Music’s Role in Supporting Social Emotional Learning In Children

March 9, 2017

By Shannon McClintock Miller

When I was little, my mom would put me and my sister to bed by singing, “M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E, Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse.Heather and I would happily march upstairs when we heard her start to sing, almost every night, and sometimes even with our batons in tow. Our mom was a kindergarten teacher and she used that song, and many others she had up her sleeve, to help us develop our Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL.  

What Is SEL?

In the article “Social and Emotional Learning in the Performing Arts Classroom,” Wendy Hart Higdon states, According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, Social and Emotional Learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

SEL is a very important topic in education and within our libraries, classrooms, and school communities. Our children need to learn these skills in order to be successful in school and throughout life. We hear it often and need to equip ourselves with the knowledge and tools to support all of our students in their Social and Emotional Learning.  

One of my favorite ways to teach and foster SEL is by using music, stories, and songs, just as my mom did with me. We can use these tools to help children embrace the five competencies of SEL—which include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and responsible decision making—in a variety of ways.  

Tying In Music

The music, stories, and songs from Cantata Learning do just that! Let’s take a look at how they are perfect for supporting the competencies of Social and Emotional Learning.

The Happy Moose book cover

Children will learn how to cope with their emotions by singing along to the stories in the Me, My Friends, My Community series. The Songs About Emotions set includes The Scared Elephant, The Sad Squirrel, The Mad Monkey, and The Happy Moose. These titles will guide students in learning ways to cope with their feelings, how to be friends and being kind to one another. The animals characters make these topics even more approachable and fun for children to talk about. The Caring for our Planet set show children how to be a positive part of a community through positive, upbeat songs and fun illustrations.

The School Time Songs series support classroom and leadership skills such as lining up, cooperating, sharing, listening and cleaning up. These skills are essential in being part of a group, getting along with others, and making friends. I love how the playful illustrations support these essential skills, along with the beautiful diversity of characters throughout each book.

Eldonna Skahill, the elementary guidance counselor at Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa, uses both of these series with her students and teachers. Here’s what she has to say:

I use music so often in my elementary guidance classes. Catchy little tunes have helped us learn the Seven Habits of Happy Kids and have encouraged us to “Stop and Think” before making decisions. The students readily respond to music, they retain the information better, and the actions that go along with the songs engage them physically. Using music is a way to appeal to different learning styles. I’ve had parents tell me about hearing the songs at home, being “taught” the songs by their child, and then singing them together!

That really says it all!  

Looking Ahead

Because Social and Emotional Learning is such an important and essential topic in education, Cantata Learning and Capstone are hosting a webinar in the fall where we will take a deeper look at how stories, songs, music, and movement work together to support our children in the library, at school, and at home. They have created wonderful resources to support our students in their SEL development and so many other parts of their lives and learning. As we kick of a new school year, this will be perfect timing for taking a look at all these great resources and tying them in to our teaching practices.

Until then, remember this catchy Cantata tune as you work with your students this week…

When you’re mad, and you want to scream and shout,
take deep breaths and breath it all out.
Find a quiet place. Count to ten.
You’ll be a happy Monkey again.

It’s an easy little reminder and something that could stay with them forever, just as M-I-C-K-E-Y has stayed with me too.  



Me, My Friends, My Community: Caring for our Planet set. (2017). By Vita Jimenez. Illustrated by George Ermos. Music by Mark Oblinger. Cantata Learning.

Me, My Friends, My Community: Songs about Emotions set. (2016). By Jenna Laffin. Illustrated by Brian Hartley. Music Arranged & Produced by Erik Koskinen and recorded at Real Phonic Studios. Cantata Learning.

School Time Songs set. (2016).  By Jonathan Peale. Illustrated by Tom Heard. Music Arranged & Produced by Musical Youth Productions. Cantata Learning.

Social and Emotional Learning in the Performing Arts Classroom. National Association for Music Education (NAfME). N.p., 24 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.