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Inside: Discover tons of fun ways to help little kids learn proper coping skills for their social-emotional development and BIG feelings with these 50 social-emotional activities for preschoolers!
Do you know what’s super important for success in school and life?
It’s not just reading or math — it’s also how you manage your social-emotional skills and relationships with others.
If you have preschool-age children or are an early childhood educator, I’m guessing you’ve dealt with your fair share of BIG emotions in these early years.
Young kids struggle with social-emotional skills, and it is our job to ensure they express their feelings and emotions in a healthy and acceptable way.
Today, let’s chat about social-emotional learning activities for preschoolers that you can try at home or in the classroom. (Including a complete social-emotional learning curriculum.)
The Importance of Social-Emotional Development in Young Children
Imagine your child throwing an epic stage 10 tantrum because you tried to help them put on their shoes.
I know you only wanted to help. You were in a hurry to meet friends at the park.
Now, you’re tired, having trouble controlling your own emotions, a bit discouraged, and don’t feel like going out anymore.
Instead, you’d rather lie down on the couch and consider it a day, even though it’s only 9 a.m.
So, what’s happening here?
Well, it all boils down to understanding why social-emotional skills are super important for kids.
These skills can help kids develop problem-solving skills, improve daily routines, foster healthy relationships, and increase emotional intelligence.
In other words, reduce those tough moments.
The Social-Emotional Development of Preschoolers (Through Their Eyes)
You are in your preschool classroom brimming with colorful toys and cheerful laughter from your kids.
Sammy, a 4-year-old boy in your class, is on a mission of UTMOST importance:
He is coloring a dazzling masterpiece with his treasured box of crayons.
As Sammy meticulously glides his yellow crayon across the sun on his paper, a burst of creativity and happiness envelops him.
But wait, here’s the kicker…
Young Children Struggle to Control Their Emotions
Sammy’s face suddenly transforms from joy to sheer dismay as he gazes down at his yellow creation. He begins yelling NOOOOOOO and slamming his fists on the desk, causing quite a distraction for the other students.
You come over to see his perfectly colored yellow sun, and nothing seems out of the ordinary to you.
What on earth is Sammy so upset about?
Well, it turns out that Sammy’s heart was set on coloring the sun a radiant shade of red.
You know, that big, warm ball of light graces our skies daily.
However, a momentary mix-up between the red and yellow crayons led to a yellow sun instead—a sun that, in Sammy’s eyes… just didn’t seem right.
Now, as adults, we might chuckle at the thought of a yellow sun being a cause for distress.
But let’s remember, for Sammy, this was actually a monumental event in his little universe.
His creative vision had been challenged, and that was a big deal to him.
The sun wasn’t just a sun; it was the center of his artwork, the core of his masterpiece.
At that moment, it felt as though the world had tilted on its axis.
In young children’s eyes, every experience—no matter how small—is a grand adventure that shapes their world.
Here’s the deal:
You have the power to guide little ones through the rollercoaster of emotions they experience and help them actually cope and respond better to these overwhelming feelings.
And it all starts when we teach feelings and social-emotional learning skills to kids. This supports their overall well-being and sets them up for success.
How do we do this exactly?
What is Social-emotional Learning?
SEL stands for social-emotional learning.
Social-emotional learning (SEL) for kids involves developing skills to understand and manage emotions, build relationships, make responsible decisions, and navigate social situations.
- social awareness
- relationship skills
- and responsible decision-making
SEL programs, often in schools, create a positive environment for children to develop these skills, leading to improved academic performance, better mental health, and overall well-being.
Social-emotional learning is, dare I say, the MOST important set of skills we can teach young kids.
In this situation with Sammy, I would work on social-emotional learning skills by practicing active listening skills and problem-solving skills with Sammy.
- I would sit down with Sammy and talk about how he felt.
- I would talk with him about how it feels when things don’t go how we want them to and devise a new plan.
- Maybe the plan is to suggest mixing the red and yellow crayons together to make a new color for the sun, or perhaps the plan might be to grab a new piece of paper to try again.
By taking a few minutes to understand how a child feels, talking about it, and listening to them, we can help them feel better and move on.
Keep reading to find 50 activities for parents and classroom teachers to help preschoolers develop their social-emotional learning skills.
50 Social-Emotional Activities for Preschoolers To Try at Home or School
I have created a huge list of 50 different social-emotional learning activities to use at home or in the classroom to help kids thrive and grow.
