Combining Social-Emotional Learning and Literacy in Early Childhood Classrooms

By Dr. Jill T. Tussey and Dr. Leslie Haas

World Literacy Summit
6 min readApr 1, 2021


Education continues to evolve and grow while the goal to help students become strong readers remains constant. Early childhood classrooms provide learners with support and structure to develop life-long literacy and social-emotional skills. There are many ways to naturally embed both literacy and social-emotional learning into the classroom. However, further student development can occur by extending the learning into the home with activities and resources.

Early Childhood Literacy

While many adults may view literacy development as something that starts when a child enters school, this is not the case. Lazorita (2019) shares that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children with parents or guardians who introduce literacy “early in life tend to read earlier and excel in school compared to children who are not exposed to language and books at a young age. Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to learn to read” (para. 3). As educators, parents, and guardians work to ensure future success for children in school, the importance of literacy at an early age cannot be overlooked.

Early Childhood Social-Emotional Development

In addition, the focus on social-emotional learning in early childhood education continues to grow among educators. According to National Center for Healthy Safe Children (2020) “beginning early in life, social and emotional learning (SEL) is highly important for helping preschool children to understand and manage their emotions, feel and show empathy for others, establish healthy relationships, set positive goals, and make responsible decisions” (para. 1). This information is key for early childhood educators and center directors/administrators while planning curriculum and family engagement events. The importance of embedding this information into early childhood instruction helps to ensure that children are building and developing social skills and positive emotional self-regulation to support them as they grow up and progress through school.

Early Childhood Learning

Literacy allows early childhood educators to embrace and support social-emotional learning in the early childhood classroom. Stories and activities with social-emotional themes can be embedded into small group activities as well as shared with parents. Educators can incorporate the use of puppets to help students with both their social-emotional and literacy development. Puppets often allow students to act out parts of a story or social situation. Word games and riddles are two other activities that allows educators to combine literacy and social-emotional learning. The words games and riddles can include a social-emotional focus such as emotions, self-monitoring, and peer conflict and resolution. Students would be practicing literacy skills while the content focuses on the social-emotional skills. Storytelling is another activity educators can utilize in their classroom which easily combines literacy practice and social-emotional learning.

While educators plan and embed literacy learning into the school day, providing opportunities for out-of-school learning is also valuable. Educators can share puppets with families to encourage students to share their feelings or stories that were read at school and extend the learning environment into the home. Word games and riddles that are played at school can be sent home for the young learners to practice more with their families. Stories that are read in the classroom can be shared at home by the early childhood students. This provides another opportunity for students to be heard in their home and share feelings with their families.

Sample Activities

1 — Book: “The Color Monster: A Story about Emotions” by Anna Llena

In-school Activity: Teachers will read the book aloud to students in small groups. After the story, the teacher and students can have a discussion about the different types of emotions that were shared. Students can use paint or crayons to color stones or cardboard circles and then draw faces on the stones or circles to show how each color makes them feel. As a group, the students and teacher will create a short story using their new created monsters.

Out-of-school Activity: Students will take home their new monster home to share with parents and guardians. As the adult reads the story, the student will have the correct monster do the actions.

2 — Book: “Listening to My Body” by Gabi Garcia

In-school Activity: Teachers will read the book aloud to students in small groups. Students can share how their body feels in different situations. After the story and sharing, the teacher will pull “emotion” cards and ask the students to repeat the word and then act out the feelings with puppets.

Out-of-school Activity: Students will take the feeling cards and puppets home to act out the feelings. Parents and guardians will be provided with the title of the book so that they can ask the child about the story.

3 — Book: “Grumpy Monkey” by Suzanne Lang

In-school Activity: Teachers will read the book aloud to students in small groups. Students can mimic the grumpy faces in the book. After the story, the teacher will lead a discussion over what makes the students in the group feel grumpy. While the students are talking, the teacher can write down the words on poster paper that make the students feel grumpy. Students can draw a picture of what makes them feel better when they are grumpy and narrate a caption to an adult.

Out-of-school Activity: Students can take a copy of the book home to read with their parents or guardians. After reading the story together, they can have a discussion about what makes them grumpy at home and ways to deal with a grumpy mood.


There are many reasons why educators should focus on combining literacy and social-emotional learning. As educators continue to find ways to support the whole child during the learning process, it is key to ensure that lessons are designed and activities are engaging and supporting student learning. The focus is to help highlight the importance of literacy and social-emotional learning in the early childhood classroom with ways to extend the learning opportunities into the home setting.

Additional Resources for Readers:

Promoting Young Children’s Social and Emotional Health

5 Easy Social-Emotional Learning Activities for Kids To Do at Home

Language and Literacy Environments in Preschools

Watch our digital library: discussions facilitated by the very people who are dealing first-hand literacy issues in different countries around the world.

Read more interesting articles on our blog and learn about the latest trends and researches in early literacy and education.



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