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How Does IF… Teach SEL?

We use the power of storytelling and popular game-play mechanics to engage and motivate.

Each month, your child navigates a new IF… adventure. We use the power of storytelling and popular game-play mechanics to engage and motivate. What your child is not likely to realize is that she’s learning standards-aligned Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum while playing.

Each of our IF… chapters contains one month’s worth of “in class” lessons. These are lessons that our experts have taught to success in schools for over three decades. The lessons are now delivered through the spoken and written words of IF… characters and vivid in-game experiences.

Every “move” your child makes in the game is a choice.

“Behind the scenes” we’re assessing each choice against 20 distinct SEL skills. These are the skills we’re working to build in your child. We call these our ExSEL goals.

IF…’s 20 ExSEL goals were derived from the study of state teaching standards for SEL, as well as experts from Yale, CASEL, The Nueva School and KIPP’s Character Report Card.

Who’s teaching your child?

Our lessons are delivered through the enchanting characters of Greenberry. Here are “bios” of IF…’s characters/teachers:

YouDog is a Zen master and a master of Social and Emotional Learning.

Depending on whether your children choose to be a dog or a cat, they will have a dog-guide or cat-guide to help them along their adventure. If they choose to be a dog, YouDog will be their guide. YouDog is a Zen master of SEL. He’s wise, slow and a bit dramatic, and he cares deeply about helping others. YouDog will help your children unlock the secrets of planet Ziggurat and of Greenberry. He’ll guide them in learning how to use Social and Emotional skills to bring the dogs and cats back into harmony and restore Greenberry to its flourishing state


Kibble is a loyal and loving sidekick who travels around the game world with your child.

She is an advisor, friend, confidant and conscience, similar to Jiminy Cricket or Tinker Bell. Kibble has enormous winglike ears and seems to glow with energy. She is plucky and a little mischievous.

We worked with Stanford Research Institute to apply protocols from a method called Evidence Centered Design to our game.

Evidence Centered Design is a process for effectively linking players’ “choices” in the game to evidence that demonstrates that he or she is learning what we are setting out to teach. The visual above demonstrates an in-game example of these linkages.

Emotional Smarts: Letting kids fail & grow, June 4 at 11 am PST (2 PM EST)

Letting kids fail & grow, a Google+ hangout on air

with Adonal Foyle Former NBA star and Michele Borba, Today Show’s parenting expert

part of Emotional Smarts: Conversations on parenting

Wednesday, June 4 11 am PST (2pm EST)

RSVP to:


Moderated by Carol Lloyd, executive editor

When is it ok to let kids fail and when is it better to protect them?  How do you teach kids to learn from their failures and turn them into successes?  Everybody experiences failures in their life but for many parents it’s hard to watch their kids fail without stepping in to rescue them.

Join us for Letting Kids Fail & Grow – the next Emotional Smarts: Conversations on Parenting Google+ Hangout seriesfor a wide-ranging discussion about teaching kid’s resilience in the face of obstacles with former NBA star and education advocate Adonal Foyle and the Today Show’s parenting expert Michele Borba.

Together, these will bring their divergent life experience to offer ideas and tips on dealing with one of the most misunderstood areas of parenting: the balance between supporting a child’s self-esteem and letting them experience (and grow from) failure.

Join us for a spirited exploration of failing to succeed parenting paradox and jump in with your questions. Wednesday, June 4, 11 am PST (2 pm EST)

How does it work?

Just sign up via  Google+  and jump in with your questions, then log on at the appointed time to participate. In this unique forum, you’re invited to join the video conversation by contributing advance and real-time questions and comments via the Google+ hangout page or Twitter. If you can’t make the live event, no problem, you can watch it later on GreatSchools or SocialMoms.

About the Emotional Smarts series

GreatSchools, SocialMoms, and If You Can, the company behind the game If…, created the Emotional Smarts, a Google+ hangout series to brings some of the most insightful voices in parenting, education experts, and influencers from other fields together to talk about developing emotional intelligence in our kids – and ourselves.

