What is SEL? 15 Books and Activities That Really Help

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social emotional learning

By Ruth Prystash, Autism Specialist and co-founder of the Reach Autism Program
Date: May 1st, 2019

 

Have you heard the term Social Emotional Learning, or SEL recently and thought, what is social emotional learning and why does it matter?

Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, is the process by which children and adults learn to build relationships, identify and manage their own emotions, learn empathy and how to take the perspective of others, and to make good choices in their daily lives. But SEL is more than just learning the skills of social behavior, i.e. the “what”; it is also about learning the “why” of these behaviors. How we teach students becomes just as important as what we teach.

The 5 Social Emotional Learning Competencies

Self-awareness—being able to identify our own feelings, and to understand the way our feelings affect our actions, as well as being able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses

Self-management—being able to regulate our feelings and actions in a variety of situations, being able to manage stress and to control our impulses

Social awareness—being able to understand the feelings of others, even if different from our own; being able to understand the perspective of another person; understanding the expectations of other people in a variety of situations

Relationship skills—being able to have healthy relationships with others, including sharing interests, negotiating conflicts, and being able to work cooperatively

Responsible decision-making—being able to evaluate the consequences of our own behavior, including an awareness of safety concerns, and ethical concerns and social expectations

These five categories can look different at different ages and in different situations, but all are essential to being successful in the world. Because individuals on the autism spectrum struggle with abstract reasoning, SEL is particularly challenging.

The ability to reference others and to draw meaning from what is observed, the understanding of why social behavior is important—these are huge challenges for people with ASD.

We are now realizing that social emotional learning is perhaps the most crucial—and challenging—part of the education process for people on the spectrum.

In this blog post, we will discuss experiences with SEL, SEL and Children, SEL and Adults, and why this is such an important topic. As an added bonus, we will be including books and activities that will assist you in implementing social emotional learning in the classroom.

My Experiences With Social Emotional Learning

My first job as a young teacher was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what to teach, or how to teach it. The students had challenging behaviors and seemed lost in their own world.

During the late 70s, specific treatments for autism were few and far between, so there wasn’t much guidance for someone like me. But as time went on, something began to stand out:

I noticed that some students had better social skills than others, and no matter what academic or vocational skills they possessed, these students generally seemed happier and more successful.

This early observation has proven to be true in every other setting in which I have worked.

  • Non-public schools
  • County Programs
  • District Programs
  • Clinic Settings
  • Work Settings
  • Homes

Individuals who have good social emotional skills typically are more successful in school, employment and navigating the community.  

This is especially true for folks on the autism spectrum. We all know the stereotype: individuals with ASD are loners and don’t like to be around people. So many attitudes toward ASD are based on the premise that people with ASD are not social.

But what if that assumption is false? What if they actually crave human contact, just like the rest of us, but don’t know how to get it, or succeed at it? Let’s assume that all of the stereotypes are false. Then what?

Social Emotional Learning and Children Scenario

Seven-year old Kevin is very interested in others, and wants to have friends, but he has a hard time seeing past his own interests, and cannot modify his behavior, even when it is upsetting to his peers.  

During free time, Kevin wants to play with his friend, Todd. Kevin wants to play Legos, which is ok with Todd. But Kevin insists on building a spaceship and talking about planets, while Todd is more interested in cars. Kevin and Todd are each unable to let go of expectations for the activity, so they end up playing alone, rather than together.  

Todd is frustrated when Kevin will not share the Legos he needs and is tired of talking about Mars, while Kevin is angry that Todd will not comply with his wishes. Todd leaves after a few minutes, moving on to another activity where he has more control. 

Social Emotional Learning and Children Scenario Breakdown

In this scenario, Kevin lacks both self-awareness and social awareness. He doesn’t see his own limited interests as being problematic, and cannot understand Todd’s different desires for the activity. Kevin also lacks relationship skills, in that his failure to acknowledge Todd’s interests eventually drives Todd away.

Even when an adult points this out to Kevin, he is unable to control his own impulses, and his lack of self-management skills eventually ends the play activity between the two boys. The situation ends with Kevin playing alone, while Todd happily plays cars with another peer.

The crucial piece here is to understand that Kevin really wanted to play with Jason. He likes and enjoys Todd’s company, and thought that Todd would enjoy their time playing spaceship.

This situation plays out over and over again in the lives of our children. Although their intentions may not be clear, they are eager to engage with others, but do not know how, and their efforts often lead to frustration and failure on both sides. And not only do the interactions lead to frustration or failure, but to confusion. The child ends up wondering, why? Why doesn’t my friend want to play with me? Why do I always end up playing alone?

Social Emotional Learning and Adults Scenario

Now let’s take a look at an adult with ASD, who has also never mastered the social emotional skills we saw in the last example.

