7 Activities for Social and Emotional Development for Preschoolers

As a preschool teacher, one of your daily responsibilities is to figure out how to promote children’s social and emotional competence in the classroom. And, while fostering emotional development in early childhood education is an important task, it’s not always easy.


At ChildCare Education Institute, we’re dedicated to providing early childhood educators like you with the training and resources necessary to best support your students’ growth and development. And, because we’ve got a number of courses that focus on the topic (including this one), we’re sharing our top seven activities for social and emotional development for preschoolers:


Take a look inside a book.

Storytime can be an important tool for teaching your students. In fact, according to several studies, reading can help children spark and grow their imagination; learn the difference between real and make-believe; get to know words, sounds and language; and learn more about their culture and others. So, why not use storytime to further your students’ social and emotional skills, as well?


Dedicate at least one circle time per week to reading a book that talks about feelings and/or communication. Additionally, ensure your reading nook is full of relevant titles so students can use their independent reading time to explore the topic even more.


Not sure which books to start with? Some of our favorites include:



Lead students in a daily check-in.

Because students tend to learn better through repetition, having a daily emotions activity is a great way to ensure the skills you’re teaching are built upon and grown. Have your preschoolers start each day with an “emotional check-in” where they take note of how they’re feeling and record it. To do this, create a large board that has some of the most common emotions visually represented (e.g. a happy face with the word “happy” underneath, a crying face with the word “sad” underneath, etc.). Then, have students record their dominant emotion by placing a velcro strip with their name underneath the corresponding face or by clipping the emotion with a monogrammed clothespin. If you don’t have enough space in your classroom for a large emotions board, this activity can also be completed using emotion jars and named popsicle sticks.


Create strategy cards.

Strategy cards (like these from Liz’s Early Learning Spot) are one of our favorite activities for social and emotional development for preschoolers. After introducing the concept of anger to your students, spend some time talking about how the feeling can affect our actions. Have your students reflect on the different ways anger has affected them in the past, and talk about how we can take control of our emotions and deal with them in a productive way. Then, share with them that anger management isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution — and that how they choose to deal with their anger may be different from how their neighbor does. Finally, give each student their own set of strategy cards and let them know this can be a resource for them to explore different coping mechanisms. Challenge each student to select one or two strategies to try out the next time they are upset or angry in the classroom.


Host a classroom sing-along.

Does your weekly schedule include time for song and dance? If so, use your next music class to further develop your students’ social skills through fun songs like these from Songs for Teaching. Have your students sing along to songs that talk about conflict resolution, social boundaries, empathy and more. After each song, have your kids reflect on what they sang and how they can apply those ideas to their everyday lives.


To help demonstrate the students’ new skills to their parents, host a musical showcase where your classroom sings a set of emotional songs and talks about what each means. If you’ve got instruments, have your preschoolers play along.


Hold monthly compliment circles.

Show your students what kindness and respect look like in action by hosting regular compliment circles as part of your activities for social and emotional development for preschoolers. During this time, invite all of your kids to join you in a circle on the ground with their legs stretched out. Then, have one student volunteer to start by picking another person in the circle, saying their name out loud and giving them a compliment. The student who received the compliment will say, “Thank you!” and pull their legs in to sit criss-cross. Have students take turns giving out compliments until everyone in the circle has their legs crossed.


Once compliment time is over, have students reflect on how it felt to make others smile and to receive a compliment from a friend. Challenge them to continue spreading that joy outside of the classroom walls.


Get crafty.

Arts and crafts projects are among the easiest activities for social and emotional development for preschoolers — especially our favorite craft, “What is a good friend?” First, work with your students to create a list of qualities they think are important to have in a friend. This can be done in small groups, in a large circle time setting or individually at their desks. Once the list is created, invite your kids to draw pictures for each of the qualities. For example, if a student says sharing is an important quality, they’ll then draw a picture to represent what sharing looks like. Once all of the pictures have been completed, hang them around the room so students have a reminder of what it looks like to be a good friend.


Let the credits roll.

There are few things students (and teachers) love more than an in-class movie day. Cap off a week of feelings-focused lesson plans with a film that will reinforce what your students have been learning. Take breaks throughout the movie to talk about what’s going on with the main characters and ask your students if they can point out some of the things they’ve learned recently in the film. After the movie ends, have your students reflect on what the movie has taught them about emotions and social skills.


Don’t know which film to play? We recommend:


  • “Inside Out” (all emotions)
  • “Frozen” (friendship)
  • “Cars” (teamwork)
  • “The Good Dinosaur” (grief)


Want to learn more about fostering emotional development in early childhood education? Our online professional development courses can help! Click here to explore our 150+ courses on everything from how to promote children’s social and emotional competence to how to strengthen parent-teacher communication.