For the first hangout, ivory tower met reality TV when director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Marc Brackett spoke with America’s Supernanny Deborah Tillman.  Over the next few months, we’ll pair experts with divergent views to explore a common parenting theme and offer practical wisdom and tactical advice.

Adonal Foyle is a retired veteran NBA star who also founded Kerosene Lamp Foundation and Democracy Matters. Adonal grew up in the tiny nation of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, where his quest for a college education ultimately led him to the USA and into the NBA is an amazing and inspirational story of ambition, hard work and a little bit of luck. Growing up in impoverished circumstances in the Caribbean dramatically influenced Adonal’s worldview, and off the court, he is an activist with a deep commitment to the community, especially young people.

Despite being recruited by all the top basketball colleges, Adonal Foyle made the unorthodox decision to attend Colgate University, a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. A major factor in this decision was his desire to leave college with a strong academic grounding, which he sensed would be harder to accomplish at a school where you were a basketball player first and a student last. Adonal makes numerous community service appearances and founded two non-profit organizations: Democracy Matters (, a non-partisan campus-based project working to get big money out of politics and people in; and Kerosene Lamp Foundation ( which uses basketball to engage and empower at-risk youth to grow into healthy and well-educated leaders in the Caribbean and USA. Adonal graduated magna cum laude from Colgate University, and has a Masters in Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University.

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an educator recognized for her solution-based strategies to strengthen children’s behavior, character, build strong families and reduce peer cruelty. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has presented workshops and keynote addresses throughout North American, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific and has served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and corporations including work on US Army bases in Europe and the Asian-Pacific. Her proposal: “Ending School Violence and Bullying” (SB1667) was signed into California law in 2002.

Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor at GreatSchools, is an award-winning writer and editor whose work on education and family life has been widely published, including The New York Times Magazine and This American Life as well as being featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, KQED’s Forum and NBC’s Class Action, among others.

SocialMoms is a digital media company with one of the world’s largest networks of women influencers — comprised of more than 45,000 bloggers, sites, and social media personalities with a combined social reach of more than 200 million. Founded in 2008 by Megan Calhoun, the company creates high-impact, custom media campaigns that shape perceptions and drive action.

If You Can is a new gaming company founded by Trip Hawkins, Jessica Berlinski, Stewart Bonn, and Ben Geliher dedicated to supporting and empowering children and parents to value and understand themselves and others. Its first game IF…, a social-emotional learning game for children, is now available at the Apple App Store.

GreatSchools is a digital media nonprofit that helps millions of parents get a great education for their children, support their children’s learning, and find great schools.  Every year, GreatSchools reaches more than half of all American families with school- age children, bringing them school information, educational activities, articles, and videos.

Emotional Smarts: Tantrums & Tirades, Archive of 30 Min Conversation

Amazing content for all parents.  At If You Can, we’re committed to spreading the word about how important emotional intelligence is to building happier families, truly successful children, and better societies.

Emotional Smarts: Tantrums & Tirades, Archives of 30 Min Conversation

Please join us for the next conversation on Wednesday, June 6.


Who we are?

We believe in the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. We create a place for every kid on the playground – a place where they belong, have fun and are part of the game. Playworks creates safe, inclusive school environments that allow kids to thrive. We currently serve more than 380 schools in 23 cities, and expect to reach nearly 435,000 students directly and through training services that reach hundreds of additional schools and community organizations.

What we do?

Playworks is part of the school community. We’re the only organization in the country to send well-trained, energetic full-time program coordinators, called “coaches,” into low-income elementary schools. From our focus on creating a safe and inclusive recess, to our class game times where we introduce new games to individual classes, to our youth leadership programs, before- and after-school programs and developmental sports leagues, Playworks provides every kid the opportunity to learn basic skills and teamwork, build self-esteem, develop their social skills and confidence and find their place on the field, and court and in the classroom and community.

See a video here.

How can your child get involved?

