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Supporting Students with Winter Social-Emotional Learning Activities for Counseling and Classrooms

Updated: Feb 14

Winter is a season of festivity and joy and it can also be a period of unique challenges for both students and educators. You know what's a game-changer during this season? Diving deep into social-emotional learning (SEL.) SEL includes learning to understand and manage one’s emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Especially in the wintry months, harnessing SEL can help us address many of the issues that arise, from attendance hiccups to behavioral changes. By tailoring SEL activities to the season and holiday themes, school counselors, school social workers, and other educators can enhance engagement, making lessons fun and relevant. This ensures that, despite the cold outside, the classroom remains a warm, inclusive, and emotionally nurturing space. Let's explore how we can infuse the magic of winter into our SEL strategies, ensuring our students thrive both emotionally and academically.

In this post we’ll look explore some of the challenges that come during winter including attendance, inattention and trouble focusing, and behavioral concerns. We’ll also share some social-emotional learning winter activities, and discuss inclusivity in schools during the winter, as well as share some mental health counseling activities for winter.

Winter's Classroom Challenges: Navigating Attendance

The winter and holiday seasons bring about a unique set of challenges in the classroom and schools including attendance issues because of an increase in illnesses, decreased engagement, or behavioral challenges.

Attendance can be an issue during Winter in the classroom. We've all been there – a sudden outbreak of the flu or a virus spreads through the school, and before you know it, half the class is out. Attendance can also be impacted by family travels which lead to extended absences, or even weather-related school closures.

Absences not only disrupt the flow of lessons and classroom dynamics, but they can also take a toll on a student's emotional well-being. When students are away from the classroom, they might feel like they're falling behind which might increase feelings of anxiety, missing out on crucial discussions or instruction, and missing the camaraderie of their peers. It's crucial for educators and parents alike to be understanding and supportive during these times, ensuring that those who do get sick have the resources they need to catch up.

Being flexible as an educator is so helpful this time of year. I’ve gone into a classroom to do a whole class lesson on Skills for Big Feelings in the winter and then decided to do a completely different lesson instead because half the class was absent and I didn’t want them to miss the lesson!

Keeping Engagement High Amidst Holiday Excitement with Winter Social-Emotional Learning Activities

While the bustling excitement of the holiday season and upcoming breaks can bring lots of joy to students, they can also lead to a dip in classroom engagement. Students often find their minds distracted and wandering to holiday plans, gifts, and festivities. Who can blame them? Yet, it's essential to help students stay on track.

To keep focus sharp during these times, consider incorporating thematic lessons or activities that blend the festive spirit with academic content. Short, interactive movement breaks during class can also rejuvenate attention spans. Lastly, setting clear expectations and having open conversations about the importance of balance between home and school responsibilities can make a world of difference. Remember, it's all about blending the magic of the season with the joy of learning. Read on for some fun, exciting social-emotional learning winter activities!

Winter and Christmas Yoga Brain Break Game

Research shows that classroom movement and brain breaks result in improvements in behavior, as well as improvements in on-task behavior. This engaging yoga game melds two of children's favorite things: movement with 'Would You Rather' and 'This or That' questions! An ideal pick to embrace the Winter or Christmas season, be it in a counseling setting or as a reinvigorating whole classroom brain break.

This yoga game will benefit your students and would be great to do as a classroom movement brain break, in health class, in physical education or gym class, during occupational therapy, counseling, or as part of your morning meeting, when coming back from a transition, or used as an incentive. It comes in both a digital and print edition with poster and pocket sized versions! Check out the Winter would you rather yoga game here which is also included at a discount in my Winter SEL Bundle! You can find the Christmas would you rather yoga game here, or at a discount in my Christmas SEL Bundle!

For another fun Winter movement activity, check out this video I made! This would be a great classroom brain boost, or a warmup to begin a session. The kids repeat the positive affirmation, and then do the stretch. Be sure to follow me on youtube!

Winter Themed Social Skills Activities for Addressing Behavioral Shifts in the Classroom

Winter in the classroom can also introduce its own set of behavioral challenges. Let's talk about increased energy first. With cold weather often ruling out outdoor activities, indoor recess can become the norm, leading to students having pent-up energy that needs a physical outlet. If you’re looking for a fun activity to teach expected indoor recess behavior, check out my Fingerprint Friends set which comes with a printable and editable digital social story, worksheets, board game, and more!

Couple the lack of movement and outdoor recess with the exhilaration of the upcoming break and holidays, and you've got a classroom buzzing with excitement. But on the flip side, there's also stress. The holidays can be tough for some students due to family dynamics, financial pressures, or other family issues. Additionally, for many schools, exams or assessments are scheduled before the winter break, which may cause stress for students. In addition, teachers, in a bid to wrap things up, might also amp up the workload to finish up units or assessments before winter break, which can inadvertently add to the stress.

