In this blog post, I’m going to give you 5 Social Emotional Learning Art Ideas that you can use in your Art Classroom! As well, I’ll tell you about what Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is, how to instruct it, and how to encourage students to engage in the lessons. I’ll give you lesson ideas that you can use right away with your students, and I will also give you links to Art Projects that are ready-to-use!
Before we begin, let’s understand what Social Emotional Learning, or SEL is and what it can look like in the art classroom or through art!
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WHAT IS SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING?
SEL (Social Emotional Learning) is a process that both kids and adults can understand and use to manage their emotions, set goals, feel and show empathy towards others, and learn social awareness and socializing skills to allow them to build relationships. The five core competencies of SEL are: Self-awareness (recognize one’s emotions and understand how it influences behavior), Self-management (the ability to regulate one’s emotions and behaviors in different situations), Social awareness (the ability to take perspectives and empathize with people from culturally diverse backgrounds), Relationship skills (the ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships with people and groups of diverse backgrounds), and Responsible decision-making (the ability to make respectful choices based on personal behavior and social interactions and care for the well-being of self and others).
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE IN SCHOOLS?
So what does this look like in schools? Well it can be learning about our emotions, what triggers them, and how we react. For example, if we build that self-awareness piece, we can recognize we’re angry or are angry and can find strategies to use to calm down before we continue to escalate into a red beast. For instance, classrooms, including art classes, can have sensory bins (which I just find interesting, tactile things to put in from the dollar store. It is just there to change the visual and feeling based sensory of the individual to help them calm down), or you can have full calm down kits with visuals that guide individuals through self-awareness checklists or provide visual strategies for different ways one can manage their emotions and get back to the green zone (which is a Zones of Regulation reference) which is a state where you’re calm, you’re focused, you’re yourself, or simply put, you’re ready to learn.
As well, teaching Social Emotional Learning allows for opportunities of Social Awareness, allowing students the opportunity to develop the ability to take perspectives and empathize with people from culturally diverse backgrounds… This also falls into Relationship skills because we’re teaching kids to develop and maintain healthy relationships with people and groups of culturally diverse backgrounds… Teaching SEL in schools or in our own classrooms allows for the opportunity for students to allow for the care and well-being or self and others… All this… THIS is important…
TEACH SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING IN ART!
It can be taught THROUGH art. Teaching it THROUGH art is natural because art is already a reflection of our OWN ideas, our OWN thoughts, our OWN feelings and emotions. It is essential that we teach it in art because it is allowing students the opportunity to express themselves and also explore SEL through mediums, materials, and drawings. Journaling is a great way to explore SEL, but what if the barrier for the child is writing? Many of us can make a mark in some way with a medium. And if an individual can’t draw because of a disability, we can always try our best to find something that will allow them to express themselves, whether it is through paint, or shaving foam that they can feel, or clay or play dough… The point of this is self-reflection and awareness, not necessarily the end result every time. It CAN be or LEAD towards that, but we also have to allow for pure mindfulness and self-awareness as well that is undisturbed by OUR ideas and input (the teacher’s ideas and wants).
DON’T CRUSH THE KIDS’S WILLINGNESS TO OPEN UP & BE VULNERABLE
We have to be careful not to crush the student’s willingness to allow this new, uncomfortable feeling to come out. We don’t want to crush their willingness to explore and experiment. Sometimes I see kids who don’t draw or don’t want to make art- not because they don’t want to, but because an adult crushed them in the past with criticism or assessment that wasn’t provided in a safe, caring, positive way and wasn’t constructive.
For me, in my own art life, I have faced a lot of criticism. I create creepy, cute, low brow artworks that I display in high brow galleries. So naturally I face a lot of criticism. But it took me 10 years to realize that those comments are THEIR wants for MY art. Not MY wants for MY art. And so, now, in artist talks, I generally mention that my art is for ME. I don’t create art for a living (not many can?! The gallery takes half and you only do a few shows a year at max. The expenses for life are unreal. But often, money isn’t talked about and in talks, it is felt as though your art IS your income. But it’s not true. And money DOES exist).
Anyway, the point of that rant was that, I think it’s pretty important that we let kids make art that is self-reflection and exploration the way they want to make it. The VALUE or target of the learning for this should be their ability to be self-aware, to reflect, to be vulnerable and dig deep and explore these ideas. I know that when I do these activities or meditate, I feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. It is a barrier and causes friction from doing the task because… It is hard to confront your own thoughts.
So what I’m saying is… if a kid is willing to participate, which is HUGE because there is a lot of vulnerability going on, don’t spook the kid with your constructive criticism about the way they’re making or creating. In MY OPINION, it is not necessary for this activity. That could be a trigger point.
And back to accessibility… This activity could be really good for the kids who generally really need to do this… the ones who struggle to be self-aware or have BIG emotions at times. Often, their relationship with education or learning is a challenge or writing or reading may be difficult so accessing this is hard for them… but not if it is done through art. Because you can just draw. It is accessible. Those kids… NEED this.
Or maybe something happens. Like… unexpected things happen. I don’t have to say it. You can think about all the different kinds of THINGS that have happened in our world that are hard to explain or deal with after. Social Emotion Learning and “dealing” with it can be done with art as well, in addition to other things that need to be done. Obviously, this is not a replacement for counseling or anything…. It’s just that if it doesn’t feel right creating a dinosaur drawing or Starry Night inspired art piece… don’t. Save it for later. Do a SEL Art Activity instead.
Alright, so now we understand the WHY, let’s dive into some ideas for WHAT you can do with your kids… some Art Ideas!