Alison graduated from high school with a diploma. She is academically strong--able to read and do advanced math—but lacking in basic social skills.

Alison gets a job at a data entry company. She is able to perform her job duties, but when it comes to the social skills inherent in a work setting, she is woefully unprepared.

She likes to listen to music when she works, as it drowns out the annoying sounds of her coworkers. She doesn’t understand why her other workers are upset or distracted by her choice of loud heavy metal music.

When her coworkers politely request that she listen to a different type of music, or at least turn it down, she is annoyed, and feels as if her coworkers are being unfair.

She argues with them, and refuses to turn her music down. When her supervisor speaks to her about the situation, Alison storms out. Later, she cries because she feels her coworkers don’t like her, and she cannot understand why.

Social Emotional Learning and Adults Scenario Breakdown

In this scenario, Alison lacks self-awareness of her own behavior, and of how she differs from others in her needs.

She lacks social awareness in her failure to understand both the cause of her coworker’s frustration, and in the emotional undertones of their complaints, i.e. that they like her, but dislike the loud music.

Alison does not display either the relationship skills needed to resolve the conflict or the responsible decision-making skills needed to understand how her behavior might also cost her a good job.

If she only had the self-management skills to problem-solve a solution (e.g. turning the music down, using ear buds, etc.), she might end the conflict. Alison really wants to succeed at her job, and to have friends at work, but lacks the skills to be successful.

Conclusion

Both of these situations are snapshots of the problems that face individuals on the autism spectrum when it comes to social emotional learning. These skills are paramount to success in the real world—impacting all areas of life.

As individuals who both love and support people on the spectrum, can we prevent these heartbreaking scenarios? Can we actually help?

The good news is, we can! Social emotional skills can be taught. All of us—parents, educators, and everything in between—can and should be addressing these skills in our everyday dealings with individuals on the spectrum, but this requires discipline and attentiveness. We must use evidence-based practices to teach, model, and reinforce these skills.

At AAPC Publishing, we are committed to providing the best resources for this. Here are some of our titles that will teach you about social emotional learning, and will also give you great practical ideas for strategies and activities in implementing it in the classroom or at home.

Recap of the 5 Social Emotional Learning Competencies PLUS Recommended Books and Activities

 

Self-Awareness

Being able to identify our own feelings, and to understand the way our feelings affect our actions, as well as being able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses

A 5 Could Make Me Lose Control
$25.95 $27.95 - Activity

This interactive activity helps the child identify social and emotional challenges then analyze how best to act. It also includes suggestions about how to incorporate this as part of an effective behavior assessment and problem-solving activity.

Other Competencies: Self-management; Responsible decision-making;

social emotional learning

When My Worries Get Too Big! Second Edition
$17.95 $18.95 - Book

This relaxation book for children uses concrete calm down techniques and In this relaxation book, your child will learn how to pinpoint their stressors and how to participate in developing their own self-calming strategies to prevent their worries from becoming too big. You will also find concrete calm down techniques in the book.

Other Competencies: Self-management; Responsible decision-making;

social emotional learning - 5 point scale set

The Incredible 5 Point Scale Set
$36.00 $46.90 - Book and Poster

This wildly popular book and it’s companion poster are the perfect edition to your Social Emotional Learning curriculum. The child will identify how they are feeling on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 best and 5 worst), and the goal is to never get to a 5. They will identify what causes them to be at each level on the scale and what they can do to go back to a 1. The poster is a large visual of the 5 point scale on the front and an anxiety curve on the back. Downloadables are included.

Other Competencies: Self-management; Responsible decision-making; Relationship Skills;


 


Self-Management

Being able to identify our own feelings, and to understand the way our feelings affect our actions, as well as being able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses

A 5 Is Against the Law!
$19.95 $22.95Book

This book builds on the 5 Point Scale, but takes a narrower look at challenging behavior that could spell trouble for adolescents and young adults that have difficulty understanding and maintaining social boundaries. With lots of examples and hands-on activities, this book will help teach your child how to understand and follow difficult and often frustrating social information.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Responsible decision-making; Relationship Skills; 

The Cartoon and Script Curriculum
$17.95 $19.95 - Book

By becoming better communicators and having the self-management skills to become more flexible, our children can live lives that are less stressful. Using cartoons and scripts, this book breaks down complex behaviors into manageable steps and provides methods to help children and youth generalize skills across settings and people.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Responsible decision-making; Relationship skills; 

Rules and Tools - Changing Behavior One Step at a Time
$24.95 $34.95 - Book

This wildly popular book and it’s companion poster are the perfect edition to your Social Emotional Learning curriculum. The child will identify how they are feeling on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 best and 5 worst), and the goal is to never get to a 5. They will identify what causes them to be at each level on the scale and what they can do to go back to a 1. The poster is a large visual of the 5 point scale on the front and an anxiety curve on the back. Downloadables are included.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Responsible decision-making; Relationship Skills;


 


Social Awareness

Being able to identify our own feelings, and to understand the way our feelings affect our actions, as well as being able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses

Make Social Learning Stick!
$18.95 $21.95 - Book

200 fun and easy activities that can be used in everyday life to increase verbal and nonverbal language, listening skills, understanding of hidden rules, perspective taking, executive functioning, and more.  It is geared toward children in preschool through elementary school, but the activities can be tailored to meet a child’s developmental level, needs, or challenges.