These activities help create a safe environment and will help kids foster positive relationships and express emotions in a healthy way. It’s a great way to improve our relationship skills, help us understand the emotions of others, and respond appropriately to different social situations.
If you are a classroom teacher and need help with social development for preschool, early childhood, or even special education, I am certain you will find these ideas helpful for your classroom.
Always remember this: Sometimes, outbursts and difficult behavior may happen more often at home than at school because it is a safe space for your little one.
50 social-emotional activities for preschoolers coming your way now…
A feelings thermometer (click to get this printable for free) is a great visual to show students what they might be feeling and what each feeling might mean.
2. Emotions Bean Bag Toss
Lay out some emotion cards on the floor.
Have kids take turns throwing a bean bag to land on an emotion card.
Talk about the feeling that they land on in more detail and practice showing that feeling yourself.
3. Use Mirrors to Practice Facial Expressions for Emotions
Note: When a child can visually see how their face looks when upset or angry, it becomes easier to recognize when other people feel this way, too.
4. Empathy Role-Play
Take turns acting out different scenarios with the kids in your life.
Do things that require empathy, such as pretending to fall down and be hurt. Maybe you ask them to kiss your boo-boo and help you up.
Get creative: You could also do a pretend play puppet show!
5. Read Different Social Stories to your Preschoolers
What is a social story, you might be wondering?
It is a simple story that describes a social situation and the appropriate way to act in that situation.
Using social stories with younger kids, especially students with autism, can be really beneficial in teaching appropriate social skills.
You can grab this huge bundle of Social Stories to help teach kids about the following topics:
- coping skills
- growth mindset
- social cues
6. Do Activities that Encourage Preschoolers to Express Their Feelings (Try the Feelings Fun Kit)
We talk about that word a lot with kids…feelings.
But here’s the kicker:
We might say the words angry, sad, or frustrated to them, but they don’t actually understand those words.
It’s really important to show what facial expressions of different emotions look like but also dig deeper into what they mean.
➡️ Try using the Feelings Fun Kit to help with this.
7. Play Freeze Dance Using Emotions
This idea is a fun twist on a typical activity. Have you ever played the freeze dance with children?
You simply play music, children dance, and everyone has to freeze when you stop the music.
For this twist, try yelling out a feeling as you press stop on the music, and they have to freeze, showing that emotion in their face and body.
For example, if they yell “mad,” they might clench their fists and stomp their foot down as they freeze.
8. Read Books about Social Emotional Development
Kids love listening to stories. Reading social-emotional books for preschoolers is a great way to teach skills using characters for role play.
📚 Here are some of my favorite books for preschoolers to help with social-emotional learning:
Have You Filled a Bucket Today by: Carol McCloud
Making Friends is an Art by: Julia Cook
The Not So Friendly Friend by: Christina Furnival
What to Do When You Feel Like Hitting by: Cara Goodwin
9. Try a Social Emotional Learning Curriculum for Preschoolers
Setting aside a time in your school day to specifically teach some social-emotional skills to this 3 to 5 year old age group can be really powerful.
The more we focus on social development and social skills with young children and practice these skills, the more likely children will eventually use them in the proper context and situations.
HeartSmart – Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum
Transform your home or classroom into a heart-happy, SEL-filled safe space. It has all the tools you need to make learning a positive experience, with year-long lesson plans, games, posters, worksheets, craft coloring pages, and more! This curriculum covers emotions, growth mindset, responsibility, making friends, coping skills, relationships, and SO much more!
10. Yoga for Kids
Yoga is a great way to exercise your mind and body to ease stress and anxiety.
11. Make a Calm-Down Jar
📚 Grab the book The Calm Down Jar by: Jennifer Jones and then let kids create their own calm down jar to keep.
12. Create Gratitude Art
Have kids draw a simple picture of something they like and explain why it makes them happy.
Hang these pictures up in their bedrooms or classrooms to help kids have something happy to look at when they need it in times of frustration or sadness.
For more gratitude ideas – check out this epic list.
13. Use Dinosaurs to Stomp out BIG Feelings
I love this sweet idea from The OT Toolbox. It is absolutely perfect for this early childhood age group.
14. Use Mornings to Check-in on Feelings
Have kids check in on how they are feeling during breakfast or during a morning meeting in the classroom.
Use prompts such as: “What made you smile this morning?”
15. Sing Songs about Basic Emotions
Little kids tend to love music, so any way you can incorporate it into their day will be a win.
Sing songs with basic emotional words like “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” (You can add as many emotions as you want to this song!)
