Social-Emotional Learning in Early Years Classroom @ Ekya Schools & CMR National Public School

Understanding Socio-Emotional Learning:

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL, 2020) defines Social Emotional Learning as a process through which individuals acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, regulate emotions, accomplish personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain healthy relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. The five core SEL competencies namely, Self-awareness, Self-management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible decision-making.

Simply put, SEL will help children gain understanding about themselves- who they are and what they are feeling, and the world around them- to use this understanding to build healthy relationships, regulate emotions, and make responsible and caring decisions. SEL will help children to develop the ability to empathize and consider multiple perspectives. However, it is also important to note that the development of these skills takes time, and the idea is certainly not to rush the child. We want to raise a happy child and not a hurried child.

Social-Emotional Learning in classroom @ Ekya and CMR National Public School

Our classroom culture is built around kindness and respect. When students see respect, empathy and kindness modelled, they are more likely to respond in similar ways. Social-Emotional Learning is well integrated into the Early Years Curriculum, and ‘Empathy’ is regarded as an important aspect. There are multiple opportunities in the curriculum to ensure that students develop the ability to see the world from different viewpoints, and understand the diversity of thoughts and feelings in the world. Students are encouraged to express their feeling creatively through a variety of artworks.

Using circle time to support social and emotional learning. We have focussed circle time sessions built around social and emotional skills. Circle time makes for an important daily routine in an Early Years classroom, and we consider this time significant to ‘connect’ with students where they feel safe and valued. Circle time sessions are designed to stimulate curiosity and creative imagination, promote self-expression and develop social-emotional learning. The idea is to create a child-friendly space where students feel free to talk to their teachers and peers, and where they feel that they are being seen, heard and met, thus fostering a sense of belongingness.

Opportunities to express through various curricular programs: Self-expression is the key to social-emotional learning. Our young ones are provided opportunities to express their thoughts, feelings, opinions and perspectives. Various self-expression strategies are being integrated into the classroom culture and the curriculum. Students are given statements like, ‘I am happy when…’ to complete it with what seems true to their experiences. They are given imaginary situations to explore, ‘If I were a butterfly..’ which encourages them to verbalize their imagination. Creative expression is also nurtured through ‘drawing’ and ‘writing’ where students are encouraged to draw out their experiences, feelings and opinions. They are also further encouraged to show and describe their drawings.

Also, for students to develop the ability to sit, listen, and take turns in a group calls for several social and emotional skills, we had the Show and Tell time. During the show and tell hour, students are encouraged to play the role of an audience, patiently waiting for their turn, listening to their peers, asking questions, and sharing thoughts and ideas. The sessions are designed such that students get opportunities to talk about themselves. For example, asking them to show and talk about their self-portraits, artworks, artefacts; their favourite books, snacks, and help create awareness about themselves.

Through the Quest Program, we aim to develop inquiry, and awareness of the physical, social, the natural world and a sense of self and respect for social diversity. They are encouraged to reflect and ask themselves questions like ‘Who am I?’, ‘How am I special?’, ‘What sets me apart from another and makes me unique?’ This enables them to define their strengths, discover likes and dislikes, and what makes them unique and special. They are encouraged to express their thoughts orally and through drawing, writing and role play. Here are some snapshots from the Quest classroom!


Using SEL in storytelling sessions:

‘The hare and the tortoise’- an infamous old fable that says, ‘slow and steady wins the race’ celebrates the winner and frowns upon the defeated one. The hare’s perspective is rarely considered. Questions such as, ‘How do you think the tortoise felt after winning the race?’’, ‘How do you think the hare felt after losing the race?’ encourages students to ‘empathize’ with the characters, look at the story from different perspectives, and build their own opinions. To this, a 4-year old child shared, “maybe, the hare is not like that in real life, maybe it was just a bad day” and that he would win the race if given another chance. This is how students are encouraged to build better perspectives and points of view versus focussing only on the ‘moral’ aspects of a story.

A student constructed a story of his own and titled it, ‘A Boy Who Loves Papad’. The ‘boy’ in the story is aware of his food preferences and is involved in its making with her mother. He is also pictured sitting with the entire family for dinner.


