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Exploring the Importance of SEL & Self-Regulation

Two preschool friends having an animated conversation in a tee-pee
Two preschool friends having an animated conversation in a Teepee

At the White Barn, we believe that nature promotes the health and well-being of the whole child. With at least 60% of the day spent outdoors, children have endless opportunities to explore, jump, balance, solve problems, play, and engage in early literacy, science, math, and social-emotional learning. With our students ranging in age from 2.9-6, we promote a strong emphasis on Social-Emotional Development.

Social-Emotional learning (SEL) is an important component of early school readiness and healthy child development. Research has shown that children`s development of Social-Emotional skills at preschool age is critical for long-term school and life success.

“SEL is the process by which each student develops their ability to integrate thinking, emotion and behavior in order to perform important social tasks. In this sense, individuals develop skills that allow them to recognize, express and manage emotions, build healthy relationships, establish positive goals and respond adequately to personal and social needs (Ornstein et al., 2017; Zins et al., 2004)." According to the CASEL model (2005), SEL consists of five key competences:

1. Self-awareness, i.e. the ability to recognize a person's emotions, thoughts, and their influence on behavior

2. Self-control, i.e. the ability to regulate one's emotions, thoughts and behavior in different situations;

3. Social awareness, i.e. the ability to assume the other's perspective and empathize with people from different cultures, understanding the social and ethical norms of such behavior;

4. Relationship skills, i.e. the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships and;

5. Responsible decision-making, i.e. the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, considering the well-being of oneself and others (Weissberg et al., 2015).

As adults, we are able to access and understand the above skills. Young children, ages 3-6, need to “work” on these skills. Parents and educators must work to develop effective problem solving skills, self-discipline, impulse control and management of emotions (self-regulation) with children. Implementing self-regulation activities into a household or educational setting will allow for children to calm down when they have big emotions, make and maintain friendships, and help them to resolve conflicts with others.

Below is a list and brief explanation of some of the self-regulation activities that we regularly plan for children:

🕺Freeze Dance🪩

This activity helps children gain experience in monitoring and regulating their own performance. In this activity, children dance to music and are shown a picture of a stick figure in a particular position. When the music stops, the children freeze in that position. As the year progresses, the game becomes more difficult and involves additional steps.

🪄Magic Cup Game🥤

This game has a multitude of benefits, the most important of which is that it builds concentration which is necessary for improving memory. In this activity, the teacher places 3 cups upside down and a small item under one of the cups. The cups are moved around and the child has to watch them move. Children make guesses as to which is the “magic cup” by using their focus.

🤔 Memory Game 🧩

This builds up children’s ability to visualize and use visual memory skills. Teachers will place about 4 everyday objects on the tray. Teachers will show the tray to the child and let them look at the objects, then cover the tray and ask them to name the objects.

✏️ Graphics Practice ✍️

Graphics practice really is fantastic because of the fine motor and self-regulation skills developed in such a short time span. During this activity, children are practicing the formation of graphical marks and shapes which they will need for writing.


Young, J., Haas, E., McGown, E. and Louv, R. (2010) Coyote’s guide to connecting with nature. 2nd edn., OWLLink Media, Santa Cruz, CA, United States

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