Support Students Through the Holidays with SEL

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but the holiday season also brings with it stress and unhappiness for some — and adults aren’t the only ones affected. Educators can help students find joy during the holidays by building social and emotional skills that teach students to manage stress; improve relationships with family, friends, and peers; find healthy ways to communicate their needs; increase social engagement; and promote the well-being of themselves and others.

Here are five fun holiday activities that leverage SEL.

  1. Make gifts in class. There is a lot of pressure during the holidays to share gifts with friends and family. This can sometimes cause stress and anxiety for families. Consider planning a class project where students make a gift they can share with a loved one. Turn an hour of class into an art lesson by creating homemade picture frame ornaments, practice fractions by making baked treats, or plan a science lesson around making homemade bath fizz.
  2. Acknowledge feelings. Taking the time to talk about students’ feelings helps them feel valued, increases their empathy toward others, and promotes healthy communication. Carve out class time to talk about how some people might not feel joy during the holidays. Have students reflect on why the holidays might be stressful or unhappy for some. As a group, brainstorm ways students can help those who don’t feel joy this time of year.
  3. Encourage students to get active in the community. Holidays can be lonely for many. Encourage participation in community, religious, or other social events to help students increase social engagement and build relationships. Volunteering also can bring a sense of fulfillment and pride, and it can help students make new friends and establish a sense of belonging.
  4. Plan a class holiday party. At the end of the fall semester, students and teachers alike deserve a reward. Throw a small class holiday party (if allowed) to thank students for their hard work and spread holiday cheer. Plan fun games and activities, and pick up inexpensive prizes at the dollar store. Make the party even more special by having a potluck.
  5. Embrace diversity to promote inclusion. Whether it’s getting along with family members or appreciating different cultures and traditions, SEL can help students build stronger relationships with others. Plan classroom activities that teach students to accept one another’s differences, practice conflict resolution, and increase cooperation. For example, an “I Statement” exercise helps students express their emotions in a statement about themselves without blaming others. Also, “Dog with a Bone” is a fun activity to teach about conflict resolution. Have students write down conflicts they see in the classroom on a paper bone. Put all the bones into a dog dish and take turns selecting one and brainstorming ways to resolve the issue as a group.

Despite the hardships that may feel amplified this time of year, teachers have the unique opportunity to provide safe, happy holiday memories for their students.There are many activities that you can do to help students build the skills they need to manage their emotions, strengthen relationships with others, and attain a sense of inclusion through acts of kindness and giving back to the community. The holiday season provides a special platform for students to practice thoughtfulness, empathy and sincerity – something that can certainly translate into the rest of the school year.