Using instructional tools and strategies that encourage cooperation and teamwork:

Being able to get along with friends is seen as an important developmental task for young students, and the use of instructional tools and strategies, across different learning areas, helps them to get along with each other, cooperate and work together on the same task, share and take turns, and develop healthy peer relationships at school.

Using additional programs to talk about SEL: A program was designed to help students explore and think about different emotions and feelings. The aim was to help students become more aware of their own emotions and feelings, explore how likely they are to feel in different scenarios, explore how to help others deal with an uncomfortable emotion, and talk about their feelings and others. Students were encouraged to maintain a ‘feelings journal’, use a range of facial expressions and body language to act out different emotions and feelings, while also developing empathy and a language of prosocial behaviour



Here are some ways our parent partners can help develop Social Emotional Learning Skills at home:

While the Early Years curriculum is expanded such that the social-emotional skills are well woven into the curriculum, it is equally important to extend it into the home. Partnering with parents will help us to be more effective in nurturing the whole child. Below are some of the ways you can help develop social and emotional skills in children. You may already be practising these at home, however, the idea is to be more mindful of the aspects of social-emotional learning which may otherwise go unnoticed. Use familial moments to help grow your child’s SEL skills organically. For example, while playing a board game, visiting the grocery store, responding to a family experience. 

  1. Listen closely and empathetically.By being  good listeners, we value children’s emotions, opinions and perspectives. It is important for the child to feel that they are being heard and that their feelings are valued. Learning to listen is also an important aspect of social-emotional learning. The model is a great listener so that the child can also imbibe the same.
  2. Read books together.Bring in a variety of storybooks with varying characters, plots and settings. Encourage your child to read along with you. Discuss the character’s feelings. Encourage students to guess how the character might be feeling in the story, and why. Ask questions like, ‘What do you think the lion is feeling right now?’, ‘How do you think the hare felt after losing the race?’, ‘What if you were the lion in the story?’, ‘What would you do differently?’ such that the child is encouraged to talk about different emotions and feelings. You can ask some more questions like, ‘How did the story make you feel?’, ‘What was the happiest part of the story?’, ‘What was the saddest part of the story?’

Read all kinds of stories, and not only the happy ones. Using storybooks as a medium to talk about different emotions, and would help develop empathy- the ability to imagine how others are feeling.

  1. Monitor what children watch and watchtogether if possible. It is important to be mindful of what students are exposed to, through the media. Choose cartoons, and other media sources carefully. Use this time to talk about emotions with your child. Ask how the characters feel. Figure out if the characters are happy, sad, scared, angry, annoyed, or irritated. Discuss a range of emotions. You can ask the same questions as given above, ‘How did this cartoon movie make you feel?’ etc. Bring in drama, and role plays
  2. Talk about feelings and emotions.‘How are you feeling today?’ Being able to ask and answer this question is a key stage in child development, and important for maintaining good relationships. Bring in the vocabulary of feelings in everyday conversations. For example, phrase your sentences like, ‘It feels good that….’, ‘It is sad that….’. Also, invite your child to describe their feelings. Acknowledge the emotions as they are. For example, say, ‘I am sad we can’t go out today. How about you?’ Experiencing and talking about difficult emotions is okay. Acknowledge your child’s feelings using statements like, ‘I can see that you’re feeling annoyed. I’d feel annoyed too if that happened to me’ 
  3. Draw Emotions. Encourage your child to draw certain emotions and feelings. Children express themselves through drawings in beautiful ways.Art is also a great way to relieve stress and allows one to express emotions healthily. For example, Can you draw how Satya felt when he went to the farm with his mother (taken from the storybook, Satya, watch out!). Newspapers and magazines can also be further explored for different emotional expressions.
  4. Play games. Play board games like carrom boards, snakes and ladders, monopoly, scramble etc that require the child to wait, take turns, cooperate with others, solve problems and more.
  5. Write journals. One way to encourage children to ‘journal’ is by modelling ‘journaling’. Keep a journal of your own. Document your thoughts and feelings, and encourage your child also to do the same. Make it an exciting project. Build a journal together. Ask, ‘What 3 things best describe you?’Encourage your child to journal their likes and dislikes. Ask your child to draw things that make them happy or bring them joy! Journals will lead them to self-discovery!

Dr Pooja Maggu

Instructional Designer, Early Years Program

Ekya Schools


Posted by Ekya

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