Building Social and Emotional Learning when Kids Need it Most

Author: Danielle Zahn, Pure Game Field Champion and Research and Development Coordinator  

With summer winding down and the start of the school year upon us, Pure Game is preparing for their return to the many schools they serve, but not in the traditional way. Typically, our Field Champions would be wrapping up in-person summer programming and planning their schedules to return to their beloved schools, waiting anxiously to be out on the field again with their students. But this year, things are looking a little different. As schools begin their return to distance learning, Pure Game is prepared to meet their needs in a virtual format, ensuring students are still able to reap all the benefits the organization has to offer. 

Pure Game sprang into action throughout the summer, working tirelessly to create a comprehensive curriculum fit to address students’ current needs and the challenges they face. Amid school closures, social distancing, and virtual learning, many children have faced reduced interaction with their peers, decreased opportunities to be physically active, and increased feelings of stress coupled with heightened emotionality. Pure Game recognized that the combination of such experiences has the potential to take a negative toll on children. So, rather than standing idly by while the present situation continues to unfold, Pure Game decided to step up and brainstorm ways to address these issues, allowing children to connect with one another and continue to positively develop while doing so. 

Building off of the success of the Remote Recess program launched in the Spring of the last school year, Pure Game has continued to shift its focus toward addressing children’s Social and Emotional Learning through virtual experiences. Social and Emotional Learning is a critical component of children’s positive development, making it a vital element to include in Pure Game’s youth programming, especially during today’s trying times. So, you may be asking yourself what exactly is Social and Emotional Learning, and why is it so important? Well, Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL for short, “is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”¹ SEL is broken down into five competencies that are considered essential skills for functioning effectively in everyday life. The five competencies are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Teaching self-awareness involves giving children the tools necessary to perceive their emotions, thoughts, and values accurately, and recognize how those factors influence behavior. Self-awareness helps give children confidence and enhances their self-esteem. Self-management helps children learn to regulate their thoughts and behaviors, control impulses, and effectively manage feelings of stress. These skills are also crucial for helping children learn to set goals and motivate themselves. Social awareness gives children the ability to take the perspective of others and learn to respect and empathize with others and their experiences. Relationship skills, such as clear and effective communication, constructive conflict negotiation, and cooperation, are taught to help children learn to establish and maintain wholesome and rewarding relationships. Lastly, responsible decision-making helps students learn to evaluate the consequences associated with their actions, allowing them to make constructive choices about their behavior and social interactions. All of these competencies are critical for enhancing a child’s ability to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors in order to effectively and ethically deal with everyday tasks and various challenges they may face.¹ 

Due to their importance, Pure Game has taken these competencies and integrated them into their youth development curriculum, to further enhance children’s growth. Field Champions tested out these reformed lessons in virtual summer camps and their recent Play On-line back to school sessions. The programs demonstrated overwhelming success, foreshadowing a bright outlook for the virtual school programs set to take place this academic year. Positive feedback from the students who participated so far affirms that Pure Game is taking active strides in the right direction to ensure the organization’s programming is making a lasting impact on these children’s lives. While children may be missing out on many familiar activities these days, Pure Game’s programs hope to alleviate this by offering students an outlet to virtually connect with one another, stay physically active, and learn essential life-skills that will benefit them for years to come.  

Pure Game firmly believes that this improved programming will help students learn to navigate these difficult times and set them up for successful futures as well-rounded adults. Although we are sad that we cannot yet come together on the field, our Field Champions eagerly look forward to connecting with students virtually and offering the support they need as they jump into the new academic year! 


  1. CASEL. (n.d.). from  – Read More From Us…


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