Ingram Blog

Social Emotional Learning Through Picture Books

Wendy Rancier, MLS, Collection Development Librarian
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a hot topic in childhood development. Although its research dates back to 1994, it has become more relevant in recent years. Originally developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), research and implementation into school curriculums in conjunction with educators of all stripes has become a key part of their current and future work.

With a cursory Google search, we find a plethora of fascinating articles on SEL. I have experienced SEL in my own family life. When picking up my then four-year-old from his play-based preschool, I chatted with one of his teachers, who said he had been crying that day. She told me she questioned him about what had happened, and that he wasn’t hurt but had a “heart hurt.” She said that he had trouble expressing himself when a classmate did something he didn’t like, and they were working with him about verbalizing his feelings. I liked the phrase “heart hurt,” and I still use it when talking to my children.

While growing up, I (and many other close friends and relatives) don’t recall much encouragement to talk about feelings, to develop relationships, or to view things from another person’s perspective. After doing some reading on SEL and its importance in early child development, I have come to realize that the world would be a better place if it were universally embraced.

As Youth Services Librarians, we often get questions from frustrated parents: “I need a book about how it’s not nice to lie,” or “I need a book about potty-training,” or “He bites people—do you have anything to address that?” Children’s picture books have always been a powerful resource for parents to find assistance in teaching their children valuable lessons and life skills, so they are a perfect way to introduce Social Emotional Learning outside of school.

Some of the basic ideas of SEL focus on empathy, positive relationships, managing emotions, problem-solving, perseverance, and perspective-viewing: not exactly ground-breaking ideas in the world of picture books. In fact, we can all surely think of a couple of examples from our favorite titles that would fit neatly into these categories. The Lion & The Mouse by Jerry Pinkney is a great illustrated story about empathy. One of my favorites is When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland. In this book, Sadness appears as a figure; someone who suddenly shows up, and you aren’t sure what to make of him. It is a powerful story of accepting this emotion without being afraid, but, rather, trying to understand it and see what it needs. How different would our world be if we could better manage our temper, if we had more patience, if we took a moment to see something from another person’s perspective?

SEL also nicely dovetails with the need for children’s books with a focus on diversity. Looking at a story from the perspective of a character of different ethnicity, gender identity, or ability can have a profound impact on how a child views the world.

Check out our list of titles about SEL that you can share with parents or use during story time. SEL isn’t a new idea in picture books, but some authors are exploring a child’s emotions more acutely than ever before.

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