6 tips for hosting an SEL activity night at your school

You know parent engagement plays a key role in student achievement. And just like with academics, when you involve families in social-emotional learning initiatives, you’ll see better results. Hosting an SEL activity night at your school is the perfect way to help families understand the benefits of SEL and give them ideas for continuing skill-building at home.  

Follow these six tips to plan a successful SEL activity night at your school:  

1. Think about barriers to attending 

Timing: You probably already have an idea of what hours of the day work best for parents and guardians to attend extracurricular events. If not, send out a survey to find out the times that work for them, and plan your event for a time that’s best for most people to attend.   

Childcare: Another barrier for many families is childcare. Talk with your planning committee about how you can offer free childcare in an area of the school supervised by teen and adult volunteers.   

Transportation: Are you able to provide transportation or help arrange a carpool? If transportation assistance isn’t possible, are there materials you can send home or a way to offer a virtual event?  

Language: Make sure your multilingual support staff is available to assist with the event, helping to promote it, translate handouts, and serve as interpreters the night of the event.  

2. Make it an open dialogue by starting with “what” and “why”  

The first part of getting parents and guardians on board with SEL is helping them understand why it’s valuable. 

Create a display that highlights the benefits of SEL in simple language (ability to cope with big emotions, better ability to focus on schoolwork, ability to set and achieve goals, ability to make responsible decisions, etc.). 

Your event also offers an opportunity to help reduce the stigma around mental health. Find ways to show families that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues and to seek support.   

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Maximize your funding for mental health and SEL

Find out how to make the most of your ESSER funding with this guide. You’ll learn best practices and get tips for effective mental health and SEL support.

3. Set up interactive stations  

Setting up stations for your SEL activity night will allow families to arrive any time during the event without missing anything.  

Start by deciding on the topics for each station. Then, create large posters that clearly define what participants will learn at each one. You’ll want to choose topics that are specific to your school community, but stations could include the following: 

  • What is social-emotional learning and how does it support your child? 
    Provide a positive spin on how SEL helps foster lifelong skills for school, home, and the workplace, as well as supports academic achievement.  
  • Mental health warning signs to watch for 
    Parents and guardians don’t always recognize warning signs in their children. Give them a checklist and let them know what resources are available when they need support.  
  • Learn how to breathe away stress 
    Share breathing techniques, such as square-breathing, that will help participants cool down when the pressure is on.  
  • Get stress-reduction tips 
    Along with breathing techniques, there are lots of ways participants can learn to destress that only take a few minutes. Read “15 stress-reduction tips” to get ideas to share.  
  • Learn to practice mindfulness  
    Mindfulness is an important skill that helps keep people from getting overwhelmed or stressed out, but it’s a skill that needs to be practiced. Show families how they can practice mindfulness throughout their day.  
  • Proud to be me! 
    Create a selfie backdrop with your school mascot and a slogan that shows pride in belonging to your school and pride in themselves. Let families take pictures with their cell phones and have a volunteer on hand to take photos as well.  
  • Communication tips  
    Two volunteers may want to run this station so they can model good communication through skits and role-playing. You can also have participants try an activity that asks them to work together to build something or solve a problem without speaking to practice communication (and usually provoke some laughter).
  • Exercise your stress away  
    Show participants how to bring physical activity into their lives in small ways, whether it’s through introducing fun family “minute-to-win-it” challenges, providing a checklist for a 10-minute exercise routine, or showing them pedometer apps that track their steps.
  • At-home games and activities  
    Along with fun physical challenges, share some SEL games and activities that students can play at home with their families. Consider creating SEL take-home kits for your school library so that families can check out materials to use together at home, or provide students with their own SEL kits.
  • Keep calm and color on!  
    Coloring has become a popular stress-relieving activity. Recruit your art teacher to create a custom school mural with kraft paper and a black Sharpie. Integrate words into your mural such as confidence, self-respect, empathy, compassion, goals, responsibility, respect, cooperation, communication, and more. Families can take turns coloring in a portion of the mural on SEL activity night.
  • What bullying looks like and how to handle it 
    You probably already have bullying policies in place, and now is the time to share them. Help families learn to recognize what bullying is and give them the steps to take if their child is involved in bullying.
  • Resources and ideas you can use at home  
    So that families don’t have to carry handouts from station to station, create a resource center that is the last place families visit before they exit the event. They can pick up resources from each of the stations and tips for ways to continue to focus on social-emotional learning and mental health at home.  
Hosting an SEL activity night at your school can help families understand the value of SEL

4. Make it fun! 

Dealing with emotions, supporting mental health, and relationship-building are big topics. But that doesn’t mean you can’t infuse some fun into the night to engage families in learning. Think about the following ideas:

  • Offer food — cookies, popcorn, or trail mix are always a hit. If you have the resources and volunteers, you can supply small bites of food from different cultures and provide the recipes.  
  • Create an SEL passport for families to get stamped at each station. 
  • Have families earn a trinket at each station or a bead to string into a necklace or bracelet as they go.
  • Raffle off a prize or two throughout the night, such as these SEL kits families can use at home.  

5. Recruit volunteers and experts  

You may have counselors and mental health experts on staff who can help facilitate some of your stations. If you need more support, reach out to organizations in your community that focus on well-being and mental health as part of their mission.  

These may be your local health and human services department, your public library, a pediatrics clinic, or a yoga practitioner in your community. Tap into families as well to find parents and guardians who are willing to lead stations.  

You may wish to also recruit students to be ambassadors at each station and help teach the content. This will help create buy-in as well as foster intergenerational communication.  

All these volunteers can help families understand the benefits of SEL and lead them through different exercises and discussions.  

6. Continue the conversation 

Hosting an SEL activity night is a positive step in creating closer ties with the families in your school community. Continue reaching out to parents with resources, reminders, and updates, and find ways to make the social-emotional work their children are doing visible to them. This could be through hallway displays and projects, social media, or classroom newsletters.  
Make social-emotional learning part of parent-teacher conferences as well. Along with academic achievement, talk to families about areas where you see their child excelling and areas where they have opportunities for improvement.  

By engaging families in an SEL activity night and consistently reaching out to them with tips and resources, you’ll develop stronger bonds that support your students socially, emotionally, and academically. 

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