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Gaming SEL

Games as Transformational to Social and Emotional Learning

Matthew Farber

Games enable children to practice emotions in spaces that are free from actualized consequences. With thoughtful guidance, games can help children manage emotions, perspective-take, demonstrate empathic concern, and exhibit prosocial behaviors.

Emerging research suggests that these competencies—also known as social and emotional learning (SEL) skills—are, in fact, teachable. In Gaming SEL: Games as Transformational to Social and Emotional Learning, Matthew Farber investigates the rich opportunities games have in supporting SEL skill development. Experts from the fields of education, game development, and SEL—including folks from CASEL, the Fred Rogers Center, Greater Good in Education, iThrive Games, Minecraft Education, and UNESCO MGIEP—share advice.

Games themselves cannot be responsible for children’s learning. Having a supportive educator or caregiver guiding experiences can be crucial. This book also includes recommendations for embedding games in classrooms in ways that support meaningful SEL skill development. Regardless of your experience, content area, or grade level, this book is for you!

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Chapter One How Mister Rogers Taught Us to Feel


As a young child, I was raised on a steadfast diet of schoolwork, family, friends, and television—lots and lots of television. I watched Mister Rogers talk about feelings and art and jazz. I learned about letters and numbers from the furry friends who lived on Sesame Street. I watched cartoons. I sang along to Schoolhouse Rock! and Free to Be… You and Me. I played dress up with Carole and Paula on The Magic Garden. I also read the collected works of Maurice Sendak and Judy Blume. In the book Sunny Days, David Kamp described this wave of children’s programming as the “Age of Enlightenment Jr.” (2020, pp. xx–xxi).

Children’s television was the educational technology—and the screentime—of its day. Using television as a teaching tool actually began in American Samoa—“the bold experiment,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson called it (Watters, 2015, para. 2). There, students sat in classrooms watching programs on math, science, language arts, and other instructional content. After viewing, worksheets were handed out and graded by the local Samoan teachers (Schram et al., 1981).

The War on Poverty was also launched during Johnson’s term. It included social programs like Medicaid, which provided health coverage to low-income citizens, and Head Start, the early childhood education program. The goal of Head Start was (and still is) to end cycles of poverty. Head Start was founded by one of John F. Kennedy’s relatives, Sargent Shriver; since its inception, it has served over...

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