It's essential, then, for educators to recognize these shifts in behavior and mood. Offering a listening ear, creating calming classroom mindful moments (from Skills for Big Feelings), or integrating short physical activities can be beneficial. By being proactive and understanding, we can help students navigate the rollercoaster that the winter season in the classroom can sometimes become.

As you can see, the winter months undeniably present a variety of challenges in the classroom, from unpredictable attendance to heightened stress, emotions, or behavior. Yet, every challenge offers an opportunity. One of the most effective and enjoyable solutions lies in integrating fun, seasonal social-emotional learning lessons and games!

These activities can help increase focus and address behavioral concerns while fostering an atmosphere of understanding and support. By tapping into the season and festive spirit, educators can use this time as a great opportunity to blend social emotional growth into their student’s days.

Blending social emotional learning (SEL) with the fun of the winter season offers an excellent approach to student engagement. So if you’re looking for winter SEL for students or Christmas SEL activities, I’ve got you covered! Dive into this treasure trove of winter-inspired SEL activities and discover the magic of merging seasonal joy with emotional growth. Read on to check out my:

Winter SEL and Counseling Activities:

Christmas SEL and Counseling Activities:

Winter Social Emotional Learning Directed Drawing Activities for Counseling

Have you ever heard of Directed Drawing or Guided Drawing? It's like having a drawing buddy guide you through making a picture step by step. It's a cool way to put lines and shapes together in a new way, helping you learn to draw all sorts of new things!

But here's the really interesting part – I've come up with something called SEL Directed Drawing and I have this awesome Winter-themed bundle to share with you. This is where art meets some awesome social-emotional learning prompts and questions!

So, with SEL Guided Drawing, you get these cool questions and prompts that cover different social skills like talking with others, getting along, solving problems, understanding feelings, and even CBT. And guess what? When you chat about or answer these prompts, you unlock a new step to create your own winter drawing!

This SEL Directed Drawing also has versions that you can edit. This means you can change the questions to fit your clients or students perfectly. It's super handy because you can differentiate it or make it just right for whoever you're working with. And there's also a one-page worksheet included too which is great for early finishers in class or to keep in your calm corner. Check it all out here. You can grab the bundle that includes a bonus set, or you can get each winter set separately. To learn more about guided drawing, check out this blog post.

Winter SEL Boards Games for Counseling

This winter social-emotional learning game board bundle covers SEL concepts like understanding feelings and different perspectives, problem-solving skills, making expected behavior choices, gauging the size of challenges, and aligning reactions with those challenges. You’ll get 10 game boards with 40 scenario cards for discussion, and it comes in both print version and a digital version for telehealth or smartboards. You’ll get two board for each of these topics:

✔ Is this a good choice?

✔ What would you do?

✔ How are they feeling?

✔ What is the size of the challenge?

✔ Does the reaction match the size of the challenge?

This is also included at a discount in my Winter SEL Bundle!

Winter Color by Code Feelings Activities

Coloring is such a regulating activity – this is the reason they sell so many adult relaxation coloring books! These winter color by code feelings activities are a no-prep hassle-free activity that comes differentiated and with both digital and printable worksheets. Check out these Winter Emotion Color-by-Code sets here.

Christmas and Winter Counseling and Social Emotional Learning Activities

To meet the needs of the children you’re working with, the following SEL activity sets come in two different versions – both a winter version and a Christmas version!

Winter and Christmas Feelings Dough and Drawing Activity Feelings Mats for SEL & Counseling

Delight in the wonders of sensory play and explore feelings with this winter-themed dough and drawing mat set or the Christmas-themed dough and drawing mat set. With these engaging drawing or play dough mats, kids can artistically express what the characters might be feeling. You’ll get 44 unique emotion mats for drawing or sculpting play-doh featuring four different characters, 40 scenario cards for feelings discussion, and a feelings exploration dice for expanding the conversation. This is a fun, sensory-inspired and creative way to explore feelings! The winter version is also included at a discount in my Winter SEL Bundle. The Christmas version is also included at a discount in my Christmas SEL Bundle. And both of these are available at a discount in my dough and drawing mat growing bundle.

Winter and Christmas Positive Affirmation and Feelings Mazes for Counseling

Dive into the winter season with these SEL winter mazes, or SEL Christmas mazes, which are filled with positive affirmations and prompts for exploring emotions. Paired with conversation dice, two-piece matching puzzles, scenario cards, and bonus activity SEL worksheets, these are perfect for nurturing self-esteem and working on identifying feelings. These mazes are ideal for calm corners, small groups, one-on-one counseling, or as a task for early finishers. Check out the winter set here, which is also included at a discount in my Winter SEL Bundle! You can find the Christmas set here, which is also included at a discount in my Christmas SEL Bundle!

