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7 Fun Social-Emotional Activities for Preschoolers

Explore engaging social emotional activities for preschoolers to boost empathy, self-awareness, and cooperation in early childhood education with Slumberkins.

The ABCs and 1-2-3s may be the first things that come to mind when we think about preschool, but they aren’t the only important lessons preschoolers learn in those early school days. Social-emotional development is a vital part of the curriculum, especially for the 3-5 age group.

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, gives children the tools they’ll need to thrive in life: empathy, problem solving, teamwork, settling conflicts and more.

If you’re an early childhood educator and you’re not sure how to incorporate SEL into your classroom, you’re in the right place. Our list of 7 social-emotional activities for preschoolers is designed to help children explore these new emotional and social skills in a safe and effective way.

What is Social Emotional Learning in Preschool?

Social-emotional learning is a holistic approach to education that recognizes the interconnectedness of social, emotional, and cognitive skill development in young children. The goal of SEL is to cultivate the interpersonal skills that kids need to navigate their world successfully, whether in school, at home, or in their future lives.

Key Components of SEL

To teach our children SEL, we need to understand the central concepts at the heart of it. Broadly, these components are:

  • Self-awareness – The ability to recognize our own emotions, thoughts, and beliefs through social awareness.
  • Self-regulation – The ability to manage our feelings and behavior to express big emotions in healthy and appropriate ways.
  • Empathy – The ability to imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes and show care and consideration towards others.
  • Prosocial behaviors – These are the skills that let us build connections and be successful in relating to others. Prosocial behaviors include sharing, cooperating, and conflict resolution.

Benefits of SEL in Early Childhood

SEL has far-reaching benefits for young children. In fact, a study that followed young children from kindergarten to age 25 found that strong social-emotional skills at age 5 were “uniquely predictive” of success in young adulthood on every measure studied.

Strong SEL skills lead to:

  • Better emotional regulation
  • Improved classroom behavior
  • Greater academic success
  • Reduced aggression and defiance

Giving children a head start on SEL skills from an early age is one of the most beneficial things educators can do to support a child’s development in emotional wellness and mental health. 

Social-Emotional Activities for Preschoolers

Now that we know why SEL matters, let’s look at some of the most effective, evidence-based social-emotional activities for toddlers, preschoolers, and up.

#1 Storytelling With a Twist

Humans have always thrived on storytelling, so it’s no surprise that interactive storytelling has been found to be highly effective in stimulating children’s brains. 

  • Have kids tell a collaborative story by taking turns adding one sentence to the story until it’s complete
  • Share interactive picture books that encourage kids to participate in the story—one of our favorites is Poof! Find Floof! 

#2 Expressive Art Projects

Art is a powerful tool for expressing feelings and emotions. 

Have kids use different art activity books or materials such as fingerpaints or clay to make a depiction of what various emotions feel like. Suggest feelings, such as anger, joy, loneliness, etc. Or let kids choose an emotion on their own.

#3 Role-playing Scenarios

Role-playing is a fun SEL activity that can help promote perspective-taking, understanding, and empathy in kids of all ages. Pretend play comes naturally to children, but you can help by providing plenty of materials that encourage role-playing (dress-up clothes, puppets, dolls, etc.) and allowing time for unstructured group play.

#4 Music and Movement

Songs and dance provide numerous benefits for children’s social-emotional development, and studies have found links between music and emotional regulation. In the classroom, try:

  • Shaking egg shakers or clapping along with music
  • Provide kid-friendly instruments like xylophones or Boomwhackers
  • Put on empowering music for children and have a dance party break between lessons

#5 Nature Walks and Outdoor Exploration

Spending time in nature is a quick and effective way to promote mindfulness and reduce stress and anxiety. Try taking your class on a nature walk. Encourage them to talk about what they feel when they are outdoors—both physically (smell, sight, hearing, etc.), and emotionally. If there’s no walking space accessible, you can simply sit outdoors and cloud-watch, observe bugs, or collect leaves and rocks.

#6 Circle Time Sharing

Circle time is a social-emotional activity that should be part of every classroom’s daily routine. Make it a calming, peaceful time to share feelings and learn about peers. 

Try reading a book that explores a strong emotion, then ask questions about that emotion or about the story. You might ask, “Why do you think that character acted that way?” “What were they feeling?” or “What makes you happy/sad/mad?”

#7 Collaborative Games

Games that encourage cooperation and collaboration instead of competition are an excellent way to hone prosocial skills while having fun. Building toys, puzzles, and cooperative board games are all great opportunities to teach teamwork, communication, and problem-solving.

Integrating SEL Activities into Daily Routines

Once you begin looking for ways to bring SEL into your classroom, you’ll find that opportunities are nearly endless. Here are just a few ways to incorporate SEL into your daily routine:

  • Morning check-ins – During morning circle time, encourage everyone to share a word or two to describe their feelings this morning. End with positive affirmation cards or a classroom cheer, such as “We’ll try our best today” or “Ready, set, learn!”
  • Mindfulness moments – Use transition times, such as moving from indoor to outdoor play or changing activities, as moments to practice a simple mindfulness exercise like ocean breaths or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Modeling SEL skills – Showing SEL skills in action is one of the best ways to teach them. Be sure to demonstrate active listening, empathy, respect, and kindness in your interactions with students every day.
  • Emotion vocabulary – Talk about and name emotions every day. Try reading books focusing on different emotions and doing a complementary SEL activity, such as a coloring page or worksheet, to explore that emotion further. Browse our resource collections for a wealth of SEL activities and lesson plans.

Cultivate Compassion in the Classroom With the Magic of Slumberkins

Educators have a unique opportunity to help kids develop their social-emotional skills and become the caring, compassionate individuals they have the potential to be. So, how can you teach compassion to kids in a classroom? By creating a nurturing and supportive learning environment, you’ll help children thrive socially, emotionally, and academically.

When you’re ready to add more SEL to your daily classroom routine, Slumberkins has your back. Our collection of resources for educators will help you fill your classroom with fun and engaging SEL activities every day. 


Fukushima Journal of Medical Science. Effects of storytelling on the childhood brain: near-infrared spectroscopic comparison with the effects of picture-book reading. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6305786/ 

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Effects of the educational use of music on 3- to 12-year-old children’s emotional development: A systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8037606/ 

Journal of the American Public Health Association. Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

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