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Where and When Should SEL Start?

By Siri Doddapaneni

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is an integral part of 21st-century education. The 5 core competencies of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness, as established by CASEL. With the evolving world of technology and human interaction, social and emotional learning tenets can be extremely useful to a child.

Social-emotional learning usually starts in the classroom at an elementary age, with benefits such as “higher grades, better attendance, and fewer behavior incidents.” However, SEL can start as early as infancy because research shows that building social-emotional competence from an early age sets a strong core foundation for students and strengthens and sets them up for success as they navigate their education.

SEL skills serve as important “within-child” factors for people and help them cope with adversity and change and lead to more positive outcomes of a situation. Focusing on things like managing feelings and emotions, setting goals, and building relationships with others are good for SEL for older kids.

Aperture Education, a CASEL-certified SEL organization, explains SEL concepts for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers:

  • Learning how to form healthy and trusting relationships

  • Responding and providing cues to caregivers about what they need and want

  • Expressing strong feelings

  • Learning how to regulate emotions

  • Showing interest in other children

  • Beginning to relate to others in social situations

Social-emotional learning is a vital component of 21st-century education, and this type of learning can start as early as infancy with classroom teachers or caregivers.

Works Cited

“How Early Can Youth Begin Learning SEL? (It May Be Earlier than You Think!).” Social and

Emotional Learning - Aperture Education, 8 Mar. 2018,



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