School libraries are often a refuge for learners who feel overwhelmed, need a safe space, or just want somewhere to go. At the start of the school year many are feeling stress and anxiety about the unknown of what the school year holds so I always try to make a point to do as many SEL activities to reduce stress for our learners across campus. By having SEL activities readily available in makerspaces, passive programming, active programming, or even lessons in collaboration with the counselors or teachers, the culture of the school library will grow. After the past few stressful years that we all have been going through, providing these activities is needed for all students, staff, and even yourself.
I want to state that I always work with my school counselors on any of the SEL activities I do. School counselors are experts in this field and consulting them has always been a great asset because they can give insight and guidance on these topics. Plus, reaching out to the school counselors is a great way to open up the chance to collaborate. I know that the school counselors on my campus have incredible resources and together we are able to make an impact on our campus.
For me, these are a few of my favorite SEL activities to do with learners to build school library culture. All of the activities that I do are cost-effective and easy to administer in any setting.
Bullet Journaling- For this activity, I have the learners bring their journals but I supply the markers, pens, washi tape, etc for them to decorate. Either I, or the school counselors, talk about the benefits of bullet journaling to reduce stress, focus on the good and to prioritize what is important.
Watercoloring– Watercoloring is a great tool to allow learners to be creative and relieve anxiety. For this activity, I get long sheets of white butcher paper from the workroom and grab a variety of different watercolor paints. I just lay everything out on tables and allow learners to be as creative as possible. I love doing this because it creates community art that all the learners work on together and could be displayed.
Speed Friending– Speed Friending is just like Speed Dating but for friends! I set this up where each learner is given a number and a set of questions. They then rotate through and meet different people who they might not have known or been friends with before. The questions guide conversation if they are unsure what to say. This allows students to meet new people and make connections with people they might not have known before.
Origami Worry Boxes– Origami Worry Boxes are another SEL activity that I love to collaborate with the school counselors. I usually do this activity on National Origami Day, November 11. For this, I just teach how to make an origami box and either I or the school counselors talk about how worry boxes work. Worry boxes are the perfect way to write down your worries and put them in the box and forget about them.
Coloring Pages– Coloring pages are a great way to just allow learners to decompress and shift their focus to something else. One of my favorite things to do with coloring pages is to have coloring pages based on the different holidays or themes of the month. For example, in September, I have Loteria coloring pages.
Write down, ripe up, and throw away– This SEL activity is a fun way to have learners forget what they are worried, anxious, or stressed about. Learners write down what is bothering them, ripe up the paper, and throw it away. The school counselors and I talk about how this can help relieve what is bothering them and how this can help them whenever they need it.
All of these activities are simple, cost-effective, and easy to implement in any sort of library format but have a major impact on the learners and the school library culture. Having activities like these provided will create a safe haven and a safe environment for learners.
Author: Jessica Fitzpatrick
Jessica Fitzpatrick is a high school librarian in Houston and is in her tenth year of education. She holds a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Houston and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of North Texas. She is a 2022 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, 2022 TLA MVP, an AASL Inspire Special Event Grant recipient, 2022 YALSA’s MAE Award for Best Literature Program for Teens, the 2022 TLA Branding Award Winner for Reading Program, the 2020 TLA Branding Award Winner for Community Engagement, YALS article contributor, and on the TAYSHAS Reading Committee. She enjoys running, reading, and spending time with her two daughters and husband. You can follow her on Instagram at @librarian_fitz and on Twitter at @librarianfitz .