To learn more, visit here and check out The Playbook to support your child at play and recess here.

ExSEL Goals

Every “move” your child makes in the game is a choice. “Behind the scenes” we’re assessing each choice against 20 distinct SEL skills. These are the skills we’re working to build in your child. We call these our ExSEL goals.

IF…’s 20 ExSEL goals were derived from the study of state teaching standards for SEL, as well as experts from Yale, CASEL, The Nueva School and KIPP’s Character Report Card.


  • Awareness of Emotions – Children recognize and describe their feelings accurately and as they occur, allowing for a fuller understanding of themselves.
  • Awareness of Traits – Children recognize their own abilities and qualities, allowing access to self-confidence and creativity.
  • Awareness of Supports – Children recognize the need for supports and sources of support.
  • Awareness of Responsibilities – Children are aware of their age-appropriate responsibilities and tasks.


  • Managing Emotions – Children are aware of the need for managing strong emotions, such as anger.
  • Tools for Regulation of Emotions – Children are aware of the need to use tools to regulate emotions, they know what those tools are, and they are capable of applying them when needed.
  • Resilience/Grit – (1) Children are able to effortfully control their emotions to delay gratification, (2) they demonstrate an awareness or knowledge that keeping at a challenging task “pays off” and (3) they show an awareness of and/or the ability to plan in order to meet a short or long term goal.
  • Gratitude – Children are aware of the need to nurture gratitude and appreciation.


  • Sensitivity – Children are able to perceive or sense others’ perspectives and needs.
  • Empathy – Children sense and feel the same feelings as others are having, and use that understanding to guide their actions.
  • Compassion – Children care that others don’t suffer and have a desire to act kindly and help others when they do.


  • Listening – Children are aware and/or apply listening in an active and reflective way.
  • Expression – Children recognize the need and are able to express themselves and their needs clearly, calmly and firmly as needed, with tone that is considerate of others’ feelings.
  • Humor – Children recognize the benefit of and utilize humor or playfulness as a means of enriching their interactions with others.
  • Supports – Children are able to reach out and ask for help and support.
  • Conflict Resolution – Children recognize the need to de-escalate conflict, are aware of the tools they can use to do so, and are able to apply those tools when needed.
  • Collaboration – Children are aware of the need to offer encouragement, espouse an attitude of inclusivity, and an acceptance of diverse points of view to support cooperation and team building.


  • Responsible Decision-making – Children recognize the need and are able to make respectful, responsible decisions based on evaluating the needs and perspectives of themselves and others.
  • Acceptance – Children recognize the benefit and are able to let go of mistakes or disappointments, and when needed forgive, to achieve a sense of freedom and move forward.
  • Leadership – Children recognize the value of and are able to initiate or direct a project or team, allowing for a deeper sense of confidence in themselves and their creativity.

When children make positive choices or choices that build these ExSEL skills, they’re able to resolve issues in the game, get positive emotional feedback from characters, and advance the storyline to new scenes and curriculum elements.

When children make poor choices, characters will feel and react differently, much like children and adults might react in “real life”. Learning can occur through remediation and repetition, as well as through the positive feedback from characters of improved choices. It can also occur through observing behavior that is repetitively role-modeled by characters in the game.

Nothing is learned in one shot. Key themes, strategies and tools are repeated from chapter to chapter. Your child’s “skill-building” towards these 20 ExSEL goals is ongoing.

Yet you’re able to see exactly how your child’s progressing in each of these skills on demand. We’re continually tracking and aggregating each data point from your child’s choices and assessing understanding of the lessons plans and comprehension of the 20 ExSEL skills. We organize and report this information to you through your dashboard. Children never see this raw data.

Why Does My Child Need SEL?

Why Does My Child Need SEL?

Social and Emotional Learning increases your child’s emotional intelligence. What does that mean and why is it important? Emotionally intelligent children are happier, healthier, and better learners. They communicate better, are less anxious, and “bounce back” from disappointments quicker. They’re more successful in school and in life.


