4 Ways Reading Challenges Help Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum

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In 2015, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that linked kindergartners’ social and emotional learning (SEL) skills with their future success and wellbeing. The research demonstrated that kids with high social and emotional functioning are more likely to succeed at school and work when they grow up, and have a reduced risk of criminal activity, substance abuse, and mental health challenges. 


Studies like this one show just how vital social and emotional learning is for student wellbeing. For this reason, many states have built SEL into their curriculum—about 60% of states either require or strongly encourage SEL instruction. But connecting the five SEL core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social awareness, and relationship skills) with the existing curriculum can be challenging. In this blog, we’re sharing four creative ways schools are using reading challenges to bring social and emotional learning into their classrooms. 


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4 ways to implement SEL with reading challenges

1. Create homeroom communities

In homeroom/advisory classes, the curriculum often focuses on building life skills, habits, and mindsets that support student success. One Beanstack client has gone in a slightly different direction, incorporating reading challenges into their advisory classroom to support SEL instruction. Why? Reading challenges help students build a habit of reading, which has been proven to reduce stress by up to 68%. They also create community—as students compete with one another and chat about the books they are reading, they will start to form stronger bonds. On top of that, advisors can use themed challenges, like Beanstack’s Mindfulness Challenge, to encourage students to practice other SEL skills.


SEL core competencies supported: relationship skills and self-management.


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2. Read about race and culture

Many critical SEL skills, like empathy and active listening, also have ties to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) curriculum. Via themed reading challenges, like Beanstack’s Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride 365 challenges, schools can encourage students to practice their social and emotional learning skills through reading. These themed challenges not only encourage students to consider new perspectives, but also provide a foundation for discussions and workshops about the importance of diversity, identity, and culture.  


SEL core competencies supported: social awareness and relationship skills. 


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3. Promote mental health awareness

According to recent statistics, one in six children in America has a mental health disorder, and 72% of children will experience at least one traumatic event before they turn 18. Social and emotional learning curriculum gives students tools to process their complicated feelings, identify when they are struggling, and learn how to ask for help. One way to raise awareness about mental health in schools is through storytelling. When students read about characters who struggle with mental health, they feel less alone, they have more context to reflect on their own experiences, and they are more likely to recognize signs and symptoms in friends or loved ones. Beanstack’s Mental Health Awareness challenge encourages students of all ages to pick up a book about mental health. It also opens the door for more thoughtful conversations about mental health and stigma in classrooms and school communities. 


SEL core competencies supported: self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. 

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4. Share values through storytelling

After a challenging year of remote and hybrid learning, many schools are working hard to rebuild school culture and keep students connected. One of the ways that schools can do this is by uniting students around a shared set of values. Educators often refer to this as character education, or a learning process that centers on core values like freedom, justice, and citizenship. 


Social and emotional learning is a vital part of character education, because students can’t just learn about values—they also need to know how to act on them. That’s also where reading challenges come into play. Schools can create themed reading challenges based on the core values they want to cultivate and encourage students to read stories that express those values. For example, Zoobean’s “Be the Change” challenge has badges that center around the seven habits of highly effective people, like being proactive and building mutually beneficial relationships. Through reading, students can see what it looks like to live out their values and how values can be challenged in the real world. 


SEL core competencies supported: responsible decision-making, self-awareness, and social awareness. 


Reading Creates Healthier, Happier Learners 

Social and emotional learning is about more than just checking off a list of standards or competencies. It’s about ensuring students have the skills they need to live happy, healthy, and successful lives. Reading challenges are the ideal tool to help kids relax, connect, and reflect—and because Beanstack’s reading challenges have fun gamification features like leaderboards and streaks, students have even more fun while they hone their SEL skills. 


Beanstack comes with dozens of reading challenge templates that support social and emotional learning goals. To learn more about Beanstack reading challenges, go to beanstack.com/challenges.  

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