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Social and Emotional Learning- Let's all learn how!

Updated: May 20, 2022

This Spring at The Clay Studio of Missoula we have certainly been kept on our toes. As we respond to the changes we're facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to re-approach all of our programs from new angles. I wanted to touch specifically on our collaboration with SPARK! Arts.

The Clay Studio of Missoula is one of the many teaching arts organizations and teaching artists who do arts-integrated residencies in Missoula County Public School classrooms through SPARK! Arts. It's a wonderful program that fills a need for enhanced arts education opportunities for children in our city. Unfortunately, all upcoming Spring residencies have been cancelled due to school closures and stand-in-place orders.

In a genius, generous, and creative move by Missoula County Public Schools and SPARK! Arts, they have developed a way to fulfill the contracts of Spring teaching artists by offering an alternative to our original residencies. Instead of appearing in-person in a classroom and leading an art activity, they have asked us to create new arts content that can be shared widely and accessed from home: videos, recordings, writings, worksheets. They have asked us to approach our learning content differently as well. We won't use our original modes of integration with non-art subject matter. Instead, this specific content must have a basis in Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL.

What is SEL? Well, I didn't know before just a few short weeks ago. Luckily SPARK Arts! was great about sharing information and resources. Social and emotional learning is a learning process that integrates self-awareness and self-management, self-care, stress management, creative expression, problem solving, and awareness of your impact on the world. The best resource for information that was shared with me is this website: It goes into detail, and I would highly recommend a look.

What strikes me about SEL is how well it fits into arts education. It's so intuitive, I think many art teachers are already employing many SEL themes without realizing it. (Or maybe many of them are already familiar! You all are amazing and know so much!). When I think about clay specifically, the tactile nature of it leads to an exploration of cause and effect. I press, poke, squeeze, and what happens? The material responds. Then, when you choose to create something, you learn the boundaries of what clay can do. Did the head fall off? Maybe I didn't wait long enough for the body to set up. Maybe the head is too big, or too heavy. Through the process of making, the artist is learning about problem solving, goals, self-awareness, the effects of your actions. The artist is addressing feelings through the making process. It can be as simple as sadness with an unfortunate collapse, or pride in a finished piece. With very little direction, a session with clay brings up a world of opportunity to explore SEL themes. It's exciting!

We'll be sharing the new material we make for SPARK! Arts here on our website. I hope that this new educational philosophy can be more intentionally integrated into our future classes both with arts-integrated residencies with Missoula County Public Schools, but also within our own educational programming at The Clay Studio of Missoula. This new and stressful situation we have found ourselves in has brought to light the need for these sorts of learning opportunities. We absolutely cannot afford to overlook the emotional needs of ourselves and our children right now. But it is something we can practice all the time to create resiliency in ourselves and our families and loved ones. I'm so excited to keep using this new knowledge to help create meaningful arts opportunities.

To kick off our SEL- related content, I am delighted to share a comic by our Studio Manager, Donna Flanery. What a gem.

If you are interested in finding more art-at-home resources, SPARK! Arts has a great list on their website. You can find it here:

If you haven't already, you can also check out our educational resource pages for adults, and kids and families.


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Kelly Seitz
Kelly Seitz

I just read another great article about SEL. Here's the link! It's for teachers and educators, specifically.

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