Using Books to Encourage Social-Emotional Learning with Preschoolers (plus 7 Examples!)

What is social-emotional learning? 

Social-emotional learning is the process of learning healthy habits that help children manage emotions and relate to others. It includes direct teaching about understanding and managing feelings, decision-making, and how to interact with others as well as opportunities to practice strategies in social and real-world contexts.

Why is social-emotional learning important for preschoolers?

Just as preschoolers are learning their shapes, colors, letters, and numbers, they are also learning about who they are and how to work, play, and get along with others. Building academic skills takes instruction and time. Similarly, social-emotional learning requires a focus on teaching these important skills and opportunities for practice. Developing social-emotional skills at a young age has lifelong benefits both in the classroom and beyond. 

How can parents support social-emotional learning?

There are opportunities every day for children to learn and practice social-emotional skills. Before entering a new situation or experience such as the first day of school or a visit with new friends, you might proactively strategize about ways to connect with peers or how to ask for help if needed. After a play date or visit to a park, you might reflect together on how your child showed determination by trying a new skill or modeled kindness to others as they shared with a friend. When your child has a big emotion, whether it be positive or negative, you might help them process those feelings.

Beyond these organic moments, it is important to create opportunities to teach your child about feelings, friendships, and getting along with others. Books provide a great platform for your child to learn about these topics. While reading, talk about how a character feels and why they feel that way. Point out examples of teamwork, respect, and kindness as you read. You might discuss what you would do in a similar situation. Take turns sharing your thoughts and ideas. These examples and conversations introduce important concepts and ideas that can help your child as they have similar feelings or experiences.

Social-emotional learning at home
What are some books that support social-emotional learning with young learners?

There are many age-appropriate books that directly talk about social-emotional learning concepts. And most children’s books offer wonderful models and examples for these ideas. Here are some favorites for toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry: Stick and Stone show how kindness and standing up for others can lead to a beautiful friendship.
  • The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier: When Ruby puts her mind to building the fort of her dreams, she perseveres until the fort is complete. 
  • Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems: This story teaches children about friendship and the importance of including others when they play. 
  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin: This story book shares a fun, singalong example of making the best of a messy situation.
  • Thank you, Omu! by Oge Mora: This story shows that generosity and kindness are the foundation for a supportive community.
  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae: When Gerald the Giraffe doubts that he can dance, a friend’s encouraging words remind him that being yourself is the very best person you can be.  
  • Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell: In this book, children see the value of teamwork and learn that when we all work together, we can create beautiful things. 

For more ideas about books that promote social-emotional learning, visit The Milwaukee Coalition for Children’s Mental Health. This site includes a link to a read-aloud video for each book listed.