Like us adults, many children are feeling confused, disconnected, and anxious about the future. Social-emotional skills can help children to better manage anxiety and are important in education because they help our brains learn more effectively. “If our brain is in fight or flight mode, then it’s not in learning mode,” Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale University Center for Emotional Intelligence, said.
As our school has made the transition to remote learning, we felt that it is critical to still keep social and emotional learning at the forefront of our curriculum. Here are five tips we have learned during this transition to help children with social-emotional skills when they are learning remotely.
1. Stay Connected
It is important for children to feel supported by teachers they have come to know and love, and still part of a unified learning community. At JCDS, we are trying to transition as many events and classroom rituals as possible to the digital environment to help children feel connected to a community. For example, we had a Virtual Spirit Week and teachers and students dressed as superheroes (including healthcare workers), in their favorite sports teams’ jerseys, or school colors. Anything we can do to help kids feel connected is beneficial. We are also calling to check in with every student, every week.
2. Be Grateful
At JCDS, one of the key mindsets we help develop in children is gratitude. Even if they may feel deprived of many things in their life right now, it can be helpful for them to reflect on all the things they do have like being able to be outside, having their pets close, and that their family and friends are safe and healthy. In 1st grade, students are asked to keep a Gratitude Journal so they can reflect on the positives in their lives daily.
3. Be Mindful
Yoga and breathing exercises make for great “brain breaks” for children and help fight stress and anxiety so they can focus on new information. One of the simplest and most powerful practices is breath awareness. Deep breathing induces a state of calm, improves focus, and reduces anxiety. Children can be taught to simply focus their attention on the breath, according to Harvard Medical School, as it is a form of beginner-level meditation that anyone can do.
There are also plenty of videos of kids yoga online. Yoga is a perfect exercise for promoting calmness that doesn’t require any equipment beyond a mat. Journaling is another healthy coping mechanism. Teachers can provide students with story prompts to jumpstart the writing process. Additionally, at JCDS, our School Counselor, Lindsey Powell, has been supporting students by having them make “worry monsters” so that their fears become tangible.
4. Get Moving!
Giving the brain a break and filling it with oxygen facilitates learning. Movement is important, even if there isn’t enough time or resources available for a full workout routine. An impromptu dance party or game of tag outside can make learning more effective when it resumes. Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki said that exercise in children helps their memory and mood, which are both conducive to better learning. Additionally, Dr. Suzuki said, “A simple burst of exercise helps students focus better.” In general, younger children need these breaks more frequently than older ones because they have shorter attention spans.
5. Live to Give
Thinking of others’ needs and not just one's own needs creates a mindset shift. You can sew masks for hospital workers and patients like our 3rd grade student, Neily,
or even just send an email or Facebook message to check on an older relative or church member who might be isolated during this crisis. Simply by thinking of others, the brain can become calmer and less centered on its own needs.
Social-emotional skills are especially useful in these times and when students are learning remotely. Every child is different, so experiment with the different techniques to see what works best. I would recommend that you explore some of these techniques every day in your remote learning routine to help your children to develop their social-emotional skills.
— Kate Kraiwec
To learn more about our approach to social and emotional learning (both remotely and in the classroom), please connect with us on Facebook