Suchetha and Tania are part of LearningPlanet partner Dream a Dream, a non-profit organization that empowers children from vulnerable backgrounds to overcome adversity and thrive in a fast-changing world. Read on to learn more about the importance and timeliness of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), especially for children aged 0-6.

Why is SEL important? 

We have witnessed young people show significant improvement in the way they interact with others, overcome difficulties, take initiative, and manage conflicts – some of the most important SEL competencies or life skills. In 2019-20, we observed 5332 participants (2638 male and 2694 female) between 8-17 years old from Dream a Dream’s After School Life Skills Program in 2019-20, who showed 91% positive change in life skills (Impact Report 2019-2020 Dream a Dream). 

Photo of After School life Skills Program illustrating SEL.

We see Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies or life skills as an anchor in helping young people thrive and navigate through their adverse situations. 

Photo credit: After School Life Skills Program, Dream A Dream

Why should SEL start for children aged 0-6 years at home?

0-6 years of age is infancy, early childhood, and play. The needs of this age are very different from the needs at the later developmental stage. Significant experiences of safety and play during this age by the primary caregivers invites a sense of trust in the world and themselves, bringing them to ‘initiate’ play situation leading them to believe in themselves, take control over their bodies, and acquire new skills. The process of SEL at home would include the significant adults around them to witness these play spaces for the child, validate, and reciprocate/mirror the emotions of the child through facial expressions.  

What are the obstacles for families to focusing on SEL?

Mindset is the biggest obstacle not just for the families but also for the other key stakeholders involved in the life of young people. We witnessed the mindset of families and stakeholders more on the lines of children/young people/learners gaining jobs that will help them survive/overcome their adversities by earning money, and outcomes like excellence in academics gain more weightage there.

The above-mentioned is undoubtedly important, however, what one forgets in the process is that it is limiting. It takes away the space for the child to explore their fullest potential.

The more we empower the young people/children/learners with spaces that include SEL, where they feel seen, heard, and understood, where they are respected for who they are, they develop confidence and feel clear in what they want to do in their lives. 

Photo credit: After School Life Skills Program, Dream A Dream
Photo of After School life Skills Program illustrating SEL.

Having said that, the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted this mindset to a considerable extent. We have witnessed different state governments showing the need to have initiatives to respond to the well-being and social and emotional needs of young people.

Happiness Curriculum by Govt. Of Delhi, Harsh Johar (translates to Welcoming Happiness) by Govt. of Jharkhand state, Anandam Pathacharya (translates to Joyful Curriculum) by Govt. Of Uttarakhand are a few examples of efforts made by stakeholders to include SEL in the educational spaces. 

What are good practices for SEL in general?

In our interactions with young people/children/learners:

– Invite all kinds of creative mediums, like visual art, play, drama, and movement for their expressions to be away from judgment. 

– Giving agency to the individuals to choose.

– Move from using the terminology of right and wrong v/s helpful and unhelpful; from positive and negative v.s pleasant and unpleasant. 

– Validate thoughts, feelings and actions. 

– Be mindful of one’s own biases, e.g. using gender-neutral terms, to make the spaces inclusive.

How does SEL influence learning outcomes? 

‘Happiness’ in Happiness curriculum (HC), an initiative by Delhi Govt is referred to as the ability to regulate one’s emotions as per the SEL vocabulary. The Happiness Impact Study has shown a remarkable difference in the way it has impacted not only students in isolation but also parent-child relationships and teacher-child relationships.

(Happiness Impact Study Report April 2022)

Does SEL positively influence children´s lives in general?

SEL spaces, if created safely, have the potential to make the child feel worthy, as they feel seen, heard and understood leading to them developing a healthy self-concept. This influences the way they interact with the world outside and the people around them.

Why is SEL for families (our concept) a needed concept?

SEL for families is a much-needed concept in the Indian context. Emotional-social awareness and vocabulary amongst the family members are a challenge. The efforts are being made in the process of implementing the HC to involve parents and witness the changes for their children.

It is being done by inviting the students to go back and share at home what they have done in their happiness classes. This has significantly increased avenues for parent-child interaction and therefore enhanced relationships. More specifically, 88% of parents reported that their child has become more helpful at home and supports them in chores at home.

By doing so, we have witnessed parents also buying into classes like these, and shifting from just academics to more social-emotional based. 

Since children spend a greater hour of their day in the company of their caregivers. The adults around them at the place of stay have a significant amount of impact on the way the young person perceives the world around, them and themselves. And if parents lack the skill and vocabulary, the likelihood of the child feeling unworthy, and not valued is high. 

Photo of After School life Skills Program illustrating SEL.

Through SEL for families or caregivers, we can do more towards facilitating emotional regulation for them to be able to hold similar safe and validating spaces for children/young people. It has the potential for a lot of unprocessed emotions to be addressed and prevents one from getting subjected to the growing child, which has its own unhelpful consequences.

Photo credit: After School Life Skills Program, Dream A Dream

How do families benefit from SEL for families on a daily basis?

If families receive SEL-based interventions, it opens the avenues for communication among the family members. Ensuring everyone in the family is valued and has a sense of belongingness.

Meet Suchetha and Tania

Suchetha Bhat is the CEO of Dream a Dream, a non-profit organization that empowers children from vulnerable backgrounds to overcome adversity and thrive in a fast-changing world. Since starting her career in 2001, she has worked both in the corporate and social sectors.

After a successful 9-year corporate stint where she worked with MNC’s such as Larsen and Toubro and IBM, she started her journey in the social sector as a volunteer with Dream a Dream. The experience convinced her to get a Postgraduate degree in Psychology and join the organization full-time in 2010. Due to her success in driving the scale and strategic direction of Dream a Dream as COO, she was promoted to CEO in 2018.

Her pioneering work in developing their design framework has firmly positioned Dream a Dream as a thought-leader in the space of Life-skills in India. Under her leadership, the organization has grown from working with 10,000 young people in Bengaluru to over 1 million children across 5 states. Suchetha is on the Advisory Council of Amani Institute and Kizazi. She is also an advisor to many young women social entrepreneurs and non-profits in India.

Tania has been a Lead Facilitator at Dream a Dream since 2018, and a Mental Health Practioner. She is practicing Counselling and Psychotherapy for last 6 years after completing her bachelor’s and master’s in Clinical Psychology from Lady Shri Ram College and Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

She has a strong bend for preventive mental health practices that led her to start her career in the educational setting and development sector with young people and respective stakeholders, facilitating and creating Social Emotional Learning frameworks. Her orientation while holding the spaces for the groups’ lies is believing in the potential of the other being and finding protective factors in an individual’s life to foster resilience and mitigate the harmful effects of adversity.  After witnessing the power of holding safe spaces for groups, she was intrigued to weave various facilitation approaches and schools of thought, and completed certificate courses in Arts-Based Therapy, Creative Facilitation, Psychosocial work with Adolescents and Youth and Trauma-Informed practices. 

Learn more here:

Press release for “The Learning Planet Institute Joins the Lego Foundation’s Initiative ‘Build a World of Play'”

Dream A Dream Impact Reports

Ted Talk: How every child can thrive by five

Linkedin Profile – Suchetha Bhat

Linkedin Profile – Tania