Winter and Christmas Feelings Puzzles: Perfect for SEL Centers!

Step into the winter wonderland with these fun Winter Feelings Puzzles and Christmas Feelings Puzzles! Crafted with adaptability in mind, these puzzles cater to diverse needs, being both differentiated and self-checking. Enriched with dice, bonus SEL worksheets, and a matching puzzle challenge, these sets are a fun winter-themed SEL activity for younger children in individual counseling, centers, or group sessions, or early finishers. Check out the winter feelings puzzles here which is also included at a discount in my Winter SEL Bundle! You can find the Christmas puzzles here, or at a discount in my Christmas SEL Bundle!

Winter Expected Behavior Game

This winter self-correcting digital social skills game also comes with a print edition! A fun social-emotional learning activity for the Winter season to review 30 different expected and unexpected behavior choices! Social-emotional learning competencies addressed include self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making.

Includes: ✨

✔ 30 Scenarios to discuss

✔ Print version

✔ Digital game version

✔ Large expected and unexpected sorting mats

✔ Small expected and unexpected flip cards for each child

Christmas Expected Behavior Game

This Christmas self-correcting digital social skills game teaches children about expected and unexpected behavior and it also comes with a print edition too. Review 30 different expected and unexpected behavior choices in a fun game to address self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making. You’ll also get expected and unexpected sorting mats. This versatile resource can be used on telehealth, in a classroom on a smartboard, or in-person. Check out the Christmas Expected Behavior Game here, or at a discount in my Christmas SEL Bundle!

Snowman I-Statement Communication and Problem Solving Game

This Snowman I Statement Problem Solving Activity is a FUN game to teach conflict resolution, communication, and problem-solving skills by using a simple I-Statement social script! This winter-themed Snowman I-statement game can help kids practice how to solve social problems by building a snowman. You'll get an I-Statement poster, 64 scenarios, 40 solutions, 5 mats, and 9 feelings including worried, angry, sad, tired, annoyed, shocked, scared, confused, and embarrassed. This game can be played digitally through Google Slides™ and there is also a printable version included in both color and black-and-white.

Inclusive Winter Celebrations in Schools: Addressing Allergies, Equity, and Cultural Diversity

Some other considerations during the winter season for school counselors and other educators to consider include allergy concerns! I have food allergies so this is a topic I am passionate about! Please remember that homemade holiday snacks brought into the classroom can be problematic for students with food allergies. There can also be equity concerns where activities like gift exchanges, or special clothing days, can highlight economic disparities among students or can inadvertently exclude students who can’t afford these items. I mention these considerations because I feel it is important to recognize these challenges can help educators, administrators, and parents to strategize and ensure that the winter and holiday season remains a positive, inclusive, and productive time for all students!

It's vital to remember that with a tapestry of students from various cultural backgrounds, there's a broad spectrum of holidays being celebrated. While many might think of Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year's, let's not forget others like Kwanzaa, Diwali, Lunar New Year, and the Winter Solstice, to name a few. These diverse celebrations bring richness and depth to our communities.

Some students might not celebrate certain holidays or any holidays at all, and the emphasis on mainstream celebrations can unintentionally lead to feelings of exclusion. As educators, it's our responsibility to create an inclusive environment. This means being aware, showcasing a range of celebrations, and always being open to learning and adapting! After all, the beauty of winter isn't just in the holidays we celebrate but in understanding and respecting the uniqueness of each one.

I always discuss which holidays the students I work with celebrate ahead of time, because I want to make sure I am inclusive and I don’t leave anyone out. So, I often use the Winter-themed non-Holiday social emotional learning activities too!

As we wrap up this exploration into winter classroom challenges and solutions, let's keep in mind the overarching aim: to create an educational environment that recognizes and celebrates the unique strengths of each student. Through integrating winter-themed SEL activities, focusing on inclusivity, and addressing concerns such as allergies and cultural diversity, we can ensure a season of true warmth, understanding, and growth. So, as the snowflakes fall and the cold winds blow, let our classrooms and counseling offices become a beacon of support, empathy, and unity, where every student feels seen, heard, and valued. Together, we can embrace the winter season, turning challenges into opportunities for deeper connection, empathy, and learning.

Free SEL Counseling Christmas Printables

Download these free Christmas counseling activities in my subscriber SEL resource library if you're a member. If you're not a member yet then just sign up here! Please sign up with a personal email address as some agencies/districts may block the email or send it to a promo folder. Once you sign up, you'll get an automatic opt-in email. If you don't see it, check your other folders. Then you'll get instant access once you opt-in!



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