Monday, August 15, 2022

Social Emotional Learning in Homeschool

After the world upheaval of the pandemic during the last two years and the volatile political climate that we've seen, many kids are having a difficult time. Research shows a rising number of kids are experiencing anxiety and difficulty with self-regulation. And after a growing number of school shootings, parents and educators are looking for ways to reach and help children who are struggling. One of these ways is through social emotional learning. It's a foundation that can be worked on both in school and at home. I'm grateful to Dr. Gwen Bass for the following guest post on the importance of developing social emotional learning in children and how to do so in a homeschool environment.

This post contains affiliate links.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

As we head into another post-quarantine school year, many homeschooling parents are thinking about how to support kids’ academic development alongside their wellbeing. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on social emotional learning (SEL) – a framework that supports children in developing competence in the following areas:

  • Self-awareness 

  • Self-management

  • Social awareness

  • Relationship skills

  • Responsible decision-making

*Learn more about SEL competencies.

© Can Stock Photo / vaeenma

How SEL Helps Children

Positive social and emotional development has been shown to improve academic achievement and social skills. In schools, the SEL model encourages educators to introduce these skills using specific lessons and to reinforce them through “classroom climate.” SEL is often added on to the regular curriculum and taught through short lessons once or more per week, as time allows. 

But we’re learning more about the benefits of integrating SEL into daily activities. This gives children a real chance to practice the skills they are developing and encourages adults to not just teach SEL, but to model it. The more we can show, and not just tell, our kids that social and emotional skills are grown over the course of our lives, the better.

Research on SEL tells us that children are most likely to do well in learning and life when they: 

  • Understand themselves

  • Regulate their behavior and emotions

  • Demonstrate empathy

  • Are a good friend and collaborator

  • Make thoughtful decisions about how to achieve their goals

It’s important to note that we decide whether or not a behavior is “appropriate” or what “good self-regulation” looks like based on our experiences and our values - cultural or otherwise.  You and I might have different levels of comfort with, for example, a child who is yelling because they’re angry or one who is running around the house excitedly.  We might not react the same way when a child interrupts a conversation we’re having with another adult, or to a child who is shy and not playing with other children. 

How to Teach SEL at Home

When implementing SEL, you want to find a way to do so that aligns with your personal and cultural beliefs.  Think about the ways in which social expectations may vary at home and beyond, and talk with your kids about these.  

As a homeschooling caregiver, you will want to review the SEL competencies and come up with a description of what it would look like for your child to be successful in each of those areas.  Ask yourself: How will I be able to tell if my child has developed this skill?  What will I see them doing, or not doing? 

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you incorporate SEL into your homeschool routines:

  1. Let your child know what the goal is and create opportunities for them to explore and practice. Talk to your child about the skill you’re helping them develop, explain the importance of that skill, and point out situations where the child can use or practice the skill.  

For example: You notice that your child gets frustrated and leaves the table when learning something new.  

  • When they are calm, ask what they feel in their body when a task feels too hard, is just right, is too easy.  

  • Together, come up with a few strategies they can use to calm down when they begin to notice they are feeling upset. 

  • Throughout your lessons, ask them to check in with their bodies and practice the calm down strategies as needed.

  1. Talk about situations that elicit big feelings before they occur.  Anticipate moments that will be most challenging for your child.  Prepare them for what’s coming, talk about big feelings that might arise, and brainstorm strategies they can use to regulate.

For example: You’re getting ready to present your child with a new learning task that you think might frustrate them.

  • Make a schedule so they know what to expect (I’d suggest sandwiching the frustrating task between tasks your child can do easily and enjoys).

  • Look at the schedule together and ask your child how they think they might feel doing each of the activities listed. 

  • Together, come up with a list of strategies they can use to manage any big feelings (e.g., deep breaths, a walk outside, or a special signal they use to let you know they’re upset).  Remind them that you are there for support.

  1. Have your child help you come up with examples and non-examples. Be explicit about what it looks like to demonstrate a specific SEL skill.  Together, make a list of behaviors that align with the goal, and a list of behaviors that don’t. 

For example: Your child is getting ready to have a friend over, so you want them to think about being a good host.

  • First, have your child identify how they are feeling about having the friend over and ask them how they think the friend might be feeling about the playdate.

  • Have them name a few strategies they can use to keep themselves regulated during the playdate so they can have fun. 

  • Talk about how they could help their friend feel safe and welcome (e.g., picking out a few games the friend likes, showing them where the bathroom is when they arrive) and a list of things they could do that would NOT make their friend feel welcome (e.g., hogging all of the toys, not offering any snacks).  

  1. Model positive social skills and emotion management.  Children take their cues from adults, so we need to walk our talk when it comes to SEL. This doesn’t mean we need to get it right 100% of the time. When kids see adults making mistakes, taking responsibility for them, and trying to do things differently the next time, they learn to do the same.

For example: Your child sees you get upset and raise your voice to someone in the household.

  • Name the emotion you’re feeling, find a strategy to self-regulate (take a walk, a deep breath), and tell your child “I’m feeling ___________ so I’m doing ___________ to calm myself down.”

  • Once you’re calm, remind your child that it’s okay to have all kinds of emotions and explain how your emotions affected your behavior (e.g., “I was getting really mad and it was hard for me to control the tone of my voice.”)

  • Talk to your child about how you will repair the situation or what you hope to do differently next time.

As a homeschooling parent, it’s important to build your own self-awareness and empathy so you can offer your children the guidance they need to grow as social and emotional beings.  However you choose to incorporate SEL into your school and home life, be sure that it aligns with your household rhythms and your family’s culture, otherwise it will feel inauthentic and forced. Think about how you might adopt some of these ideas and SEL competencies, along with your own values and traditions, to help your children reach their goals.

Picture Books that Teach SEL

There are many wonderful books that you may use in your homeschool lessons. Here are just a few that we recommend...

by Janan Cain

by Julia Cook

by Zachariah O'Hora

by Douglas Wood

Dr. Gwen Bass is an educational consultant, parenting coach, and member of the EQuip Our Kids! speaker bureau.  Her work focuses on social-emotional learning, trauma-informed education, culturally responsive teaching, positive identity development, and special education.  She is deeply invested in supporting learning and wellbeing, especially for those who experience learning difficulties, mental health challenges, and/or who are coping with trauma. Dr. Bass provides consultation for educators and caregivers. For more information or to schedule a session visit:


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