Research shows that only 10% of our happiness is from external circumstances such as money or good fortune. A full 40% comes from Social and Emotional Learning skills and tools like self-reflection, mindfulness and gratitude. (The other 50% comes from our genes.) Research in neuroscience now shows that by practicing these skills, we can literally rewire our brains to be happy and caring. And so can our kids!

Research also shows that being happy leads to success… not the other way around. If our children are happy and thinking positively, their brains actually work better. Positivity – just like gameplay – increases the flow of dopamine to the brain, activating all the learning centers.

Social and Emotional Learning also addresses bullying. Children who are bullied feel alone, alienated and without hope. Every day one in ten children in America is teased, push, hit or otherwise tormented. It’s hard not to be aware of the emotional distress this causes kids as incidents of bullied children taking their own lives continues to plague our communities. Researchers are now advocating that programs that teach Social and Emotional Learning be implemented in schools to reduce bullying. By learning SEL skills like emotion-management and empathy, children are less likely to bully and be bullied.

Practicing SEL skills → Happiness → Success

Learning, Achievement and Creativity

Research also proves that Social and Emotional Learning improves academic performance. Children who participated in SEL programs in their schools performed better academically – by a full 11 percentile points – than children who didn’t.

Teachers in these schools saw relationships among students improve, and misbehavior and violence drop. Their schools became safer. Kids also reported feeling more engaged and invested.

One SEL skill in particular, perseverance, has shown a profound positive impact on kids’ learning and life success. Perseverance, tenacity or “grit” is a child’s ability to persist through failure or challenge.

The benefits of perseverance emerged in University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Duckworth’s studies which showed that it wasn’t intelligence, but the ability to persevere that had the greatest effect on childrens’ success. Stanford researcher Carol Dweck took that one step further. She found that children who believe if they try harder, they can become smarter, actually achieve more. She calls this kind of thinking a “growth mindset”. Through practicing SEL skills and strategies that build perseverance and a “growth mindset”, your children are increasing their chances for school and life success.

SEL skills also nurture creativity. Our interconnected, digitized world requires creativity and the ability to innovate, collaborate and take others’ perspectives for success. Creativity and innovation can’t occur if kids beat themselves up and give up when they make a mistake. They need to feel safe, supported and confident that they can try again, and that their uniqueness is an asset. SEL skills are the foundation that enable creativity to thrive.

Practicing SEL skills → better learning → life success


We all know that good health is largely a result of good decision-making. Whether it’s making healthy food choices or choosing not to abuse alcohol, our children need to have the strength and decision-making skills to stand up for what they believe in and make the best choices. Social and Emotional Learning teaches kids how to make healthy and responsible decisions.


SEL programs have been proven to reduce the emotional deficits that link to eating disorders, and to help children avoid looking for emotional relief in substances. 2008 research shows that SEL programs helped ease depression in children and adolescents.

Even the simple SEL skill of practicing gratitude has profound effects on health and well- being. Research shows that practicing gratitude not only increases our general contentment, it improves the amount and quality of our sleep.

Research also supports that Social and Emotional Learning has lasting effects. 2012 research showed that SEL skills were found to be the strongest predictors of life-long health and well-being. Longitudinal research showed that children who participated in SEL programs had better emotional and mental health and fewer substance problems 15 years later in adulthood.

Practicing SEL skills → good decisions → improved health

What is SEL? Social and Emotional Learning

Social and Emotional Learning is learning how to understand and manage our emotions.

It’s learning how to make friends and how to show people that we care about them. It’s learning how to work in a team and collaborate well. It’s learning how to make healthy, responsible decisions, both short and long term.

When we become better at this set of skills, we can say that we have more “emotional intelligence”. We’re not letting our emotions get the better of us. We’re becoming aware of them and how to regulate them for success.

