Youth’s social and emotional learning (SEL) skills are receiving increased attention, especially because of concerns about a loss of socialization opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic and overarching concerns about youth mental health. Social skills cannot be learned by reading about them in a book – they must be learned by doing, in situations where you interact with others, which makes Cloverbud meetings and activities an ideal learning environment.
There is no doubt that these skills are important for Cloverbud-age youth. How youth thrive may depend on whether they possess a variety of SEL skills. Being able to concentrate on SEL skills assumes a foundation having basic and safety needs met.
Social emotional learning, as conceptualized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, consists of five overarching competencies (see the CASEL Wheel). The Ohio Department of Education also uses the CASEL SEL competencies. These five SEL competencies represent very broad areas.
- Social Awareness
- Relationship Skills
- Responsible Decision Making
In addition to being important for Cloverbuds now, research indicates that SEL competencies have become increasingly important during the transition from middle childhood to early adolescence because they have been consistently linked to two primary developmental tasks of adolescence—academic achievement and social competence. In the most recent study, researchers studied five more specific indicators of social emotional development. The descriptions of these five skills are below.
- Prosocial Behaviors: being able to take another person’s perspective, offer support, and help when others are in distress.
- Cooperation: the ability to work well with peers, teachers, and other adults for a common benefit or goal.
- Self-Control: being able to control and regulate attention and impulsive behavior in order to pursue and achieve long-term goals.
- Emotion Regulation: identifying and managing emotions.
- Work Habits: the ability to work hard and independently, to turn in work on time, to follow group rules, and to put forward one’s best effort to achieve goals.
This study found that there were distinct profiles of children’s SEL skills during middle childhood (measured in Grade 4). The researchers found that about half of the children displayed consistently high scores across all five SEL skills, while others were strong on some, but weaker on others, and still others were low on all skills. The other major finding was that these patterns were linked to distinctive peer and academic outcomes in early adolescence (measured in Grade 6), with the those displaying all five skills faring better. In contrast, the youth who exhibited prosocial and self-control skills were at risk of poor academic competence; the high cooperation/work habit youth were at risk of poor social functioning. Those with overall low SEL skills demonstrated the highest risk in poor academic and social functioning in early adolescence.
SEL and Cloverbud Volunteers
What does this mean for Cloverbud volunteers? A key takeaway from this research is that it is important to help youth achieve a variety of social emotional skills, not just any one skill. Children in the Cloverbud age group are learning social and emotional skills, but they are a work in progress – they are still mastering them. Small group activities help them learn how to get along with others and be social. As you work with Cloverbuds, how you set up activities and the interactions that occur between you and the members and between the members with each other will provide many opportunities to reinforce these skills. Encourage them to work with and talk to each other. These practices will create a positive social climate.
It’s easy to see how these SEL skills will help Cloverbuds get along in the world now and in the future. However, because they are more self-centered, it will be a while before Cloverbuds are totally able to see something from someone else’s perspective. Developing self-control allows them to share with others and to stay focused. Rules help establish group norms while teaching work habits, self-control, and emotion regulation. These rules should be focused on safety and well-being. If corrections are needed, the best practice is to start by getting the child’s attention by using their name, restating your expectations, and giving a specific instruction on how they can correct their behavior. When giving directions, start off by saying, “Soon, but not yet,…” and keep the number of steps simple.
In addition, you can teach these skills directly. For example, The Big Book of Cloverbud Activities has activities titled “My Feelings”; these activities help Cloverbuds learn to recognize and label emotions. Activities must take into account children’s developmental stage. For example, there is a gradual shift from the ability to recognize and name different emotional states (what does an angry face look like, and how is anger different from or similar to sadness?) to understanding that different people can have different emotional reactions to the same situation because of their own personal experiences and preferences (I feel angry when X happens, but my best friend feels sad).
These skills can also be embedded in many other activities. For example, many games involve waiting to take a turn. A game of “Freeze Frame” (play some music and when you pause, they are to freeze in whatever pose they are in when the music stops) can work on managing impulsivity. Another great way is to use books to introduce SEL concepts. Fortunately, there are many such books available (for example, see the Denver Public Library and the Deschutes Public Library for lists).
Developing SEL skills is not a one-shot deal; it’s a process that unfolds over time. As a Cloverbud volunteer, you get to be part of the process!
Collaborative for Academic, Emotional, and Social Learning. (n.d.). What is the CASEL framework? https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/what-is-the-casel-framework/
Denver Public Library. (n.d.). Books for social, emotional, and academic learning. https://kids.denverlibrary.org/blog/k-3/books-social-emotional-and-academic-learning
Deschutes Public Library. (n.d.). DPL Kids: Social emotional learning (SEL) picture books. https://dpl.bibliocommons.com/list/share/362500057/1258121077
Ferrari, T. (2021, January). Using books to discuss mental, emotional, and social health. Cloverbud Connections. https://u.osu.edu/cloverbudconnections/2021/01/18/using-books-to-discuss-mental-emotional-and-social-health/
Jones, S. M., & Doolittle, E. J. (2017). Social and emotional learning: Introducing the issue. The Future of Children, 27(1), 3‒12. https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/Documents/FOC-Spring-Vol27-No1-Compiled-Future-of-Children-spring-2017.pdf
Ma, T.-L., Zarrett, N., Puente, K., Liu, Y., Vandell, D. L., Simpkins, S. D., & Yu, M. V. B. (2022). Longitudinal links between profiles of social emotional behaviors in childhood and functioning in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 42(6), 765–792. https://doi.org/10.1177/02724316221078829
Matheis, L. (2021, December 2). Rebuilding children’s social skills during COVID. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/special-matters/202112/rebuilding-children-s-social-skills-during-covid
Ohio Department of Education. (2019). Social and emotional learning standards. https://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Learning-in-Ohio/Social-and-Emotional-Learning/Social-and-Emotional-Learning-Standards
U.S. Surgeon General. (2021). Protecting youth mental health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory. https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/reports-and-publications/youth-mental-health/index.html