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Social Emotional Learning through Middle Grade Books: The Ice House


Hello, lovely readers!

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who read my first blog post and shared your thoughts. It’s been so great to hear such lovely responses, and to be reminded that there are other like minded creators out there, excited to share their knowledge and learn from one another.


Like most of us, I’ve been reflecting on 2021 for the past few weeks. I hope that you can find some comfort and peace for yourself in these last few days of the year. If you had goals you’ve yet to reach, give yourself grace. In the wake of the generally terrifying state of the world, and the personal ups and downs that so many of us have experienced this year, I’ve found myself wondering about my old students, and, really kids in general, who have been in and out of the classroom over the past two years. Now more than ever, educators, parents, and family members of elementary school students are acknowledging that the past two years have created emotional roadblocks that are difficult to address. Sometimes, even as adults with resources, it feels so hard to express how we’re feeling. But in the midst of working to meet the academic gaps resulting from remote learning, teachers are now faced with students who have dealt with isolation, prolonged anxiety, and a collective sense of dread and grief. Baring all of this in mind, I’ve come back to books (unsurprisingly). Not just reading for reading’s sake, which of course is my favorite thing, but reading to start social emotional learning (SEL) conversations in the classroom (or at home) with middle school aged kids.


So, I’ve decided to start a series of posts covering how some of the best middle grade books can be used to facilitate important social emotional learning classroom and family discussions. I thought there was no better book to start with than my own, being that I know it inside and out. *The Ice House was printed with a book club discussion guide, which I’m so excited about, but I also wanted to provide some context based on my own experiences.

 

I’ve thought a lot about how I’d teach using The Ice House if I were still in the classroom.


The Freeze - an unprecedented climate event that has found Louisa forced inside for a quarantine-like, perpetual snow day - creates a desperate longing for a better, more optimistic future while Louisa and others are feeling stuck. Its characters, including parents and teachers, are unsure if and when normal will return. It’s a middle grade book about social distancing, but it’s also about mental health issues like anxiety and grief. It covers middle school angst, tween friendship, and middle school kids going back to school after remote learning. My ultimate goal in writing The Ice House was to create a book that one kid could read and relate to; to make one reader feel less alone. I hope it can support parents and teachers as they have meaningful conversations with their middle schoolers about how they’ve felt over the past two years.

Social Emotional Learning Topics: Middle School Students & The Ice House

Situational Parallels


The parallels between the Freeze and the COVID-19 pandemic are clear. Start a conversation with kids about the similarities and differences they see between what’s happening in Louisa’s world and what’s happened in their own. The next natural question would be if they can relate to Louisa’s feelings about being trapped inside. Did they feel differently during their own quarantine experience? Why or why not? Was there a different character they could relate to more? How?

This is a great place to start social-emotional learning based discussions that foster feelings of belonging and help forge connections to the book and it’s characters, as well as to fellow readers in their classroom community.


Middle School Kids Working for Change


Louisa and Luke bond because they share a desire to escape their apartments due to the stress they are experiencing as a result of changes in their families. As they rekindle their friendship, they become more comfortable sharing their desire for things in their world to be different. Asking readers if there are things that they wish they could change in their world and how they might change them can give kids an outlet to discuss their concerns. Classmates can contribute to potential solutions. Just knowing that someone else wants the same thing can build bonds between children, and make them feel a little less isolated. Louisa and Luke come together to build their ice house as an escape. In building it together, they develop a new sense of purpose. Talking about projects kids can engage in as makers at home, in their classroom, or in their communities can help kids feel a renewed drive and purpose. Plus, this provides an opportunity for cross curricular learning and project based learning.

Art for Creative Expression

Louisa’s mom and Luke’s dad are both artists. Louisa’s mom is a glass blower, and Luke’s dad is a musician. These creative outlets are major parts of their identities, and are critical parts of how Louisa and Luke view their parents. At different points, Louisa and Luke both try to imitate their parents’ artistry, with varying results. Asking kids why Louisa and Luke try to embody their parents’ artistic expression could lead to questions around how they themselves feel about creativity. Discuss different types of art: visual art, music, writing, even movies and TV. Ask if kids in your classroom see themselves as creative, and why some people continue to create art even in times of great stress. You can reinforce the book’s message that everyone can be creative, and that instead of trying to imitate the artistry of others, kids can create as an outlet to express their feelings without judging their work.

Going Back to School after Remote Learning

Louisa is nervous when she learns she’s going to return to school in-person. When she does return, things feel different for her. She’s not sure of her friendships, and she’s trying to figure out where Luke fits into her school social life. Discussing why Louisa feels uncomfortable and anxious about returning to school is a gateway into a conversation around how students have felt transitioning back into the classroom setting after being remote. Have they felt like their friendships have shifted? Do they feel different? Do they miss remote learning at all?

Social Distancing and Quarantining across the Globe

Priya’s time capsule project demonstrates how the Freeze connected people all over the world. People shared similar experiences despite living on a different part of the globe. This can help teachers and students identify patterns and shared emotional responses despite differences. You can ask students how they spent their time at home. Were their siblings frustrating, or did they like having them around? Were they bored, or did they enjoy having more time to hang out with their families? Did they have video calls with people in other parts of the country? Or other countries? How did they feel?

I’d encourage parents and teachers to consider these suggestions beyond just traditional conversations or class discussions. Can these questions become prompts for a writing practice, or a visual prompt, like drawing a picture? Remember that we don’t want to alienate students who do not feel comfortable sharing verbally or have anxiety sharing their feelings around their peers.

 

If you have questions, comments, or additional ideas about using middle grade novels to discuss social emotional learning lessons in elementary school, please share your comments below! I’d love to hear your feedback. And as always, thank you so much for reading! xx