Research now proves that this set of skills not only helps children learn in school, it helps them develop into happier, healthier children all round. It sets them on a path to thrive in every area of their lives. Research also proves that these skills can be taught.

results ssc ap

The History of SEL

The term Emotional Intelligence came into prominence with Daniel Goleman’s 1995 best selling book Emotional Intelligence. He described EQ as the ability to “persist in the face of frustrations; control impulse and delay gratification; regulate one’s mood and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; empathize and hope.” He showed why these qualities “mark people who excel.” He also highlighted a school in Northern California that was seeing transformative results by teaching Social and Emotional Learning skills to its students. This school was The Nueva School. Janice Toben, M.Ed., founder of the Institute for SEL, and mother of two, led this charge.

Since then, leaders in academia, psychology and K-12 education have continued to build on the work and research highlighted in Goleman’s book. Yale’s Peter Salovey, now the President of Yale, Professor John Mayer and psychologist David Caruso developed an Emotional Intelligence Test in the late 1990’s, which to this day is used in businesses and organizations worldwide to gage employees’ EQ. Yale’s Roger Weissberg, Daniel Goleman and education visionaries Tim Shriver and Eileen Rockefeller Growald formed the Collaborative of Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to make SEL part of education from preschool to high school.

Research proving the power of EQ and the efficacy of SEL has continued to build. In the last three years however, research supporting SEL in both positive psychology and academia has markedly increased. We can no longer ignore that our children need Social and Emotional Learning skills to feel safe, supported and happy, to achieve academically and to succeed in the 21st century.

SEL in Schools and Beyond

If you’ve heard of Social and Emotional Learning or SEL before it may have been in your child’s school. There is growing acknowledgement amongst U.S. educators and policymakers of the importance of social and emotional development for successful student performance.

It makes sense: when students and teachers practice understanding and managing emotions, persevering, empathy, collaborating and making responsible decisions, they are able to learn more and schools are safer. In 2011, research from a meta-analysis of 213 studies showed that children in schools that fully implemented SEL programs performed better academically, had greater motivation and better classroom behavior, showed less aggression, and reported less depression, anxiety and stress.

At If You Can, we believe that SEL should be an integral part of classroom learning, and that your child should always feel safe and supported. In school, recess, after school programs or sports, when adults model and children practice SEL skills, the entire community transforms. Take a look at our “In Your Community” page for programs that incorporate SEL across all of these environments, and explore how you and your child can get involved!

What is IF…? adventure game that helps your child

IF… is a fun, adventure game that helps your child become more emotionally intelligent.

While your child navigates adventures and challenges in our imaginary town of Greenberry, we’re teaching proven life skills for your child’s well-being and success.

We all want happy, healthy and successful children. But what specific skills help our children get there? These skills have now been identified: they’re called Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills. They include: managing emotions like frustration and disappointment, showing empathy for others, persisting through failure, collaborating with others, and making good decisions. Research also proves that they can be taught.


Games have a unique power to motivate and engage children.

97% of school-aged children are playing games. Research also shows that playing video games opens the “learning centers” in children’s brains. The If You Can team has brought together some of the most successful video game creators in history with national experts in SEL to harness this potential. We’re using a game to teach life skills your children most need to thrive both in school and out of school.

We’ve designed our game to support the transfer of the skills learned in the game to “real life”.

Your children’s experience is pure fun game-play. They aren’t aware they are learning skills, tools and strategies to become more emotionally intelligent. At intervals in the game, characters encourage your children to stop playing and try out the skills and strategies they’ve been modeling. Tools like breathing exercises to calm down and “real life” win-win strategies to resolve conflicts are examples.

intermediate resuslts

We also included a way for you to be involved.

Your personalized IF… app shows you what and how your children are learning. You tell us when you want to receive updates, so whenever it’s most convenient for you, you’ll receive the latest on what your children are doing in the game. You’ll see what skills your children are learning, as well as fun and effective ways you can help reinforce the learning. From simple discussion questions, to games, books and activities, you’ll be fully equipped with ways to bring everything from good listening and showing respect to collaborative problem-solving into your home.