SEL & Summer Camp – Part 3

Happy Wednesday, everyone. We’re on Part 3 of our interview series with Jennifer S. Miller, social and emotional learning (SEL) expert. An extremely informed and knowledgeable resource for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Ms. Miller outlines SAFE, an effective SEL approach that camps can utilize when incorporating social skills efforts.

LN:  I saw something on CASEL’s site about effective approaches to SEL. They mentioned the acronym SAFE. Can you speak a little more about this approach and how it can be incorporated in summer programs?

JSM:  Yes! SAFE is the four elements required for an effective social and emotional learning approach. They are:

  • Sequenced: Connected and coordinated activities to foster skills development. In other words, programs build social and emotional learning activities and experiences that are developmentally appropriate. Scaffold children’s current knowledge to build upon their strengths and introduce new skill building opportunities through modeling, practicing, and creating positive, caring environments for learning.
  • Active: Active forms of learning to help students master new skills and attitudes. As staff decide upon activities – how can they consider specific social and emotional goals for those activities? For example, instead of doing a solitary craft, have children engage in a collaborative craft? Perhaps they plan and craft a paper animal as a team with staff members’ guidance on how each child can play an important role. Summer camp offers numerous opportunities for campers to actively build social and emotional skills, if staff become intentional about them. Also, reflecting on the relationships, the feelings involved, and the goals set and worked toward, can offer an opportunity to boost the social and emotional lessons of any activity.
  • Focused: A component that emphasizes developing personal and social skills. Summer programs have the opportunity to set focused goals on social and emotional skill building. Think about…
  • Explicit: Target specific social and emotional skills. If summer program staff become intentional about building specific skills in planned activities, they can become explicit about targeting learning outcomes. For example, staff might plan a self-awareness activity in which a child works with another to trace his body and in addition to drawing how he looks, he can label various interests and personality traits.

LN:  What is the difference between character-building and SEL?

JSM:  Social and emotional learning (SEL) is character-building in that it prepares children with all of the vital skills they need to be kind to themselves and others and make responsible choices. Character-building is not social and emotional learning – though, in my mind, it can mean one instance of enduring a difficult situation and coming through it stronger. They do interplay with one another since character-building can be about resiliency and people are only resilient if they develop social and emotional skills. I think of social and emotional learning (SEL) as more comprehensive and intentional. It doesn’t just happen because of life circumstances. We, as caring educators and parents, have to become focused and intentional about offering our children many opportunities in a supportive environment to cultivate the skills that will help them become confident, caring, contributing, and responsible adults.


Jennifer S. Miller, author of the Confident Parents, Confident Kids blog also complied the Top 10 Books for Parents, a great SEL resource.

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