The Importance of Emotional Check-ins for Elementary Students

Two speech bubbles, one with a heart and one with a scribbled texture

Hey, how are you? 

It’s a simple question, but it can lead to some great conversations and sometimes the discovery that someone isn’t feeling so flash and maybe needs some help.

So do you ask that question in your class each day?

Health – both physical and mental – has a huge impact on a learner’s ability to focus in class, deal with setbacks and develop healthy relationships with their family, friends, and teachers. And, we know that the early years are the most important when it comes to setting students up for academic success and good emotional well-being.

Starting social-emotional learning (SEL) and increasing mental health awareness with elementary students can create solid foundations and help to set students up with those skills before they enter the more challenging worlds of middle school and high school.

Studies show that social-emotional learning in schools can help to:

  • improve academic grades
  • increase positive social behaviors
  • reduce anti-social conduct
  • reduce distress among students
  • build skills that can be used in the workplace in later life

During elementary school, these skills develop rapidly, especially if they are modeled well by teachers and students have the space to learn and refine them during their school day.

Doing a daily check-in as part of SEL with your elementary students helps them feel connected to the class and gives them a chance to express their feelings in a safe space.

Three benefits of social-emotional check-ins for elementary students

Helps to teach self-awareness – At elementary age, some students may not even be aware that their feelings have a name, or how they impact on their ability to succeed in learning activities and other areas. Emotional check-ins help students begin to recognize the different feelings in themselves and identify triggers that lead to certain moods. For example, students might find they are sadder or angrier or find it harder to concentrate if they haven’t had enough sleep the night before.

Helps to teach self-regulation – Anyone who has witnessed a toddler tantrum will know that young children often struggle to regulate their emotions. But, at school and in later life, we need to be able to control our emotions to an extent and learn to work through them so we can still achieve. Acknowledging these feelings early on, allows students to start building coping strategies that can help them throughout their education.

Helps to develop social awareness and build better relationships – Daily class-wide check-ins during your morning meetings can show students that other people feel like them too and that it is ok. Talking about how students can support one another through different moods, helps to develop empathy and other social-emotional skills and can build a close classroom community that works well together.

All of these things work together to create a better learning environment for everyone and help individual students develop strategies for making the most of their time in class.

Simple ways to make emotional check-in activities a success in your class

You can choose to do your SEL check-ins in whatever way suits your class best. You may have a cool printable that students can fill in, or a space on your whiteboard reserved for recording the class mood, or you may have an online space for student check-ins either in class or via distance learning. If you want to use Kami for your check-ins then there are plenty of Kami-ready resources available to get you started.

Whatever method you use, here are a few tips to make the daily check-in a success.

Keep it simple — Elementary students might not know how to express a wide range of feelings, so giving them a limited range of options – happy, sad, angry, slow, silly – might work best. Give them options to choose from rather than asking them to come up with their own words. The Thumbs Up Thumbs Down template in the Kami library is perfect for a quick check-in.

Make it visual — Students in the early grades of elementary school may not have great vocabulary or writing skills, so using visual signs on a feelings chart can be easier. You could:

  • use a range of faces and get students to pick the face that matches their feelings
  • have a list of emojis to choose from
  • assign a color to each mood and then color a square on a worksheet for each day with the appropriate color. This can help students track their feelings over time too.

Keep it consistent — Doing a quick daily check-in helps students learn that checking in on their feelings should be something that is ordinary and part of their routine. It also allows you (and the students) to track how their feelings change over time which can help with their self-awareness and learning what things can trigger their moods.

Once a week you might want to add longer check-in via a Google Form or set of Google slides, to prompt students to reflect on their week, what’s gone well and what bumps there might have been along the way. Surveying the class at the beginning and end of the school year can also help to highlight any issues early on and then see how things have changed.

Have a plan to help students deal with their feelings

To back up your emotional check-ins, it’s a good idea to have some strategies in place to help your students deal with their feelings. Encourage students to discuss why they are feeling a particular way, good or bad, and help them to recognize triggers or validate what they are feeling. If their feelings are related to others, then you might develop an SEL activity that helps them talk about feelings and express things in an appropriate way.

To help the whole class calm down and get ready for the day, you could run a short mindfulness or yoga session before you start the day’s learning activities.

If you have individual students who ask for help, or who give responses indicating they are very unhappy or struggling, then you can follow up with those students separately. You could schedule a one-on-one in-person morning meeting with them to find out more and work with services within your school or community that help to support students if needed.

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