SEL ProgramsEarlier this year, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with a grant from the Wallace Foundation, came out with a 350 page analysis of SEL Programs in the USA. Entitled Navigating SEL from the Inside Out, it dissects 25 leading SEL programs for elementary school that are implemented either during and after school. Many of the programs include a pre-school component.

The SEL Programs identified as most effective included:

  • Sequenced activities to teach skills
  • Active engagement of students in learning skills
  • Focused time on specifically targeted SEL skills

I was struck by how kinesthetic these three qualifiers of efficacy are and how few kinesthetic learning strategies were mentioned. The programs that were more physical activity based were not seen as supporting emotional processing, character, or mindset. Yet, statistics point to 80% of children as being kinesthetic learners. Per their own evaluation, the authors point to whole child engagement as being the best teacher yet they don’t seem to value that engagement as much when it is body oriented.

In my opinion, the perceived gap between body and mind in the learning process not only does a dis-service to children, it also disempowers them, especially early learners who are developmentally oriented to the body. What’s missing in SEL programs for young children is an understanding that all learning happens in the body and that all SEL skills must be practiced in the body to be mastered.

We developed the Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum to bridge this gap and to offer educators a way to integrate body and mind for more successful development, learning and social-emotional skills. Children build character, manage emotions, and embody determination through what they do, experience, and practice physically.

The authors also noted four organizing principles shared by high-quality SEL programs, which are:

  • Create a safe and positive environment for children and adults
  • Support the development of high quality relationships between children and adults
  • Offer developmentally appropriate, relevant and engaging activities for children
  • Provide opportunities for direct skill build

The paper explains that SEL Programs are only effective when they are integrated into the mission and practices of the organization. The curriculum and activities must be aligned with the school goals, as well as lived and modeled by teachers and administrators. In my experience in ECE, another missing piece is the embodied EQ of the educators and care providers. How do they model self-care when they’ve never been taught or supported in practicing it? How can they help children become aware of and integrate their own body-mind state with specific techniques if they’ve not been taught any tools themselves?

Another reason we started MwMYA is to provide teachers with the education and practice they need to increase their own mindfulness, self-care, self-regulation, compassionate communication, and social-emotional intelligence. To teach a high quality SEL Program, they need to embody both an understanding of the brain and body as well as a set of skills and tools they can practice, model, and teach.

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