Tips for building social emotional learning

Considerations for creating 4-H clubs and youth programs that support social emotional learning.

There is buzz around social emotional learning and how to build it in school and out-of-school learning environments. Here are considerations for creating and establishing 4-H clubs that support social emotional learning and development.

  • First impressions, is your 4-H club or out-of-school program welcoming, supportive and a safe environment? Michigan 4-H Guiding Principles addresses this through the philosophy that youth are physically and emotionally safe. Youth will learn more and participate more when they feel physically and emotionally safe. A structured yet flexible environment encourages honesty, trust and respect among all youth and adults.
  • Are there clear expectations for 4-H members, volunteers and families? Are they co-created by participants and reviewed periodically? This is so that there is a shared understanding of expectations and buy-in for the club.
  • Are there positive relationships? For example, are members encouraged to express their thoughts? This includes adult and youth volunteers modeling constructive ways for providing feedback and addressing situations, behaviors and emotions.
  • Are older teens and volunteers positive role models? Are they modeling constructive behavior, such as helping a club member learn how to enter a show ring, listening to all members at a meeting or planning for a club community service activity?
  • Who is running the meetings or leading the activities? Is there youth voice? Listen who is doing the talking—is it adult or youth driven? Check out Michigan State University Extension resources at 4-H Youth-Adult Partnerships for strategies and best practices.

Building social emotional learning into 4-H or out-of-school activities can happen through many avenues, but a foundational way is by using the Experiential Learning Model or “hands-on learning.” Hands-on learning helps youth to be engaged in their own experiences. Rather than telling youth what they should learn and how they should feel about an experience, they have the opportunity to discover their own learning through a guided process.

A quick review of the experiential learning model was highlighted in a series of articles on “Implementing the Experiential Learning Model in 4-H programming.” These are the core components of the Experiential Learning Model.

  • Experience—youth do an activity.
  • Share—youth describe their experience. Often, we can use the five sense to elaborate on the experience.
  • Process—youth relate the experience to life skills, goals or objectives.
  • Generalize—youth make a connection between their experience and the world around them, create relationships and find similarities and differences.
  • Apply—youth apply what they have learned throughout the experience to other situations or experiences in their lives.

4-H clubs or out-of-school time experiences that are building social emotional learning comes down to five key youth development principles: self-awareness; social awareness; decision-making; self-management and building relationships. Together, they provide young people important life skills and character development.

MSU Extension offers additional resources for youth and young children that can be adapted across all ages. 

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