Other Competencies: Relationship Skills; 

Let's Talk Emotions
$17.95 $24.95 - Book

A collection of easy to use activities for children ages 4-18.  Children learn to identify and respond to their own feelings as well as the feelings of others, thereby improving their chances of maintaining and establishing fulfilling and successful social relationships.  The appendix includes worksheets.

Other Competencies: Self Awareness; Relationship Skills;

Conversation Club Curriculum
$42.95 $44.95Book Set

Provides a comprehensive instructional framework for teaching both the “how” and “why” of conversation.  Conversation goal areas include conversation initiation and topic selection, topic maintenance, perspective taking and social motivation, environmental awareness and body readiness, active listening behaviors, gaining attention behaviors, and conversation repair.  Targets the needs of elementary-aged children. Downloadables are included.

Other Competencies: Relationship Skills; Self Awareness;


 


Relationship Skills

Being able to identify our own feelings, and to understand the way our feelings affect our actions, as well as being able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses

Why Didn't They Just Say That? PEERspective - A Complete Curriculum
$17.95 $19.95 - Book

PEERspective is a complete curriculum that teaches high school students self-awareness, self-acceptance, relationship building, conflict resolution, managing stress and wellness, and many other topics that have a lifelong impact on students’ lives.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Responsible decision-making; Self-management; 

Social Times Curriculum
Starting at $21.95 - Book

By providing information about evidence-based practices and 21st Century Skills, The Social Times Curriculum assists teachers in achieving the social and emotional goals of the students. Written in an engaging “voice,” aimed at teaching social cognition and emotional regulation in an enjoyable way that increases students’ motivation and encourages peer interaction. Downloadables are included.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Responsible decision-making; Self-management;

Diary of a Social Detective
$17.95 $19.95 - Book

This book combines social instruction with reading comprehension in a fun and unique way! Johnny Multony is hired by other students in his school for help with common interpersonal dilemmas, such as cliques, dealing with disappointments, bully, personal space, friends, body language, and much more. Help your child or student become a social detective in their own lives!

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Responsible decision-making; Self-management;


 


Responsible Decision-Making

Being able to identify our own feelings, and to understand the way our feelings affect our actions, as well as being able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses

FLIPP the Switch
$21.95 $24.95 - Book

This book is indispensable for anyone who wants to minimize behavior challenges, maximize on-task behavior, and support positive social emotional development in a child or student. Readers will learn about executive function and how executive function skills contribute to success in school, at home, and at work. Most importantly, readers receive specific instructions, templates, and how-to scenarios for 25 strategies -- five strategies for each of the five FLIPP components – flexibility, leveled emotionality, impulse control, planning, and problem solving.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Self-management; Relationship Skills; 

Behavior Mapping
$19.76 $21.95 - Book

Grounded in evidence-based practice, Behavior Mapping is a groundbreaking way to motivate your child or student to make good choices and learn new skills. Better yet, due to its visual nature, this simple-to-implement strategy is effective for a range of students, regardless of age and ability level. There are four major categories of maps presented: Consequence Maps, Complex Behavior Maps, Language Maps, and Problem-Solving Maps. Downloadable Behavior Maps are included.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Self-management;

The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job
$19.95 $21.95 - Book

Getting and keeping a job has a lot to do with your ability to make responsible decisions. This practical and easy-to-use book provides necessary yet often untaught information on a variety of topics related to getting a job, finding a mentor, networking, interviewing, talking with supervisors, dealing with on-the-job frustrations, understanding the social rules at work, and many other topics.

Other Competencies: Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Self-management; Relationship Skills;

 

View ALL BOOKS listed in this post.

 

About the Author

Ruth Aspy - social emotional learning
Ruth Prystash is an autism specialist and co-founder of the Reach Autism Program, in Riverside, CA.  She has worked in the field of autism for over 40 years, with all ages and in a variety of settings. She is a university instructor, writer, editor and private consultant with schools and families. She is a graduate of Stanford University and was a finalist for 2011 California Teacher of the Year.
What is SEL? 15 Books and Activities That Really Help

 



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  • Carol Burmeister on

    What a terrific article! Thank you for breaking down SEL competencies and for providing examples of SEL experiences in children as well as adults. This is very useful information!


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