What is Social and Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning, or SEL, is an educational strategy centered on social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, self-regulation, and self-awareness. When put together in an academic setting, these categories foster personal and social development in children and youth.

Some examples of skills SEL supports are problem-solving, self-regulation, self-reflection, and practicing social skills like collaboration and empathy. Environments that implement SEL have an emphasis on discussion, inquiry, and self-expression.

Let’s dive into the five elements of SEL as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, their benefits, and how you can incorporate them into your everyday lives with your children and youth

Social Awareness

Being aware of the perspectives, values, cultures, feelings, and positionality of others is important for social relationships. Practicing social awareness helps us appreciate and support diversity and build spaces for equity and empathy.

One great way to engage in social awareness with your little one is to read aloud children’s books that contain perspective-taking elements and ask guiding questions that spark reflection. Here are 6 books that emphasize social awareness and empathy!

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills include our abilities to listen, collaborate, and problem-solve with others. These skills are helpful for constructing positive and healthy relationships with others. 

To improve relationship skills with your little one, foster a space for them to engage in types of play that guide them to practice collaboration, role-playing, and social interaction.

Responsible Decision-Making

Making decisions consciously and considering the outcomes of your actions are big parts of responsible decision-making

To practice this skill with your little one, communicate the reasoning behind the choices you make. One example could be: “I decided that I would share with my sibling because I thought about how it would make her feel welcome.”


This skill is relevant not only in school and education but also in everyday interactions and communications with others, and if strengthened, is helpful in social situations. The ability to regulate our emotions, thoughts, and behavior is vital to cooperation and communication. It also helps us create and accomplish goals!

To foster this skill with your little one, practice strategies of emotional regulation, such as counting to ten when upset, breathing in and out slowly when overwhelmed, and creating spaces where your little one can express big emotions.


Building self-awareness is important because it is related to how we recognize and reflect upon how our emotions, thoughts, and backgrounds may influence the way we think and act. When we are self-aware, we are able to engage with others thoughtfully and are more in tune with our feelings.

You can model this skill for your little one by verbally acknowledging your own emotions and thoughts, and explaining how those things might impact the way you act or want to act. One example is saying, “When I spilled the paint on my clothes, I was upset. Because I was upset, I wanted to stop painting.” You can then brainstorm solutions, asking your little one for their thoughts on situations and talking about how they would feel in different positions.

School-Family-Community Engagement

An overarching part of CASEl’s SEL framework is school-family-community engagement, which means that the support community programs provide is important too. Greentrike Out-of-School Time Intermediary (OSTI) is one connection that displays a crossover of spaces for children and families to access culturally responsive, play-centered, and learning-focused programs within educational systems. 

One example is how SEL is tied into Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) programs within Tacoma Public SchoolsBeyond the Bell and Club Beyond. A tool we use that nurtures self-regulation and self-awareness is our Emotion Check In, which assists children in identifying and expressing their emotions. From this point, children can communicate with others if they are experiencing big emotions.