Back-to-school can be a stressful time for students and teachers alike. Students may be upset, worried, or restless as they adjust to a new schedule, and teachers have to manage all of these emotions while dealing with their own stress. Since the first few days in the classroom help set the tone for the rest of the school year, it’s important to establish a positive learning environment from the beginning.


Teaching social-emotional learning in the classroom has known benefits for both students and teachers. These techniques can help individuals manage their own emotional wellbeing during stressful times, which creates a better learning environment for everyone. Here are three mindfulness activities teachers can use to kick-start their students’ social-emotional learning and help them adjust to those first days back at school.

Students practicing SEL


POP Check

A big challenge for teachers is not knowing what student emotions they will be dealing with at the start of a new school year. Having a mindful check-in with your students those first few mornings can be a good way to gauge the state of the room. We recommend a designated place in your classroom to hang a Pause-Own it-Practice poster.

Students should be introduced to the steps initially, then they should visit the POP chart just after putting away book bags, coats, etc. Each student should have a magnet, clothespin or something similar, and each morning the students move their own magnet to one of three spaces labeled appropriately for your age group: smiley, neutral and sad faces; thumbs up, sideways or down icons; or emotion words. Beside each icon, list some suggestions for getting ready to learn. For example, a student pauses to take a deep breath and body scan to ask herself how she’s feeling at the moment. If she is feeling great, she can share her good feelings by giving a classmate a compliment. If a student reports “thumb down,” he might benefit from writing or drawing about his feelings. When students acknowledge their emotions, they are already better equipped to manage them.


Movement-Based Activities

After a summer of playing outside, students will likely feel restless when asked to sit down for most of the school day. Movement and active play are a big part of student’s social-emotional development, so take some extra time that first week to focus on movement-based activities. Yoga can be a fun, classroom-friendly activity that has plenty of positive benefits for children. You can also teach social-emotional learning skills through team-building games. Not only are these great get-to-know-you activities for new groups of students, but they also help encourage active listening and group decision-making.


Mindful Breathing Exercises

Give your students time to clear their heads and diffuse from the stressful emotions of the day with guided breathing exercises. One easy exercise to teach is called “Take 5.” Students trace the outline of one hand with the index finger of their other hand, inhaling as their index finger moves up and exhaling as it moves back down. This slow-breathing activity can be used to help students regain focus when they’re feeling restless. It’s a great 2-minute mindfulness activity to use when children are returning to class after recess, lunch, or PE, as it helps them settle back into a stationary activity.


These three activities can also be used throughout the school year as part of a holistic approach to social-emotional learning. To learn more about how to incorporate social-emotional learning and mindfulness into the school curriculum, visit Mindful Practices’ student services page.