“FUN”damentals of Social and Emotional Skill Building

Many benefits for school-aged children who participate in summer activities that incorporate social and emotional skill building.

This year, the Beverly Children’s Learning Center (BCLC) has received an unprecedented number of referrals of school-aged children experiencing abuse and neglect that are in need of special care. At the same time, the center is also seeing a growing population of children with mental health issues, displaying aggressive behavior as a result of their trauma and frustration stemming from learning disabilities. Fortunately, the BCLC staff has their back, and is preparing not only to provide them with a summer of fun activities, but also to leverage the longer days to provide social and emotional skill building to help best prepare them for the start of a new school year in the fall.

“Our goal is to continuously strive to stay apprised of the latest advances in research, brain science and best practices to be able to offer the very highest quality of services to our children, families, staff and community,” says Lisa King, Director of Education and Children’s Services at BCLC.

School districts across the state are placing a greater emphasis on weaving in the development of skills such as relationship-building, decision-making, self-control and awareness into their curriculum. The increased focus on social and emotional skill building have tangible benefits: recent research shows that students with these skills have higher academic performance, more positive attitudes toward themselves and fewer behavioral and substance abuse issues down the road.

“Social-Emotional Learning is important in that it sets the foundation for how a person will approach obstacles and navigate the world around them,” says Allie Armour, Literacy Coordinator of School Age Child Care at Girls Incorporated of Lynn. “Children who learn to recognize their own feelings and urges are usually better able to empathize with others, and from this mutual understanding they can make more respectful and responsible decisions.”

Social and Emotional Skill Building Outside of the Classroom

Out-of-School time programs are increasingly joining in the social emotional learning (SEL) movement, building in more social and emotional skill-building strategies and activities into their programming. This summer, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley is partnering with 13 community-based organizations in Beverly, Cambridge, Chelsea, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Revere, Salem, Somerville, Waltham and Winthrop that are focused on social and emotional skill building and learning opportunities for children during the summer months.

“SEL has become deeply ingrained into the daily programming at Girls Inc. of Lynn, as it plays an integral role in the academic, economic, personal, and social success of our members,” says Girls Inc.’s Armour. “Sometimes it is as simple as greeting girls by name as they get off the bus after school, getting everyone to come together for a silly game or challenge, or taking a minute to check in with a member who seems quieter than usual.”

Focussing on Fun

Rony Adams, Division Director of Early Learning at the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, adds “We believe that social and emotional learning is a big part of creating a positive classroom environment and creating empathy in children.”

But there’s also an intentional focus on fun. Close to 3,000 school-age students who participate in programs funded by United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative will spend their weeks in activities such as trips to the Cambridge Design Lab to foster creativity, collaboration and innovation, a “Neat Knitters” program that fosters mindfulness and relaxation, and a community gardening project with Mill City Grows in Lowell.

“Our goal is to provide a summer program that meets the needs of the whole child,” says Aline Dallaire, Executive Director at the YMCA of Greater Boston.

United Way’s increased attention to social and emotional skills during the summer months builds on the success of its Summer Learning Collaborative over the past seven years. Last summer, 73% of students who participated in programs of the collaborative maintained or improved their reading skills.

“Summer is one of the longest periods of time young people are outside of school,” says Sarah Link, Vice President for Community Impact at United Way. “By partnering with out-of-school time programs to build social and emotional skills during these months, together, we will provide a foundation for success in school, career, and beyond.”

Read more about Social and Emotional Learning.