Art Education SEL

Proven SEL art activities recommended by teachers

Your art classroom is already a safe space for students, and by integrating social-emotional learning activities into your lessons, you can provide even more support for their mental health. We asked teachers around the country how they are building SEL into projects and here’s what they had to say. Keep reading to get some ideas for incorporating mindfulness, self-reflection, kindness, and more into your own classroom! 

Teachers’ favorite SEL art activities  

  • I have students express their thoughts and feelings through their artwork. They reflect on their work in progress as well as the finished piece. Our students are in an SEL group and work together every day. I am currently assembling a hexagon project where every student creates a hexagon piece that will be added to the larger collaborative piece. They are encouraged to add mindful quotes and images to express who they are. – Pam B. 
  • I use mindfulness with both my art and music classes. I have them express their feelings through their art in story form, via comic art, or by asking them to tell me about their drawings. I am constantly looking for new ways to incorporate SEL in my room. – Kim D. 
  • [I use] mindful minutes, breathing exercises, and students made calming jars to use at home.
    – Angie H. 
  • My students have daily warm-up activities. For Wellness Wednesdays, the activities are SEL-based and allow students to explore their social and emotional health through creativity. – Heidi L. 
  • I’m doing mindful minutes at the beginning of each class. I have a bunch of 1- to 3-minute mindfulness strategies that I’m going to have the kids do. It will be an emotional check-in! – Pam H. 
  • I am using sketchbooks. My students are given 10 minutes before I start the lesson to draw from a topic using the alphabet. For example, this week was letter C. They can draw their favorite character, and they can color it however they want to. There are no rules; it just has to be done by the end of the week. Students may use watercolor, markers, colored pencils, or tempera paint to complete it. They can choose the topic as long as it starts with the letter of the alphabet for that week. – Sabina C. 
  • I try to incorporate SEL into every lesson. I always challenge students to think about themselves and their feelings, goals, and thoughts. I am working with all middle school students and teachers to create a collaborative tree, challenging students to create a part of the tree that showcases their growth goal for the year. – Heather M. 
  • SEL is woven through most of my art lessons. From trying to understand an artist’s viewpoint or perspective and connecting their art to their experiences to having students reflect on themselves, their goals, and their values. I teach validation and empathy while weaving in kindness for the community. – Jennifer C. 
  • I do a lot of lessons rooted in SEL amongst other things: neurographic art, Zentangles, inner versus outer self-portraits, reflection sheets, and so on. Beyond all of that lovely stuff I used to hold (and looking to start again) a weekly art therapy group with projects and journaling rooted in art therapy practices that focus on self-help and resilience. – Kayla C. 
  • We read lots of books together in K-1-2. Besides discussing the artwork, we discuss the emotions and motivations of the characters. – Dawn K. 
  • I will incorporate neurographic art and gratitude spirals. Perhaps I will do a lesson on the book Color Monster about feelings. There are so many opportunities for SEL in art. – Marcia B. 
  • I started the year by having all the students work on a kindness project. The theme of kindness will be added to different projects throughout the school year. – Laura D. 
  • Ever since a PD with Sandy Coleman, I do an SEL circles lesson sometime throughout the year, it can be a specific lesson, 2D or 3D, and sometimes to just help get through a tough time of the year and have a spur of the moment breathing and reflecting time! – Natasha B. 
  • I have a table set up in the back of my art room for students who may need an SEL break.
    – Evelyn A. 
  • I love doing calming and meditative drawing and painting like mandalas. I also love to do neurographic art assignments that explore the emotions of color and how they relate to the student’s own emotions. In my classroom we host art nights where students teach others step-by-step painting. The students enjoy painting and teaching others. – Kari D.  
  • I’m excited to be integrating more opportunities for students to communicate their zones of regulation and have that lead conversation about our emotional well-being. – Kathryn A. 
  • All of my early finishers are meant to incorporate some kind of mindfulness or meditative coloring. It’s a nice way to take some classtime to work independently and to take a breath from the school day for students. – Hannah W. 
  • I am going to do neurographic art with my intro high school students while we listen to soothing music, for brain breaks and getting into creative mode. I am planning to do it at the start of class at least one time a week. – Anne N. 
  • We just completed “Finding our Zen with Zentangle” and discussed the importance of relaxing and meditative art. I am looking forward to SEL with color and painting throughout the school year!
    – Jeana H. 
  • In our elementary Choice Art Room (student artists express and create art that is meaningful to them), students focus on self-awareness, understanding emotions, learning about the perspectives and feelings of others, and naturally collaborating and working with classmates. We also have Art Happy Hour throughout the year where teachers gather in the art room to create art and have snacks and fellowship with colleagues! So much SEL! – Elizabeth W. 
  • I do a Mindfulness Minute at the start of class to help students transition into art! A few deep breaths can be a game-changer. – April R. 
  • I’m at a new job, so I’m going to set up a Quiet Corner in my room. It will have a rug, bean bag chair, and small bookshelf with SEL-related books. Any student who wants a few quiet moments to decompress can sit there comfortably. – Beth J. 

How are you incorporating SEL art activities into your classroom? 

We hope you got some new ideas to try in your classroom and would love to hear how you’re focusing on social-emotional learning already in your art room. Share in the comments below! 

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