By Jessica Bouta, Licensed School Counselor, West Elementary
Social and emotional learning is a critical component to educating our children and preparing them for success in life. Such skills include the ability to manage emotions, problem solve, and work together. West Elementary currently integrates social and emotional learning through the use of our school-wide Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, the Second Step curriculum, classroom character education lessons, and story read alouds. This year, a number of classrooms in our building are also beginning to integrate a brain focused strategy to help our early learners practice these essential skills.
Through the use of the MindUp curriculum developed by the Hawn Foundation, students are exposed to 15 brain based core lessons. These lessons help develop self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. In early lessons, students begin by learning about their brain and how different parts function and interact. This includes becoming aware of emotions and how they can impede decision making skills if we do not acknowledge them in the moment.
Later lessons focus on developing a positive mind-set through perspective taking, performing acts of kindness, and expressing gratitude. Classroom lessons, discussion questions, reading stories, and making connections to core academic subjects are used to integrate these brain based topics into each school day.
Another component to this research based curriculum is teaching students how to calm their brains and bodies and bring a focused awareness to their thoughts and actions. This involves students participating in an activity to regulate themselves such as: deep belly breathing, stretching, and others. Practice in the classroom takes place throughout the day to focus students and prepare them to learn.
Teaching children how to be aware of when their bodies are beginning to experience strong feelings such as stress, worry, sadness, anger, or excitement is important. This allows them to practice techniques to calm and feel in control of their body.
You might be wondering what you can do to help your child develop a focused awareness to their thoughts and actions. Here are a couple of tips to get you started:
- Discuss with your child what their body and brain feel like when they are calm. Ask questions such as: What does your body look like when you are calm? What kind of thoughts do you have when you are calm?
- Strong feelings are normal. Talk about warning signs for when they are beginning to have a strong feeling.
Practice techniques they can use to get back to a calm, regulated state. This might include taking 5 deep belly breaths, reassessing what they are feeling, and repeating if necessary. Make this a part of your normal, everyday routine and it will be easier to use when strong feelings arise.
- Take time to pay attention to what is happening around you. Talk with your child about what you hear, see, smell, or taste. Pay attention to those around you and make a guess about how they might be feeling. How do you know?
By working together to teach social and emotional learning in both home and school we can help set our children up for success.