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What is SEL – and Why Is It So Important?

What is SEL – and Why Is It So Important?

What is SEL, or social-emotional learning? We know it can be a confusing term.

It’s often referred to as the acronym SEL, and here’s a fun fact: “sel” means salt in French. Ok, focus!

We wrote this quick blog to take the mystery out of the fancy words. We’ll define it simply, explain why it’s so important, and give you some research stats.


Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process of learning how to:

  • Understand and manage emotions
  • Be aware of yourself
  • Maintain relationships with others
  • Make good decisions

These are all really important life skills for kids to learn.

Why is it important?

Imagine that you are building a house. Can you start by just building the walls, adding windows, or decorating? Nope, nope, and nope. All houses start from the same place. The foundation. It’s what makes sure the house is strong, stable, and successfully built.

Social and emotional skills are like the foundation of a house. They are the basis for everything kids learn how to do as they get older.

These skills are important for caregivers too. It’s hard to support a child’s social and emotional learning if you don’t feel supported.

Recent research from CASEL shows that kids who have strong social and emotional skills are more likely to graduate from high school, complete a college degree, and hold a stable job. That’s powerful!

CASEL also compared kids who have SEL programs in school to those who don’t. They found that schools with SEL programs saw 57% more students increase skills, 27% more students improve academics, and 24% more students improve social behaviors and less distress.

So what is CASEL and why are they so cool – and worth reading about?

What is CASEL?

If you do a quick internet search for social-emotional learning, you’ll see the name CASEL pretty high up on the page. CASEL is one of the most well-known organizations for research and programs on SEL. The team came together officially in 1994 and has been doing innovative research studies ever since. The team at CASEL created a framework for social-emotional learning that includes these 5 areas of competence (we’ll break them down!):

  1. Self-awareness:

    Understanding who you are, understanding your emotions, developing values, and growing self-confidence.

  2. Self-management:

    Managing emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Developing self-discipline and motivation.

  3. Social awareness:

    Understanding that other people have different perspectives, developing empathy for all people, identifying diverse

  4. Relationship skills:

    How we create and maintain different relationships, successfully communicate with others, navigate and resolve conflicts, develop collaboration and teamwork skills

  5. Responsible decision-making

    – We think this one explains itself!

There are more examples for each area of growth, but we want to keep this short and sweet. Most social and emotional learning programs draw inspiration from CASEL’s legendary framework.

Let’s wrap it up!

What are the most important takeaways here? Social and emotional learning is how kids develop key life skills. It’s the foundation of a house. And there is a ton of strong research to back it up.

Want to know how to bring SEL into your life? Visit the main blog for tons more tips and resources.

Find out more about CASEL here.


  • Remy Bessolo

    Remy Bessolo is a forest school teacher, professional voice actor, and copywriter. She has been working with kids for over 10 years in a variety of settings - preschool, summer sleep away camp, and behavioral therapy just to name a few. She loves to hike, travel, dance, and even go bungee jumping! She earned her B.A. in Integrated Educational Studies from Chapman University.

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Remy Bessolo
Author and Forest School Educator


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