With the winter holidays upon us, our lesson plans are starting to shift. We’re wrapping up lesson plans, reviewing important topics that we don’t want students to lose over break, and planning holiday parties. Can we really add social and emotional learning on top of it all?
Luckily, SEL blends in seamlessly with holiday learning. We’ve gathered three simple steps to help you easily add social and emotional learning to your winter curriculum. Use one or all, and don’t forget to let us know how it goes!
# 1: Help Students Build Empathy by Giving to Those in Need
Our first tip for adding SEL into holiday curriculum can make an impact far beyond the classroom, both tangibly and through increased empathy. Feeling and showing empathy are key building blocks in social and emotional learning. They help students understand the perspectives of others, as well as show them that they can make a positive impact on the world around them.
One way to build empathy is to examine what less fortunate individuals go through on a normal basis. When students see the true impact of not having enough to eat, for example, they may start to look for ways to help feed hungry members of their community. They may also start to dig deeper into the seemingly negative attitudes or actions of others — could it be caused by a significant challenge they’re facing?
Bring this form of empathy into the classroom by encouraging kids to make a difference in their communities. You could host a canned food drive, or take a field trip to a local homeless shelter to volunteer. These seemingly small exposures can play a big role in building empathic adults in the future. And of course, they impact the lives of those in need positively at the same time.
#2: Create a Chain of Kindness for SEL Holiday Curriculum
We’ve all seen classrooms filled with colorful, construction paper chains. But did you know they’re not only good for decorating? You can create a “Chain of Kindness” with your students by having children write down the kind things others do for them on strips of paper, and attaching them to the chain.
This SEL holiday curriculum activity will help students recognize the impact of others’ actions as well as their own. It will provide boosts of confidence when their names show up unexpectedly. It may even help build emotional vocabulary by offering a chance to practice positive, emotion-related words.
This idea can be used in all age groups. Older kids can read and write the actions on their own, while younger learners may need your help to perform one or both of these actions.
#3: Learn About Various Holidays
Another way to build empathy and SEL skills through holiday curriculum is to learn about those who are different than us. Maybe your entire class celebrates the same way, or maybe you have several cultures and religions within your mix. Either way, it is beneficial to include all winter holidays in your celebrations.
By learning about other cultures, children learn that different is beautiful. They start to see others in a new light. Self-awareness and self-recognition are boosted as they see how they fit into the larger population. They strengthen social skills by learning to accept and communicate well with people of all backgrounds. They may even find confidence in themselves as their own traditions are celebrated.
And on top of these three tips, remember to show some grace toward your students. The holidays are enjoyable, but they can also be difficult. Some students may be experiencing grief as they go through traditions without a loved one for the first time. Others may have trouble finding regular meals when school is on break. Others yet might just have a hard time sitting still as they anticipate gifts, treats, and family fun.
When you take the time to show compassion to your students, you’re teaching them patience and empathy firsthand. We promise your kindness toward them as they do hard things will not be forgotten. It will serve as a stepping stone toward the strong, compassionate, and socially-emotionally confident person they’ll become in the future.
And overall, remember to have fun! This time of year is for learning, yes, but it’s also for memory-making. Incorporate SEL naturally into your holiday curriculum and enjoy this time of year with your students. The small steps you take will make a difference for many years to come.