By Margaret Tsubakiyama
Recess. The time of day when I can get a cup of coffee and catch my breath after the blur of morning meeting, writer’s workshop, phonics, and everything else I need to accomplish before 10:20 AM.
However, I don’t love the after-recess stories:
“Nobody would play with me….”
“She said she wouldn’t be my friend anymore….”
“He said I have to be the bad guy, and I don’t want to be the bad guy….”
Is it my imagination, or has it been worse since COVID?
All learning suffered during COVID, but Social Emotional Learning (SEL) took an even bigger hit. With nearly two years at home, many young students lack critical life skills. They have rarely been asked to take turns, share a toy, or empathize with others. In-person school is ideal for practicing SEL all day long—especially at recess.SEL has five core competencies. Today I will focus on two: Social Awareness and Relationship Skills.
Social Awareness is the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. My classroom has 24 small people, each with a unique personality and story. It’s a perfect place to learn about social awareness. But how do I teach it?
Hameray’s My World books are an excellent resource for learning about SEL. They are perfect for an after-recess read-aloud. I love their simple, repetitive text and clear photographs that provide just the right amount of prompting for my students to open up and share their own stories.
Understanding Friends is one of our class favorites. It shows children with different emotions. I like to follow our read-aloud with a simple game called “Reading Faces.” In school, we focus a lot on reading words but reading faces is equally essential. I give my students a simple vignette: Someone took the last cookie. What kind of expression would your face show? After we practice a few together, students create and practice their own with a partner.
Friendships are significant now more than ever. Children had to wait nearly two years for the excitement and joy of friendships at school due to COVID. Social awareness is the key to relationship skills. Hameray’s Trouble with Friends reassures children that their new friendships can remain strong, despite the regular ups and downs that all relationships go through.
I love the diverse photographs of children who look just like my students. We talk about the pictures: What do you think might have happened? How could these friends solve the problem?
We also talk about times we don’t get along with friends or when we get mad. I ask, what is something you can do if you see someone looking mad?
Page by page, book by book, I am teaching my students critical social skills that will enrich their lives long after they leave my classroom. Recess– time for friends, fun, and SEL. And a cup of coffee, if you’re lucky!
Margaret Tsubakiyama is a Kindergarten teacher in California. She has a Masters in Literacy and Language Acquisition and is a National Board Certified Teacher.