Featuring Social Emotional Learning in the Library

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

Children’s books have always served as both entertainment and education. Whether characters are transported to a joust during King Arthur’s rule, exploring the Arctic, or experiencing the unique solutions offered by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, there are sprinkles of history, science, and social skills throughout most stories.

Picture books for the youngest have especially focused on making friends, sharing, and gaining mastery over emotions. Over the last several years, school districts in 29 states have adopted Social Emotional Learning standards as part of their curricula. As my son’s first grade teacher said, “I’m focused on teaching kindness.” Authors and publishers are rising to demand, with more books than ever that focus on these topics.

Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, has become a buzz-term. What exactly does it include? SEL equips children to:

  • Manage emotions
  • Collaborate with others
  • Communicate effectively
  • Make responsible decisions

Librarians can support community efforts to help kids with these skills by featuring titles on emotions, growth mindset, and inclusion in displays and book lists.

As the 2021 school year opens to continued stressors caused by the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and parents will be looking for resources to help kids revive dormant social skills and deal with anxiety, grieving, and life changes. Understanding and coping with the current social upheaval in our country also falls within the SEL framework. How can libraries help? Encourage staff to face-out attractive titles that focus on diverse experiences from around the world and around the neighborhood. These include not just racial or religious diversity, but also poverty, neurodivergence, and different kinds of families.

Those of us who love and use children’s literature in our work are so fortunate that books continue to entertain and educate, no matter our circumstances.

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

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