9 Products That Support Social-Emotional Learning for Kids

These social-emotional learning books, toys, and activities encourage children to explore their feelings and help develop SEL skills outside the classroom.

A few different products that support social emotional learning for kids.

At all stages, kids do some of their most important learning outside the classroom setting. Beyond the realm of textbooks and worksheets, social-emotional learning (SEL) isthe process during which kids develop the social and interpersonal skills that are critical for interaction in many settings for the rest of their lives. Think managing feelings, setting goals, making decisions, and exercising self-discipline.

All kinds of techniques and tools can help kids build SEL—including books, cards, games, toys, stuffed animals, and more. "Anything that allows children to work together, mimic real-world situations, or practice caregiving are always great options when it comes to toys that build social-emotional skills," explains Alanna Gallo, education and parenting expert and the founder of Play. Learn. Thrive.

When searching for SEL products, she recommends looking for simple toys that provide high-value play. "Avoid toys that do the work or claim to teach social-emotional skills while only really requiring children to press a button," she says. "Children need to interact and use their imaginations to explore situations that truly allow them to practice their social-emotional skills."

Here are nine great products that Gallo and other education and parenting pros recommend to support social-emotional learning for kids of all ages.

01 of 09

Slumberkins Collections

Slumberkins Creatures Full of Feelings

This brand offers books paired with stuffies designed to promote early emotional learning and build resilient, kind, and confident kids. The books and plush creatures each address unique feelings and help to build skills for emotions and situations like stress, anger, gratitude, family bonding, and more.

"Slumberkins are an integral part of my therapeutic work with children, as well as my routine with my own littles at home," says Claire LaPoma, LPC, of Inner Compass Counseling. "The social-emotional skills offered bolster attachment by providing caregivers a language children can internalize as positive beliefs about themselves."

02 of 09

Misty the Cloud: Friends Through Rain or Shine, by Dylan Dreyer

Misty the Cloud: Friends Through Rain or Shine
Random House Books for Young Readers

New York Times bestselling author and TODAY show co-host and meteorologist Dylan Dreyer's newest book is all about getting along and learning to compromise. When sunbeams threaten Misty the Cloud's party with her friends, emotions rise. But when everyone decides to come together on a solution, something beautiful results: a rainbow. (How's that for an easy-to-grasp takeaway?)

03 of 09

Lottie Dolls

Lottie Dolls

These dolls are based on the average proportions of a 9-year-old kid, rather than an adult—or a completely unrealistic humanoid figure. And that important tweak, compared with many other dolls, encourages kids to relax, be themselves, and have fun.

Overall, pretend play with dolls helps children understand that other people have feelings, too. And it allows them to role-play experiences they face in their own lives. Dolls are even used as tools in therapy for these reasons.

Gallo explains that Lottie and other dolls "allow children to practice empathy" during play. "You might see them pretending to rock, diaper, sing to or feed their babies," she says. "This is a great way for children to begin to care for others and invites so many opportunities for discussion around emotions, others' needs, and sympathy."

04 of 09

Miniland Family Diversity Blocks

Miniland Educational - Family Diversity Blocks Building Kit for Kids

Kids as young as 2 years old can develop SEL as they ​create their own unique family—and the families of others—with this set of interchangeable blocks. The toy set is designed to help kids understand inclusion, acceptance, and respect for all types of families. The set comes with 33 pieces and 12 activity cards to deepen the experience.

05 of 09

Kimochis Mixed Feelings Pouch

Kimochis Mixed Bag of Feelings

Kimochis offer stuffed characters meant to represent feelings, as well as other resources that help build children's emotional vocabulary and strengthen their coping skills. Guided by effective strategies and age-appropriate language, Kimochi's resources provide step-by-step guidance through activities designed to build emotional awareness and encourage children to express their feelings.

"These resources are wonderful because they're easy to use and show caregivers how they can weave social and emotional learning into ordinary moments," says Felder. "Using their mixed bag of feelings can be a fun way to deepen your child's understanding of the different emotions that we can all experience from time to time."

06 of 09

I Am OK to Feel, by Karamo Brown

I Am Okay to Feel
Zando Young Readers

In this moving picture book, a father and son must learn to navigate uncertainty together when they find themselves caught in a storm.

The book comes from talk show host and Queer Eye star Karamo Brown and his son Jason "Rachel" Brown. It's ideal as a tool for helping reassure kids during stressful times as it empowers them to talk through their feelings and fears. The book also includes resources developed with psychologists. Pre-order it now and be one of the first to get it after its release on November 8.

07 of 09

Colorations Relaxing Rhythm Moods Art Kit

Colorations Moods, Social Emotional Learning Art Kit
Colorations ® Moods ™, Social Emotional Learning Art Kit, Relaxing Rhythms, Craft Activity, Self Paint Art Activity, Painting Craft for All Ages

This all-inclusive art kit facilitates an engaging way for kids to foster a sense of serenity and calm. In the process of art making, kids learn self-esteem, exploration, and imagination. As kids express themselves through art making, they build confidence and creative thinking. And colors are a great language through which little ones can talk about authentic feelings. The kit is available on the toy marketplace SmarterKids, which works with its teacher advisory board to make sure all toys are both fun and educational.

08 of 09

Little Renegades Mindful Kids Cards

Little Renegades Mindful Kids Cards
Little Renegades

Each of these decks comes with 40 double-sided cards, each with watercolor illustrations, that serve as mindfulness activity prompts for kids age 3 and up.

"It can be tough for kids to express their emotions sometimes, and for lots of children, it can be tricky to even know how to begin sharing what's on their mind and in their heart," says Michelle Felder, LCSW, MA, the founder and CEO of Parenting Pathfinders.

That's why she finds the prompts provided by these cards to be "so helpful in my clinical practice and in supporting my own kids in building their social and emotional skills," she says. "These cards provide kids with the structure, guidance, and spark they need to express hard-to-feel emotions and practice mindfulness."

More generally, the format alone of decks or card games can also promote SEL, explains Kevin Dahill-Fuchel, executive director of Counseling In Schools. Depending on the specifics of the cards, "they involve some strategy and choices along with an uncontrollable element of the draw from the deck," he says.

09 of 09

Hand2mind Mindful Maze Boards

Mindful Maze Boards - Hand2Mind

With this set of mazes, kids 5 and up can practice their mindfulness and self-management skills.

The set helps facilitate SEL in a hands-on way, with three double-sided boards that include finger paths; the paths incorporate tactile prompts for inhaling, exhaling, and pausing for guided breathing exercises. Lively, colorful graphics encourage kids to experiment and find their favorite paths.

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