The Best Books for Social/Emotional Learning are . . .
Social/emotional learning has become a hot topic in the counseling world. This particular task involves the process by which children acquire the skills necessary to interact with others appropriately. The rise in diagnoses of autism and other developmental disabilities that hinder social/emotional development has finally pushed schools to devote resources to helping students develop these skills.
Today’s guest post comes from my friend and colleague Jenny Carter. Jenny holds her Master’s in Professional Counseling and recently completed her third year as an elementary school counselor. I don’t know anyone quite as passionate about life as Jenny, and I am thrilled to have her explain how she inspires her students through social/emotional learning.
Within minutes of my very first course in graduate school, my professor said, “I truly believe being a school counselor is just about the best job in the world.” I remember that moment vividly as I was embarking on this huge, very expensive educational journey all while still teaching full time. Hearing her words comforted me and reignited my excitement for this new career. And I’m here to tell you, she could not have been more right! I love my job. Some days are really hard, most are super fun, but either way my work is always intrinsically rewarding and very fulfilling. Every day I walk into my office honored that I get to counsel kids.
Part of school counseling is teaching preventative social emotional guidance lessons to whole classes, and another is crisis and interventions with individual students. Developmentally appropriate social emotional books lend themselves beautifully to both situations. The particular area in my guidance room where my books are stored is one of my most coveted. I adore my elementary counseling books and am excited to share with you my top 5.
When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Brown
It might sound morbid, but this is my #1 favorite counseling book. Death is something that unfortunately happens more than you would think, and obviously is very hard for children to understand. This book does such a beautiful job of exploring life and death, explaining reasons why death may happen, confirming that all feelings are okay and may be different than other peoples’, and illustrating the different ways cultures cope with death, all through cartoon dinosaurs living as we do.
The last page of the book is my favorite and really ties the theme up well. It explains to that just because a person dies they’re not gone forever. Rather, they continue to live on in our memories. It goes on to illustrate around 15 ways to remember your loved one who died (planting a tree in their honor, displaying something of theirs in a special place, playing the game “remember when” with family and friends, including them in your drawings, etc).
I’ve used this book for Pre-K through 5th grade students, and for the death of a sibling to the death of a family pet. It really allows kids to process, relate, question and understand death and the grieving process, all in a safe place. Remember to take it slow and remain attentive to the child’s pacing and understanding. It’s ok to stop and answer questions as you go.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia
This is a grieving book that is best used for upper grade levels and for a child who is generally quiet and already understands death. This book uses the seasons of leaves as an analogy for the season of a life. Listening to the calm tone the author uses for the leaf’s narrative, children become relaxed and can understand that death is natural and inevitable. Choose your student wisely. I have not read this to many students, only to children who I know can handle the subject.
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
This book is extremely versatile and can be used for situations from divorce, to a child missing a parent on a work trip, to death, to a child’s best friend moving. The concept is that all of us have an invisible string that goes from our heart to others’ hearts and through it we can feel their love. An example in the book is when mommy is at work and the child is at school missing her. The child can “tug” at his invisible string and mommy will feel his love and respond with a tug back. This book can really help kids feel connected to a loved one and not so far away, or not feel that the relationship is severed.
Have You Filled A Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness For Kids by Carol McCloud
If you ask me, this is the ultimate guidance lesson book! I literally teach this every other year, asking kids, “Now, why on earth would I teach you this again?” After thinking they understand and reply with “Because it’s sooooo important”. Absolutely! Through both text and illustration, this book teaches kids just how important their words and actions are and how deeply they can affect others.
Children learn that everyone has an invisible bucket that goes with them everywhere and holds all of their good feelings. When a child says or does something positive, helpful, kind or considerate, it fills other people’s buckets leaving them gleaming with happiness. Conversely, the book makes sure to teach that we never want to empty someone’s bucket of good feelings “by dipping” when we say or do something insensitive, unkind or hurtful. Bonus: kids learn that when you fill someone’s bucket, it fills yours up to! I say, “it’s like a two for one deal!” Who doesn’t love that?!
Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are by Maria Dismondy
I love this book so much! It tells the story of a little girl who is of Italian descent in an American elementary school. When her grandfather makes her lunch, she requests her favorite; leftover spaghetti in a hotdog bun. The kids make fun of her and make awful faces, but her friend who enjoys peanut butter and jelly sticks up for her. Eventually the kids start to understand that everyone is different in the foods they enjoy. I like this book for many reasons: 1) my school has children from 16 countries. Taking a stroll through the cafeteria during lunchtime can be very interesting, so our students can definitely relate, and 2) generally books about diversity discuss hair texture, skin color, glasses, disabilities, etc., but this one talks about someone’s true culture. One of the strongest ways we connect with our culture is through cuisine, so kids begin to grasp that even food is something we should be careful about judging. Everyone is different in so many different ways and choice in food is no different!
I hope you enjoyed taking a look at some of my favorite counseling books. Each one teaches a different set of lesson, but they all relate to social/emotional learning. When put together they really help kids learn the importance of sensitivity, kindness, and compassion. Hopefully you can find a space for them in your guidance room or even your home!