Social and Emotional Learning Around the Clock

How We Can Use Research-based Strategies at Home…

“I’m excited to share music from Pakistan and Iran with you today and learn about the instrumentation used,” said Teacher Jason (a.k.a. “Dad”). Today, as we do each morning, we began the day outside in our backyard with coffee, juice, and a go-around of what we are looking forward to learning and experiencing in the coming days and weeks. We are in the third week of our homeschooling experiment that we never ever imagined would be a reality. We believe in being a part of a school community so the thought of only learning with our family seemed to go against our core values. But life changes have created just the right circumstances for us to try out homeschooling. Our son is high risk for COVID and as we attempted the remote learning option and found that the teachers could not focus attention on both the in-school classroom and the learners at home (we recognize teachers are highly capable but also, human), we decided this could be a unique chance to fill in some gaps we’ve experienced in his education (and there always are gaps no matter how wonderful the school).

So many of us are faced with a reality for our children’s education that is far beyond our wildest imaginings. Many of our children and teens are learning at home part or all of the week whether still attending their own school or homeschooling as we are. And this learning is often taking place while parents are attempting to hold down full-time and/or part-time jobs or keep a business going. There are pod cooperatives where families have joined together, perhaps hired a tutor and are schooling in a small community. Whichever your circumstances, there is a unique opportunity for us to include social and emotional learning into our children’s educational experience in a way that we haven’t had the chance prior to this global pandemic. Families can now learn research-based practices that teachers use in schools to inspire, to motivate, to connect and to build invaluable life skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

Though it is a true privilege to have the time and flexibility throughout the day to homeschool or. actively support remote learning, even those who are stressed and pressed for time managing a full-time workload while at home can look to certain social and emotional learning practices to support their entire family in cooperating, in working hard and in managing the stress that is surely felt by all. The following ideas note specific ways that families can build rituals and routines into their day with special notation for those which are coping with the busiest, most consuming parenting schedules.

This is a moment in our history that we will reflect back on time and again and ask, “How did we manage under these tremendous social, political, and economical pressures?” If we are willing to all become students in our household, then together we can learn new ways to connect, to communicate, to build trust, to argue in fair ways that grow and not destroy our relationships, to problem-solve, to grow our empathy and patience and show compassion for each other. What if we emerged from these tough times stronger together? Social and emotional learning just might be the gateway to deeper family intimacy and meaningful learning.

Check out these around-the-clock ideas for social and emotional learning rituals and routines:

  1. Morning Gathering 

After the business of the morning has been accomplished (breakfast, dressing, brushing teeth), how can you create a transition into the school day when there is no walk or ride to school? Rather than slumping from the couch to the desk chair, create a family routine of gathering and connecting before all launch into the work of the day. It need not take long. Responsive Classroom, an evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum, offers a base agenda from which I have built and adapted for family life. 

a. Greeting – Greet one another with hugs or high fives or other ways to show love and connection.

b. Sharing – Ask a question that will prompt personal reflection. It could be as simple as, “How are you feeling really?”, “What’s one thing you are looking forward to over the coming week?” or “What do you love about the Fall season?”

c. Group Activity – This could be a walk outside to breathe in some fresh air or note a flower blooming or the change in the color of the leaves. You could line up for shoulder massages (my personal favorite!). You could stretch the kinks out. With young children, you could imitate your favorite animal.

d. Anticipate the Day’s Learning Goodness – What can your children look forward to learning today or engaging in with school and you with work? It could be as small as seeing a favorite teacher on Zoom or reading an enjoyable book.

e. Mindful Breathing – Take a few moments at the end of your morning gathering to imagine blowing up your lungs like a balloon and then, slowing allowing that air out. There are many ways to engage children in breathing (there are a few number of ideas in this article). Taking just a minute to deep breathe will prepare your entire family with the calm center all require to focus on work and learning.