16. Try Mindfulness Breathing Boards
A breathing board is a way to show children how to visually be mindful of their breathing and take control of it in a concrete way.
These breathing boards have eight different shapes. Have children trace around the shape with their finger while slowly inhaling and exhaling.
Try any of the mindfulness exercises from our Mindful Minute Series:
17. Emotion Sorting
Provide pictures of different cards showing emotions and ask kids to sort them into happy, sad, or mad piles.
18. Create Emotion Masks
Looking for hands-on social-emotional learning activities for preschoolers?
Have you ever noticed how much kids enjoy letting their imaginations run wild and pretending to be someone else?
Let children create masks they can wear when they want to be someone different. They can even choose a pretend name to go along with their mask.
For instance, if a child comes to school feeling upset about something that happened earlier in their day, it can sometimes be helpful for them to attribute those feelings to the character they become with their mask. This way, they don’t have to carry those emotions themselves.
Imagine saying, “Today, ‘Patti’ (a made-up name) is feeling sad while wearing her mask.” Then, together, you can explore ideas for making ‘Patti’ feel better. The child can even switch back to being themselves and brainstorm ways to cheer up the fictional character they’ve become with the mask.
This approach also works wonderfully when using role-play with stuffed animals.
Ready for More?
Empower your kids with these 12 Mini Mindfulness Exercises for Kids. Get ’em right to your inbox.
19. Use Calm-Down Cards
Try using calm-down cards during transition times.
These cards will be your new secret weapon of distraction.
Have kids or students pull out a calm-down card, complete the activity as instructed, and watch their mood magically change. (Help them get back to the green zone.)
20. Mindful Breathing Bubbles
Utilize bubbles as a tool for learning deep breathing.
Take a long, deep breath in, then exhale gently, blowing out the bubbles. Notice how your body begins to unwind as the bubbles gracefully drift away.
21. Listening Circle
Gather in a circle and pass an object while taking turns sharing something fascinating or important.
Teaching active listening is a significant social-emotional activity for preschoolers. Listening can be quite a challenge, especially when you’re young!
22. Make Friendship Bracelets
Make friendship bracelets and discuss the importance of friendship.
These class friendship bracelets from Teaching on Cloud 9 are really awesome.
We have an entire unit on friendships and social skills – check out a preview below:
23. Team-building Towers
Provide children with building blocks or LEGO sets, encouraging them to collaborate and construct a tower together. This activity fosters improved communication and teamwork skills.
24. Say Positive Affirmations
Encourage kids to repeat positive affirmations that promote self-confidence and self-love.
Social-emotional learning is also about helping kids develop a growth mindset and believe in themselves!
25. Take Brain Breaks throughout the Day
Attention span and four-year-olds:
These are two things that simply don’t go together.
Anyone who teaches, takes care of, or has kids knows all about the tiny attention spans that we, as parents or educators, need to accommodate.
Try this list of 60 Brain Break Ideas to use throughout the day to help regulate your little one’s body.
26. Build a Calming Kit (One of MY Favorite Social Emotional Learning Activities for Preschoolers or Any Age Group)
Create a quiet space in your home or classroom for a calm down area for when children need some time to settle down by themselves and think. Build a calming kit for kids to use when they become overwhelmed.
Calm Down Corner
A safe space allows angry, overstimulated, overwhelmed, or upset children to calm down. Over 20 posters, worksheets, and interactive charts will help you create an inviting, calming space or binder for kids.
27. Fishing for Feelings
This adorable game from Little Page Turners can be played as a one-on-one activity or as a group.
28. Set Up Games for Cooperative Play
Set up games that require cooperation, like a parachute game or a ball-passing circle.
We also have a unit on teamwork in our HeartSmart Curriculum! (Including our incredible fun Save the Teacher Co-operative Game.
29. Teach the STOP Method for When They are Overwhelmed
- Step back and stop what you are doing.
- Take a deep breath.
- Proceed Mindfully.
Grab this STOP poster for a visual representation in your house or classroom.
30. Sharing Circles
Provide a talking stick and let kids take turns sharing something special and positive with the group.
This works really well during morning meetings in a classroom setting.
31. Problem-Solving Play
Offer open-ended toys such as building blocks or clay, allowing children to collaborate in solving challenges and puzzles.
Developing problem-solving skills is a significant milestone in their social development at this age!
32. Mirror Mimic
Pair kids up and have them take turns mimicking each other’s movements.
This helps to promote observation and cooperation.
