SEL & Summer Camp – Part 5

We’re at the end of our amazing and informative interview with Jennifer S. Miller – author and illustrator of the Confident Parents, Confident Kids blog – on incorporating social and emotional learning in summer camps. This last question sums up SEL in school districts and gives a few resources to reference.

LN:  Nationwide, is SEL being incorporated in school districts like it should be?

JSM:  Yes and no. Nationwide, there are numerous models of schools, districts, and states that are working thoughtfully to integrate what we know about advancing children’s academic, social, and emotional development into their curriculum, policies, and practices. Yet, this is not a passing educational trend. In order for our educational systems to genuinely meet the needs of children, social and emotional learning is essential – not a nice-to-have or add-on. These skills are fundamental to our children’s success. And so, every school, not a chosen, progressive few, need to have the advantage of learning about and advancing their agenda on the best ways to incorporate social and emotional learning into what they do. For example, in my area, it is the private, high tuition schools that integrate social and emotional learning in a focused way and not the public schools. This has to change. In fact, when schools do become intentional and focused on SEL, it not only contributes to child well-being, but also to teacher, staff, and family well-being so that the entire school community benefits.

To learn more about model school districts, check out the CASEL Collaborating Districts.

To understand more about how SEL is fundamental to learning, check out the videos by Edutopia and the Aspen Institute entitled, “How Learning Happens.”

If you are a parent who wants to raise the conversation about social and emotional learning (SEL) in your child’s school, check out the “How Learning Happens: Family and Caregiver Conversation Tool.”

SEL & Summer Camp – Part 4

It’s day four of our interview series with social and emotional learning expert, Jennifer S. Miller. Here’s what she had to say about incorporating SEL in topic focused camps:

LN:  There are general summer camps and camps that focus on specialized topics (i.e. STEM, art, music, dance, sports, etc.). Is it important for the specialized camps to consider SEL concepts? If so, what are some tips as to how these camps should go about incorporating SEL in their programs?

JSM:  All camps whether general or specialized will better serve youth if they look at specific ways to integrate social and emotional learning (SEL) into their everyday operations. For example, consider how you can create a daily routine of helping campers build trusting relationships with one another and the staff, in enjoyable ways?

Illustration from Confident Parents, Confident Kids

Check out the cooperative games listed on the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ site. I also love the book Adventures In Peacemaking by William Kriedler for simple, fun, easy-to-implement cooperative games that promote skills. Another great resource is 99 Activities and Greeting by Melissa Corea-Connelly.

Also, all camps know that they will need to help children manage their big emotions as they go through their days. Prepare a plan for those big feelings?

For staff members, check out the Emotional Safety Plan, a one-page template for creating your own plan for calming down in those challenging moments. Additionally, staff can benefit significantly from reviewing the ages and stages/developmental milestones their campers are working on. Check out the NBC Parent Toolkit for age/stage information across academic, social and emotional and physical development areas. In addition, there are helpful pamphlets that offer ages/stages information by grade level – check out Yardsticks Guides.


Jennifer S. Miller, SEL expert and author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids blog.

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.

SEL & Summer Camp – Part 2

We’re continuing our conversation with social and emotional learning (SEL) expert, Jennifer S. Miller. She’s the author and illustrator of the Confident Parents, Confident Kids blog and she’s sharing tips on how to incorporate SEL in the summer camp experience.

LN:  Summer is right around the corner and many children will be attending summer camps and programs. What can these programs do to incorporate SEL in their activities?

JSM:  Summer camps and programs offer a unique opportunity to advance children’s social and emotional skills because of the spirit of exploration and fun that are expected to accompany the summer sunshine. Staff can:

  • Explore ways to play daily name games,
  • Offer regular personal sharing opportunities,
  • Play cooperative games offering ways to deepen trusting connections between, and among children and staff and to exercise teamwork and collaboration skills.

Some camps bring kids together from a variety of neighborhoods, offering them a chance to deepen their social awareness and relationship skills as they form new friendships and experiences through socialization with others they may not normally encounter in their own schools and neighborhoods. Exploring nature is another opportunity to build empathy. Staff can lead studies of trees, plants, and animals and how best to care for, and become, stewards for the environment.

One study compared a group of preteens who spent five days in nature with no screen time with a demographically similar group of preteens at home who engaged in regular activities including daily screen time. That study showed that the children who spent the time in nature after only five days were more skilled at taking social cues including nonverbals and understanding each other’s emotions. That short time spent with peers in nature enhanced their abilities to connect and communicate with one another.

Study Reference: Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., Greenfield, P. M., (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387-392.

And what about the big feelings that happen at summer camp — for both campers and staff members alike? There will be skinned knees and hurt feelings. So instead of merely packing a first-aid kit, why not plan for those big feelings? Questions to keep in mind…

Is there a comforting-spot where campers can choose to go when they feel upset and need some time to calm down?
Is there a buddy plan between camp staff in which one staff member who is frustrated can call on their buddy to take over while they take a moment to calm down?

Planning ahead for the big feelings that happen when we are working with children is not a sign of weakness but of strength. We’ll be ready to respond with our best, most emotionally intelligent selves in those tough moments. Introduce campers to those plans so that they are aware in advance and can build their self-management skills by self-selecting the calm down spot and taking care of their needs.

LN:  Can SEL be incorporated in to play (playtime)? If so, what are your suggestions for doing so?

JSM:  The mere setting of a collaborative goal with children helps set a mindset for teamwork. The same is true for competition, if that goal is set by adults. So why not build the ability to work together by reflecting on what collaboration looks like in play and setting a goal for it? Then, when playtime is over, reflect on what they did well and what they could improve upon for next time. Play naturally involves the building of social and emotional skills so while children are playing – aside from providing imaginative tools and toys and a safe environment – staff can stand back and let children do their thing.


Jennifer S. Miller, SEL expert and author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids blog.

A behind the pages look at…

Lulu Noire’s Black Butterfly Tales® is a new children’s book series featuring character-building topics that support a healthy development of social skills and interaction in children 4 to 8 years old. Each story reflects and shares values, promotes ethical decision making while inspiring and encouraging children to be their best selves. I’m a Different Butterfly, available on Amazon, is the first book from the Lulu Noire’s Black Butterfly Tales® series.

This site is where you’ll get information about the characters, adventures, motivation, and meaning behind Lulu Noire’s Black Butterfly Tales®. We’ll showcase character antics in the form of story extras, short videos, and author insight. Follow us and share all things Lulu Noire’s Black Butterfly Tales® with family and friends.