MINDFUL STARTS IN ART:
I love mindful art starts in the art classroom because it creates a wonderful opportunity for students to transition from whatever they were doing to art. Mindful art starts are just moments where you dim the lights, you can get some cheap lamps for your classroom or just use natural light if you have windows, and you turn on some nice, soft music. YouTube has huge “deep relaxation” or “meditation” or “focus” music playlists that are like 3 hours long that you can turn on a play and even keep playing softly after this is over and while they work.
Now, it’s art class, so in addition to this, they are quietly drawing, mindfully. Let them focus on the moment. Not worry about the past because it’s already happened. Not worry about the future because it hasn’t happened yet. Just focus on your thoughts… and how you feel right now. Let them free sketch or work on a sketchbook assignment while they draw. You’re not giving instruction or giving input, you’re just letting them live in the moment, mindfully. You can remind them to not talk during this time, it is silent sketching.
While this goes on, YOU can transition from one group of kids to the next so you don’t feel so flustered from the quick group change. You can take a deep breath. Sit down for 1 minute. Do attendance. Get the lesson ready (super quietly of course). Whatever.
Now mindful art starts will vary for age and for how often you see kids or for how long the class is. When I taught high school art, I did this every day for 5 or 10 minutes because the classes were long. The seniors were exhausted from having left math or science and really enjoyed working on their sketchbook assignments in a peaceful way (it also gave them the opportunity to make good drawings in their books that weren’t rushed).
For elementary, this is more challenging. If your instructional time is only 30 minutes and they’re kindergarten or grade 1, 10 minutes of mindful art starts each time would be chaotic. You’d never have time to teach a lesson, and 10 minutes is eternity to those guys. So maybe it is 1 minute of dim lights and music and deep breathing (no drawing) for that time. Or maybe its not 1 minute, but every Friday, all your classes on that day start with 3 to 5 minutes of silent sketching with music. Or maybe you do 10 minutes with each class once a month to allow mindful drawing. Or you use it on days that they NEED it. You’ll know when you see them.
GUIDED MEDITATION IN ART CLASS
Another thing you can do is Guided Meditation. You can play a “Guided Meditation for Kids” track on YouTube or find one online and read it. While this guided meditation happens, let kids draw an image (free draw with choice mediums) that is a reflection of their feelings, their thoughts, their ideas in that moment. Or you can do a theme… Sometimes we will do a meditation with the focus being on gratitude and while they’re listening, they’re drawing things they’re grateful for. How beautiful is that?
CREATE ART THAT EXPLORES CULTURE & IDENTITY
You can create art that explores their own culture and identity. When I do S.E.L. Art Lessons, I try to leave it completely student choice. What they draw is obviously a reflection of them, the unique individual who is practicing self and social awareness, so I do not tell them what to draw (but if they need help, I’ll sit and we will chat it out to help get ideas generating or they can do table group brainstorms or think-pair-share about culture & identity before they do a brainstorm before they draw so they have ideas going into it. And usually that all follows a lesson on culture & identity) and I do not tell them what mediums to use. I WILL tell them their options of what they can use, but I will not tell them which ones they will pick. I find that S.E.L. artworks are the perfect opportunity to let students have CHOICE and let it be student-lead. Everything else is so controlled so I let them explore this in their own way. As usual, play music while they work.
CREATE ART THAT EXPLORES EMOTIONS
You can have kids create art that explores what their emotions look like! So for example, what does their “happy” look like… you can explore through choice drawing. What does it look like when their sad, tired, excited, angry, furious, scared… You can write emotions down on paper and have students pull them out of a container. You can do 4 and create a collage with the doodles or you can pick one and turn it into a full art piece. You can use this for sketchbook assignments. You can do 1 emotion a week or month… Play with this fun exploration of self-awareness. Through art they can learn about what it looks like when their feeling a certain way, then they can be taught to use different strategies that could help them get back to the “ready-to-learn” stage or the green zone. Or use a strategy that will help them calm down a bit.
REFLECT ON WHAT YOU CAN HOLD ONTO & LET GO OF
Finally, students can create drawings as full art pieces or as explorations for a sketchbook assignment that explores things that they can Hold Onto and Things they can Let Go Of. Hold onto would be like …. A memory of a camping trip, my friends, my family, grateful journaling, meditation, creating art, video games…. And Let Go for example, could be “Too Much Social Media Time”, or sleeping in too often, eating too much junk food, worrying about things I can’t control, working too much, stressful situations, toxic friends… Whatever. These are things on my own mind but you can make it work for your students and both the ideas and drawings would look very different for someone who is in grade 4 compared to someone in grade 12. This is a wonderful self-awareness activity and is a great strategy for kids to let go of things that are causing them worry and stress, letting them have the opportunity to get it out in a healthy way. And then they can also have a reminder to focus on what they want to hold onto, what is important TO THEM.
Well that is all! I hope that you choose to try a strategy in your classroom! Try teaching a SEL lesson, at least 1 this month. It could be a 5 minute mindful art start or it could be a drawing of an emotion or a full art project on Culture & Identity. See how it goes and feels for both you and your students. I am sure you will be surprised at the magic that will happen! Remember, if the first time you do this doesn’t go as planned, no worries. We, including our students, might feel uncomfortable and vulnerable doing this sort of inward looking and reflection. They might not be used to it or have never done it. It takes bravery to look at ourselves sometimes. So be flexible, let things go. They’ll come around eventually and it’ll all be worth it.
ACTION ITEM: Teach 1 Social Emotional Learning based Art Lesson
Love you lots Artastic Nation! This is Kathleen McGiveron, signing out.
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Kathleen McGiveron (Ms Artastic)
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