33. Create Emotion Faces Using Play-doh
Give your little ones these adorable emotions mats and some Play-Doh to create the face of each one.
Watch the giggles and fun they have!
Learning about emotions is important for preschoolers because it helps them understand their own feelings, communicate better with others, and build strong relationships as they grow.
34. Calming Sound Exploration
Try using different instruments or natural objects to create soothing sounds and discuss how those sounds make them feel.
35. Have a Gratitude Circle Once per Week
Gather in a circle, whether in your classroom or around the dinner table at home.
Each person can take their turn to share something they feel thankful for.
36. Listening Partners
Pair children up and let them alternate sharing stories while their partner practices active listening.
If you try this activity at home, your child can choose to do it with you or a sibling.
37. Send Thank You Notes
Encourage kids to draw or dictate thank-you notes to family members for small acts of kindness.
38. Create Calming Sensory Bins
Preschoolers are absolutely wild about sensory bins. Perhaps they’re secret mess enthusiasts, or maybe they’re just big fans of hands-on, squishy, and touchy-feely stuff.
Here’s the cool part: Preschoolers can have a solo adventure with a sensory bin when they need a break from the world’s craziness. Or, they can form a “sensory squad” and chat about how these bins make them feel.
No matter how you slice it, let’s make this playful habit work for us! Time to whip up some fantastic calming sensory bins for your home or classroom.
psssst….lavender is a very CALMING scent!
39. Feelings Matching Game
Take the same feelings cards from earlier and print two sets.
Voila…you now have your very own matching game!
40. Play “Catch a Feeling”
All you need for this fun game is an inflatable beach ball and a Sharpie.
Use a permanent marker to draw feeling faces onto an inflatable beach ball.
Toss the ball to a child. When they catch it, have them identify the feeling face under one of his hands.
He can also share a time when he experienced that feeling. It’s a simple and fun way to teach kids about feelings from Pam Dyson.
41. Practice “I Feel Statements”
Instead of just throwing insults back and forth or hitting, teach children to say things such as, “I feel upset when you take my toy without asking. Can we share and take turns?”
42. Scribble Art
(This fun idea is from The Art of Education University.)
Sometimes, we just need to “get the scribbles out!”
Teach students how to hold one or many drawing tools and scribble all over a blank sheet of paper, letting their emotions come out on the paper.
43. Create a Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down Jar
This sweet idea from Things to Share and Remember helps reinforce kids’ actions and the rules.
44. Play Feelings Bingo (One of the BEST Social Emotional Learning Activities for Preschoolers)
Feelings bingo is always a big hit for a family game or in the classroom!
45. Rainbow Breathing
Your little rainbow lovers will love this one!
Another breathing activity from The OT Toolbox.
Check out more of my favorite breathing exercises HERE.
46. Good Friend Vs. Not a Good Friend Sorting Cards
Grab this FREE download from Twinkl to let kids sort each scenario on the cards.
47. Use a Sensory Swing
This young age group loves swings, and did you know that swings are actually really good for their little bodies?
Swinging has a TON of therapeutic benefits for kids.
48. Play Games to Work on Taking Turns and Sharing
Games are one of the EASIEST ways to work on social skills and emotional development with this young age group.
Some of my favorites are Go Fish, Uno, and Candyland.
49. Make a Stress Ball
Did you know that squeezing stress balls releases tension and nervous energy?
Stress balls can also help stop fidgeting and provide sensory stimulation for kids.
This is why they can also be used as an outlet to help kids with emotional regulation.
Find out how to make a homemade stress ball out of a balloon right here!
50. Meditation Moments
Guide kids through short, age-appropriate meditation sessions to encourage relaxation.
Try using this Mindfulness Kit for Kids.
Final Thoughts: Social-Emotional Activities for Preschoolers
In the world of little ones, emotions can be as big as skyscrapers.
When children learn how to navigate and understand these feelings, it’s like giving them a superhero cape – they become more confident and feel like they’re steering the ship.
For parents and educators, this is a monumental triumph.
We possess the tools and the power to be their guides in this emotional journey.
One day at a time. One situation at a time.
By helping kids explore and comprehend their emotions, we’re laying down the groundwork for their success. After all, you can’t conquer those colossal emotions if you don’t even know what they are, right?
The first step toward mastering emotions is recognizing and acknowledging them.
So, let’s embark on this incredible adventure of teaching our little ones the social-emotional superpowers they need right from the get-go.
We hope you enjoyed this large list of social-emotional activities for preschoolers!