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Second Step

By Keelyn Ingmire & Austin Matthews, 9/2022

What is Second Step?                                                                                     

Second Step® is a classroom-based social-emotional learning curriculum. It can also be adapted for a small group setting. Programs for early learning (preschool), grade-specific elementary school, and middle school classrooms are offered. Additionally, programs for building social-emotional skills and facilitate supportive school climates in K-12 educators, after-school and out-of-school time for grades K-5, a stand-alone child protection unit to help prevent child abuse and neglect, and grades K-5 bullying prevention. The middle school program is exclusively digital, and digital elementary programs are also available. (Committee for Children, 2021). The goal of Second Step® is to teach children techniques to gain confidence, set goals, make better decisions, collaborate with others in work and play, and navigate the world more effectively through age-appropriate social-emotional learning (Committee for Children, 2021). The Out-of-School Time program is designed to meet the unique needs of out-of-school settings and teaches children in grades K-5 skills regarding community-building, empathy and kindness, and growth mindset. Lessons are given through activities using play, arts and crafts, and games (Committee for Children, 2021). The Bullying Prevention Unit is designed for grades K-5 and teaches students how to recognize, report, and refuse bullying using videos, discussions, and activities (Committee for Children, 2021). The Child Protection Unit offers age-appropriate lessons teaching educators how to recognize, respond to, and report abuse and students grades PreK-5 how to recognize, report, and refuse unsafe situations (Committee for Children, 2021). The educator program develops professional social emotional learning domains in leaders and staff, with staff completing two modules a year and leaders completing the same with an additional 2-3 hour learning surrounding developing an implementation plan (Committee for Children, 2021). The programs are available in Spanish (Committee for Children, 2021).

Components of Second Step

  • The components of the program, including materials used, topics covered, and delivery mode, differ based on grade. All classroom programs have weekly themes within each unit and daily lessons. 

  • The 28-week Early Learning program focusing on building listening skills, paying attention, managing behavior, and getting along with others through five units: Skills for Learning, Empathy, Emotion Management, Friendship Skills and Problem Solving, and Transitioning to Kindergarten. 

  • Lessons are delivered through stories, songs, puppet skits, and activities. Take Home sheets are also included in each week’s unit to help reinforce the skills learned in lessons at home (Committee for Children, 2021). 

  • The programs for grades K-3 include short weekly lessons teaching age-appropriate skills for learning, empathy, emotion management, and problem solving. The kindergarten program lasts 25 weeks and the program for grades 1-3 last 22 weeks. 

  • The program for grades 4 and 5 includes 3 units (Empathy and Skills for Learning, Emotion Management, and Problem Solving) and lasts 22 weeks. Lessons are given through stories, songs, videos, activities, and take-home materials (Committee for Children, 2021). The elementary digital program includes four units for each grade: Growth Mindset and Goal-Setting, Emotion Management, Empathy and Kindness, and Problem-Solving.

  • The fifth lesson of each unit is a performance task. The Second Step® Middle School digital program includes four units: Mindsets and Goals; Recognizing Bullying and Harassment; Thoughts, Emotions, and Decisions; and Managing Relationships and Social Conflict. This program also includes advisory activities, such as Class Meetings, Class Challenges, Service-Learning Projects, and Weekly Check-Ins and Check-Outs (Committee for Children, 2021). 

Evidence of Second Step Effectiveness

A meta-analysis found significant gains in program knowledge acquisition, small gains in prosocial outcomes, and small decreases in antisocial outcomes when classroom-based Second Step® was implemented (May & Hazen, 2018). Studies on the Second Step® Early Learning program found significant increases in executive functioning, predicting improvements in pre-academics and on-task behavior, (Wenz-Gross, Yoo, Upshur, & Gambino, 2018) and marginally significant improvements on social-emotional skills (Upshur, Heyman, & Wenz-Gross, 2017). A study examining the elementary program have found moderate significant effect sizes on improving social-emotional competence and behavior in students who started the year with skill deficits relative to their peers (Low, Cook, Smolkowski, & Buntain-Ricklefs, 2015). The Second Step® middle school program has been found to decrease homophobic name-calling victimization and sexual violence perpetration (Espelage, Low, Polanin, & Brown, 2015), reduce bully perpetration among students with disabilities (Espelage, Rose, & Polanin, 2015). Significant effects have also been found in positive student and teacher outcomes following the Child Protection Unit (respectively: Nickerson et al., 2019; Kim et al., 2019).


Committee for Children. (2021). Second Step. Retrieved from

Espelage, D. L., Low, S., Polanin, J. R., & Brown, E. C. (2015). Clinical trial of Second Step© middle-school program: Impact on aggression & victimization. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 37, 52-63. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2014.11.007


Espelage, D. L., Rose, C. A., & Polanin, J. R. (2015). Social-emotional learning program to reduce bullying, fighting, and victimization among middle school students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 36(5), 299-311. doi:10.1177/0741932514564564

Kim, S., Nickerson, A., Livingston, J. A., Dudley, M., Manges, M., Tulledge, J., & Allen, K. (2019). Teacher outcomes from the second step child protection unit: Moderating roles of prior preparedness, and treatment acceptability. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 28(6), 726-744. doi:10.1080/10538712.2019.1620397

Low, S., Cook, C. R., Smolkowski, K., & Buntain-Ricklefs, J. (2015). Promoting social–emotional competence: An evaluation of the elementary version of Second Step®. Journal of School Psychology, 53(6), 463-477. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2015.09.002

Moy, G. E., & Hazen, A. (2018). A systematic review of the Second Step® program. Journal of School Psychology, 71, 18-41. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2018.10.006

Nickerson, A. B., Tulledge, J., Manges, M., Kesselring, S., Parks, T., Livingston, J. A., & Dudley, M. (2019). Randomized controlled trial of the Child Protection Unit: Grade and gender as moderators of CSA prevention concepts in elementary students. Child Abuse & Neglect, 96, 104101. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104101

Upshur, C. C., Heyman, M., & Wenz-Gross, M. (2017). Efficacy trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum: Preliminary outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 50, 15-25. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2017.03.004

Wenz-Gross, M., Yoo, Y., Upshur, C. C., & Gambino, A. J. (2018). Pathways to kindergarten readiness: The roles of second step early learning curriculum and social emotional, executive functioning, preschool academic and task behavior skills. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01886

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