Can We Talk?

How self-expression and communication skills nurture learning in difficult times.

It’d be hard to find anyone who’ll disagree that school isn’t just for “book learning” — there’s a whole spectrum of social skills we learn growing up, interacting in classrooms, gyms, cafeterias and auditoriums. Stuff like how to share and cooperate. How to speak up for yourself, and ask for help when you need it.

The most successful teachers have always understood that the goal of education isn’t perfect math or composition, it’s teaching kids how to learn. It’s creating support & direction for students to question, reason, research and verify their world for themselves, a world that includes an ever-increasing variety of people with many different attitudes, ideas, and challenges.

Good teachers get this, instinctively, and as a result most of us have fond memories of our favorites who reached and engaged us. We likely also have not-so-terrific memories of flubbed answers, blanking out, feeling stupid or acting up on certain teachers more than others. And our scholastic performance, unsurprisingly, tended reflect our experience. Seems hard to believe, but until quite recently, most teaching curriculums failed to recognize that a kid’s social and emotional well-being is huge part of learning.

In the 90’s however, educators, researchers, practitioners, and child advocates began collaborating on holistic ways to energize young minds in the process of learning. Their findings became the basis for what’s known today as “SEL” – Social-Emotional Learning – which focuses on five fundamentals of healthy development: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

Typical SEL exercises include check-ins, mindful breathing, reading aloud, expressing gratitude, and welcoming activities. Kids are taught that apologizing doesn’t make a person weak, and that it’s never too late to stop and try a different path. Feelings matter, but so does doing your best. “Dreams don’t work unless you do” is a favorite saying, along with “You are braver, smarter, and stronger than you think.”

Common sense? Sure, but it’s also science. SEL has proven, measurable benefits including an 11 percentile point increase in academic performance. There’s also strong evidence that SEL can help heal trauma, curb school violence, and adjust to post-pandemic life. The consensus is so overwhelming among educators these days that the federal government just announced $90 million for SEL and “whole child” teacher training in 2023. It’s a needed investment in our future.

In our chaotic society, kids have fewer and fewer opportunities to practice social and emotional skills in safe surroundings. Incorporating SEL into our schools helps address this need with respectful, inclusive, collaborative classrooms where students can grow into thoughtful, empathetic adults. The best part is, you don’t need a teaching certificate to enrich your child’s social and emotional aptitude. Storytelling games like Dungeons and Dragons were made for SEL! They’re also fun and accessible.

In D&D, each character is provided an opportunity to react within a certain scenario — players have complete say over everything their character does, affecting what happens not just for them but for all. That’s a lot of room to explore social and emotional implications! Players can safely push boundaries that are often awkward or off-limits in real life.

“D&D is all about personal growth, every turn is an exercise in social interaction, “ said Paul Lazrow of, which hosts a variety of virtual D&D games for all levels. While gameplay can vary wildly, one thing is always consistent: there are no winners or losers. Participants maximize each character’s attributes to achieve group goals – or not. Even when an effort fails, bonds are formed. Emotions are shared and acknowledged. Ideas exchanged and expounded on.

D&D payers are rewarded for making informed decisions and listening to feedback. They learn to be understanding and helpful, to negotiate fairly, communicate effectively, and solve problems creatively (and collectively). All these skills from the gaming table translate readily to home, school, and even the playground too. “It’s not a magic button, “ said Paul, “but if your child is struggling with grades or just getting along, the missing puzzle piece could be SEL skills.”

LEARN MORE about SEL at and, including great info on how parents & teachers can advocate for local programs (k – 12).

DIVE DEEPER into D&D at (lots of FREE stuff to get you started in their blog).

Adventures are 3 hours per day (M-F) for a total of 15 hours of gaming for $180. Four timeslots: 9am, 1pm, 6pm & 9pm. All Levels. Signup online or call 215-253-3353 Paul Lazrowfounder & Dungeon Master **Friends Discount: 10% off for Local Readers**

FREE COMMUNITY D&D? Local games are being organized now, email for info & updates.

Final Thoughts — SEL: What’s Not to Like?

Plenty, if you believe right-wing pundits claiming that SEL is a slippery slope to CSE, aka “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” is a fact-based, gender-inclusive approach to reproductive wellness for young people that’s baselessly claimed to promote homosexuality, transgenderism, and pooping in litterboxes.

SEL has also been called a “Trojan horse” for CRT, anti-white propaganda and a pro-LGBTQ+ agenda. School boards and parent councils in more than a half dozen states have pushed back, citing false claims that SEL uses brainwashing techniques to groom a “woke” generation that makes God sad. Click the links here for more insight into this fascinating wrinkle of political extremism. What do you think? Comment below or email Thanks!

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