2. Feelings Check-In

A recent post described using the feelings check-in. With the anxiety we are all feeling, there’s an even more compelling reason than usual to share our feelings. As we share, we feel heard and often, more understood by family members. It’s a simple step we can take to build empathy as we cope with a range of emotions.

3. Brain Breaks

Research confirms that short breaks help a person’s brain refresh and process. Staring at a screen may not produce any new thinking in your child and in fact, staying there when irritated can burn valuable fuel and decrease motivation to put in the hard work necessary to get through the learning process. Work with your child to set particular brain break times throughout their learning day as a part of your routine. And discuss when they can take a brain break if they feel frustration growing while learning. Use a timer and limit to 5-10 minutes depending on their age and need. Talk about what they can do to renew during that time whether it involves getting a drink of water, walking outside for fresh air, or listening to music. For more, check out our article on Brain Breaks.

4. Coaching to Support a Learning Mindset

“I can’t do this!” my son growled while attempting to write an essay. This might have been a moment for a brain break if it had escalated. But instead, I turned to coaching. “It sounds like you are feeling frustrated and a bit stuck. Do you know every person has a strong inner critic, that voice inside that says you’ll never figure this out? What does that voice say to you?” Coaching attempts to reflect back the feelings and thoughts of the learner while also, challenging the individual to reframe and think differently about their problem. You might coach your child to accept their feelings and then, politely say “no” to their inner critic and replace that voice with an inner coach, one that says “You’ve got this. You can figure this out.” 

5. Social and Emotional Lesson Messaging 

What new mantras need to become a part of your family conversations, a regular saying in your household? It may be “We work hard to achieve our goals,” “We recognize all learning requires mistakes and failures,” and “We offer one another grace and space as we learn.” Also, you may raise the question with family members, “How can we discover joy in learning?” If we approach remote learning as drudgery, then it will become a painful task for every family member. But if we look for opportunities to incorporate small moments of joy in each learning day – a ritual hug passing in the hallway? A special treat in our child’s desk or note of encouragement? – then we will be thriving in the midst of challenging circumstances.

6. Routine Co-Creation

Structure to our day creates psychological safety not merely for young children but for all ages and all family members. We need to know what comes next on the agenda and how we play a role in order to feel a necessary sense of control over our lives. Family members – children, teens, and adults alike — may feel like they have less agency with remote learning as schools offer content and lessons while our children do the learning and require support from parents and caregivers at home. Sitting down when not in a particular routine and talking about your plan for that routine together can eliminate so many conflicts as all determine their roles and responsibilities and a family plan is created. What is your most challenging time of day? Is it morning, homework, dinnertime, bedtime or school time? Involve your family is problem-solving through how you can take care of business sharing responsibility and also, connecting. For more details on how to do this, check out this Creating a Smooth Morning Routine video which can apply to any routine you are challenged by in your household.

7. Closing School Day Reflection

If you’ve ever been to a professional development training, it’s likely you’ve engaged in a closing circle where a facilitator asks, “What’s one takeaway from today?” or, “What did you learn? What did you enjoy or appreciate? And what was challenging for you?” John Dewey, a game-changing educational philosopher and reformer claimed, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Why not take a few minutes at the end of a school day (work break?) Or at the end of your work day when family has gathered to reflect on the learning day? What went well? What didn’t? What do we have control of? How can we make things better tomorrow? That time for reflection alone will offer your family a sense of greater agency. We can support what’s working and work together on ways to improve what’s not.

Of course, for children’s whole person development, be certain that you’ve scheduled movement and non-screen time throughout the day. It’s critical for their bodies and brains that they move and engage in life outside of screens. For short movement activities (yes, more screens so do also, get away from screens!), Go Noodle has a wealth of videos for kids. Also, it helps to make a list with your family of favorite off-screen activities so that your children can refer to it (and not to you!) each time they transition off of screens.

In these particularly trying times, we need support for our roles. As Confident Parents, Confident Kids enters into its eighth year of offering free resources to families, we hope you’ll take advantage of the many tools, tricks and tips on this site to advance your learning and feel like you are not alone. We are in this together!

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