Did you know that healthy social and emotional development in early childhood helps children to:
- develop positive relationships
- experience, express, and regulate their emotions
- explore and engage with their environment
Children with well-developed social and emotional skills are more likely to:
- express their ideas and feelings
- display empathy toward others
- manage their feelings of frustration or disappointment more easily
- feel self-confident
- develop and sustain friendships
- succeed in school (social and emotional development is one of the most crucial factors in predicting school readiness)
Classroom activities that promote social and emotional wellness can be engaging, fun, and easy to implement, and they touch on a number of other developmental domains as well. Here are some examples of activities that could be included throughout classrooms and family child care programs to promote social and emotional wellness for children of all ages:
1. Happy Sad Sorting
Cut out photos of children and laminate them. Encourage the children to sort them into categories of “happy” and “sad.” This activity could be done with a mixed age group or a group as young as toddlers and can even be extended for use with older children by adding various emotions, such as angry, scared, surprised, etc.
Skills developed: self-awareness, attachments and social relationships, self-regulation
2. Mirror Drawing
Invite children to draw on a plastic mirror with dry erase markers for easy and reflective play (and easy clean up too). This activity can be extended for older children by having pictures or photographs of children experiencing a variety of different emotions; encourage children to explore the various emotions in the mirror. Infants also enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror (minus the markers, of course), and will develop self-awareness by doing so.
Skills developed: self-awareness, small motor control
3. Washing Babies
Create a baby washing station indoors or outdoors to help children learn the importance of taking care of themselves and others and working cooperatively with their friends.
Skills developed: self-concept, social relationships and cooperation, self-care
4. Family and Friends Photo Book
Invite families to send in photos from home of family members, friends, and even pets. Teachers can also take pictures of the children in the classroom or family child care program (with permission from families) to include in this book. Recognizing familiar faces during the day will help children feel more secure and at home.
Skill developed: attachments/social relationships
5. Cooperative Imaginative Play
The dramatic play area is a great place to facilitate cooperative and imaginative play among children. Children have the opportunity to engage in conversation with their peers and adults and to imitate and practice what they see in their own lives. Opportunities to problem solve abound through cooperative play, and the list of such activities is endless. Put restaurant take out menus, ordering pads and pencils, play food, and cookware in this area and watch the children work together, explore, and engage in meaningful conversation, all while building their friendships.
Skills developed: social relationships and cooperation, receptive and expressive communication
6. “Calm Down” Materials
Children of all ages need an outlet for managing their emotions, and a “calm down” box or bin is a great solution. If a child becomes overwhelmed, overstimulated, or upset, or even if s/he just needs a break from the daily routine, materials that represent a positive and acceptable means of managing his or her emotions will be well received. These materials can include glitter bottles, squeeze toys, textured balls, bubbles, play-dough, drawing materials, even calming music. Be sure to keep in mind the age of the children when choosing materials, to ensure optimal safety and enjoyment. This can be stored anywhere in the classroom or family child care program and would fit well in a cozy or more private area, with space for one or two children.
7. Family Style Dining
When meals are served family style, teachers and children can enjoy meaningful conversations in a relaxed environment, much like they would at home. As teachers sit with the children and enjoy a meal together, they can talk to the children about their day, as well as about the nutritious foods that they are eating. Children also talk among themselves, as they practice turn-taking conversations. They learn to use appropriate manners and also gain independence as they choose their own foods and portions.
Skills developed: self-regulation, receptive and expressive communication, fine motor control
Click on the button below to learn more about the benefits of family style dining from Nemours.
8. Greeting and Departure Sign-In and Sign-Out
Transitioning from home to school (and from school to home) can be challenging and even stressful for some children. These times of the day are also crucial for sharing information about a child’s day and other pertinent information. Encouraging children and their families to work together to sign in when they arrive and to sign out when the leave for the day makes this transition easier for children and also provides much needed time for teachers to converse with parents. There are many ways to implement this procedure, from a store-bought pocket chart, to a teacher-made chart with pictures of each child. Older children can practice their writing skills by writing their names on a white board as they arrive each morning.
Skills developed: social relationships, self-regulation, fine motor control, emergent writing
For additional information and resources on how to promote social and emotional wellness for young children, visit these websites: