We love teaching life skills like kindness and emotional regulation through amazing read-alouds. There’s something about seeing a character in a story experience similar challenges—and find a solution—that really makes SEL lessons click for students. That’s why we were so excited to hear about a new life skills library-in-a-box for grades pre-K–3 called Building Connections, from our friends at Teacher Created Materials and their imprint Free Spirit Publishing.
We sent Building Connections to first grade teacher Valerie Ruckes and second grade teacher Stephanie Sanders so they could test it out in their classrooms. Read what they had to say about it.
Every Building Connections set comes with 12 grade-level books that are each connected to a different SEL skill.
“All of the topics covered are skills important throughout one’s lifetime, including relationships, self-awareness, self-management, and making good choices,” says Sanders. “In my classroom, we work on these skills all year long. Each book is short and to the point, giving just enough to help kids relate to the topic. The books are full of colorful pages representing characters of different ethnicities, making them relatable to all.”
“The selections are highly engaging and would naturally encourage conversations I already have with my students,” adds Ruckes.
Building Connections includes a teacher’s guide, with great conversation starters and activities to go along with each book.
“We discuss topics similar to what is covered in the books during Morning Meeting, so they will make great examples and conversation starters,” says Sanders. “Then I’ll incorporate the extension activities within my ELA block. They also fit in well as morning work activities, which will be shared with each other as we start our day.”
“My school participates in the Positivity Project, which teaches students 24 different character strengths that everyone possesses,” says Ruckes. “Many of the life skills in Building Connections match up with those character strengths so I’m excited to use it as an additional resource.”
The books featured in the library offer curriculum connections too.
“I read Jayden’s Impossible Garden aloud today because it was related to a planned nature walk we were taking midday on our campus,” Sanders told us. “It was great timing! The purpose of the walk was to use the five senses and write or draw what correlated to them.”
“We discussed the nature discoveries in the story, which takes place in NYC, compared to where we live in Boca Raton, Florida,” Ruckes says. “We talked about how we can find the beauty of nature in any outdoor space, including the limited area we explored on campus. Finally, we had a big conversation on the main SEL points of the book, which relate to believing in yourself, staying positive, and reaching goals.”
Building Connections offers a quick, cost-effective way to build an entire SEL collection without having to curate books one by one.
Bonus: When you buy Building Connections, you also get access to digital versions of the books and activities! “I plan to use the digital version of the books on an IFB during read-aloud time so that the pages are easy to see and accessible to students,” says Ruckes.