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NewsSep 28, 2020

Teachers send art-focused social-emotional learning home

Free curriculum developed by Lesley alumnae engages kids with drama, music, drawing, painting, poetry and dance

Colleen Smith and Jenee Villalobos
Teachers and collaborators Colleen Smith and Jenée Villalobos.

With the goal of educating the whole child, social and emotional learning has become a major component of classroom education, and a new resource created by two Lesley graduates will help parents bring those concepts home.

For the capstone project in their Integrated Teaching Through the Arts master’s program, 2020 graduates Colleen Smith and Jenée Villalobos created a flipbook of simple, art-centric activities for young children and parents to do together.

"Social and emotional learning is the knowledge and behaviors needed to understand and manage emotions, set positive goals, feel empathy for others, engage in positive relationships, and solve problems in an effective way."
Jenée Villalobos and Colleen Smith

“We saw that a lot of the families needed help with parent interactions. A lot of parents just didn’t know what to do with their kiddos,” says Villalobos, a special education preschool teacher. 

The educators are both based in Lake Elsinore, California, and though they teach in different districts, both enlist the same uninspired curriculum for social-emotional learning.

“We felt like it wasn’t really teaching them, rather it was telling them what to do,” Villalobos says.

For Smith, who teaches transitional kindergarteners (a school grade that serves as a bridge between preschool and kindergarten), and Villalobos, art was already an important component in their lesson plans before they joined Lesley’s off-campus master’s program, which was delivered in California.

“I’ve always felt that art is really important for kids and learning. It opens their minds more. I feel like they learn more,” says Smith. “When I heard about this program (at Lesley), I was hoping I could get more out of it so I could teach the art components that I don’t feel so strong in.”

After each weekend session with her cohort, Smith says she returned with something new to apply to her classroom.

Colleen Smith dressed as the Cat in the Hat with someone in a Cat in the Hat suit
Colleen Smith with the Cat in the Hat in her classroom.

The same was true for Villalobos, who works with children on the autism spectrum.

“In preschool, you’re always singing, you’re always dancing, but I really wanted to know the foundations, I really wanted to know why it helped them and how it helped them,” she says.

When it came time for their final project, the two educators were inspired to create their own interactive program for kids and families. In addition to their coursework, Villalobos and Smith drew from their combined 47 years in the classroom to create the flipbook, incorporating activities inspired by the needs of their own students.

Arts integrated Social Emotional Learning,” available as a free PDF, is geared toward preschool and transitional kindergarten. The units include skills for learning, handling strong emotions, friendship, problem-solving and empathy and can be done in any order. Each lesson includes a brief guide for parents and three to four activities that use a variety of artistic mediums and arts and crafts, along with suggested reading. For example, a book about finding calm through breathing is coupled with a craft to make a pinwheel that can be used when practicing breathing. Other activities include “dance, move, freeze” to encourage paying attention, writing a song to help remember rules, and learning to recognize others’ emotions by drawing expressions with sidewalk chalk.

The flipbook can be used on its own, but ideally would be coupled with backpacks outfitted with supplies that accompany a particular lesson. Smith had planned to invite parents and students to monthly backpack sessions, where they would receive a lesson from the book and assemble the supplies they need in a backpack that could be exchanged for new materials in the next session. The coronavirus put that idea on hold, but she and Villalobos are still incorporating aspects of the curriculum into their lessons and sending resources home to parents while school is remote.

The two teachers say their colleagues have shown interest in using the materials, especially with remote learning. Parents and teachers are welcome to download the PDF.