities is mindful breathing because it’s a strategy kids can use anytime. I recently added a digital version to these mindful breathing cards, making it easy for kids and teens to carry them along with them wherever they go.
If you’re still looking for ideas, know that I have several free digital resources you can download and send home to students and families right away.
Side note: I’ve recently gotten some questions about how to properly send materials to students/families, so I’ll share here, too. All of my resources, free and paid, can be sent to families and students through e-mail or any other password-protected means, like Google Classroom or an app. Just please don’t post openly on a website, since these can be found from a Google search.
As always, if you have any questions or feedback, please reach out. Thank you for all you do.