Social-Emotional Learning and Mindfulness During COVID-19

Sarah Montgomery SELSarah Montgomery, associate professor of elementary education at University of Northern Iowa, is also a certified mindfulness educator. She shares her insight on how a holistic approach to learning can be part of your days during COVID-19. 

Right now, you or the young people you love may be struggling to make sense of the current pandemic and all of the changes we are experiencing. It is important to recognize that every day each of us is navigating a new reality and to be gentle with ourselves and with one another.

As parents, guardians or caregivers, one approach that can support our efforts is social-emotional learning (SEL). Social-emotional learning supports children and adults in developing empathy, navigating emotions and building positive relationships. Mindfulness, or present moment awareness, is one way to support social-emotional learning. Currently, many schools are teaching SEL and mindfulness to support student well-being. Making time daily for SEL and mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and depression, improve self-regulation of emotions, increase focus and build resiliency.

With students now at home, a key way that you can support SEL and mindfulness is by making time to develop rich connections with those you love. Here are ways that you can build these connections:

Check in with emotions

  • Ask your child, how do you feel? What do you miss about school or our past routine? What do you like about life right now?
  • Share your own responses to these questions and have open dialogue about what it is like to navigate these changes together.

Make art

  • Color, paint, or draw together.
  • Create a role play or puppet show.
  • Do photography or make a video together. 


  • Make time for imaginative play opportunities. Let your child guide the process and storyline.
  • Have a board game party. Connect and communicate as you play games together.
  • Put together puzzles. Work as a team and build focus around a common task.
  • Build with blocks or create something new with LEGO bricks.


  • Go for a walk or play outside.
  • Explore the woods or trails in your area.
  • Try some yoga poses as a family.
  • Have a dance party. 

Breathe and notice

  • Model how to take slow, deep breaths together to calm your nervous system.
  • Take time to listen to the sounds around you and name a few of them.
  • Talk about what you are grateful for or something good that happened each day.

While this time is challenging, it can also be an opportunity to slow down, rest and connect with those you love. It can also be a time where you can model deep compassion for yourself and your children – honoring that we are all feeling lots of big emotions right now and processing them in different ways. Pausing, providing a hug and gently asking, “What do you need right now?” during an outburst of emotion provides a powerful model for your child and may teach more SEL and mindfulness than any other activity you can offer.


Mindfulness Games & Guided Meditations for Kids & Adults 
PBS -- Belly Breathing
Cosmic Kids Yoga
Training Your Brain to Be Kinder – Mindful Schools & Greater Good Science Center
Mindful Eating – Mindful Schools
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
SEL for Parents - CASEL