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Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

While many SEL program models are geared toward the classroom setting, afterschool programs offer a unique environment for supporting SEL learning beyond the school day. An environment that is flexible and encourages youth voice and choice is ripe for infusing the development and practice of SEL competencies throughout program activities.

A notable feature of afterschool programs is the partnerships with schools and communities they create to support youth in their development. Building a connection with schools is a key component of integrating SEL into afterschool programming. While methodology toward achieving SEL goals may differ between schools and afterschool programs, afterschool leaders should welcome opportunities for conversations between themselves and schools to align these goals. The stronger the connection between schools and afterschool programs, the greater the benefit to youth.

How do Afterschool Programs Support Social and Emotional Learning?

Afterschool and summer learning programs are already doing a lot to help students develop social and emotional skills. Many afterschool and summer learning programs have broad learning objectives for youth that include social, emotional, and character development. Afterschool and summer learning programs are a unique setting where youth can connect to positive adult mentors, feel safe to try new things, and have the opportunity to acquire new skills and develop mastery in an area.

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CASEL’s Widely Used Framework Identifies Five Core Competencies

Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.

Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.

Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.


Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.

Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others

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