By Cynthia Murga, Director

As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month this month (May), we’re embracing how our children are impacted by social emotional learning (SEL), as it has become an integral part of the education system and human development. Mental health begins in early childhood, and while adults know the importance of our own mental health, it is just as essential to realize that children can also struggle with mental health disorders – and too often don’t realize why they are struggling.

SEL is often utilized in the classroom, teaching kids at an early age to learn about their feelings and how to handle them. But what if your classroom is now in your own home? As kids become more in-tune with their emotions, they will also need to learn how to communicate these feelings, genuinely connect with others, and understand how their differences will help them maintain healthy and solid relationships in the future.

Building the Foundation

At a time when the pandemic took much of our normal day-to-day living activities away, our social skills were severely impacted, especially for young children. The new virtual reality of the situation was slowing taking over, and our focus quickly turned into survival mode, including how can we make our jobs and schools a priority again, without negatively impacting our mental health? Individuals with mental health disorders begin to experience symptoms early in life. Schools are now offering a unique opportunity to identify these potential mental health triggers by serving their students where they are, whether in person or via hybrid/virtual learning.

Focusing on SEL at an early age can equip students with positive development, fostering social skills while also supporting academic growth. Children are taught to be more mindful, communicate better with their peers, and address many other challenges that can be affecting their academic success. So, let’s build a community that will help our children lay the foundation they need moving forward!

It Takes a Village

Before the pandemic, teachers already had a very stressful job, managing a classroom full of kids, connecting with overly zealous parents, developing lesson plans, etc. But as the pandemic hit, they found themselves in a very different situation. As a parent of two virtual students who share my home office—our dining room area—I’ve seen the impact not being able to socialize with others has had on my children, and the desire to find a connection virtually through a computer screen.

The past year has taken a toll on students, and teachers are one of the first to notice any anxious, fearful, and challenging behaviors. The pandemic also has impacted our teachers emotionally, resulting in burnout for many in that profession.

As it is often said, it takes a village, and it really does. Social emotional learning programs support everyone involved, from the educators to the parents to the students. The programs establish a new sense of normalcy, engaging students in a way that will help them be successful scholars and assisting teachers in managing a classroom that will inspire and motivate students again, building interest and driving academic, social and emotional growth.

Learning Loss and SEL

While some, if not most, students have adjusted well to virtual or hybrid learning, there are many that are still struggling, having a hard time during the pandemic. Study shows a direct link between mental health and academic performance and students’ mental health needs have to be prioritized to see them prosper in the classroom.

SEL lessons support self-awareness and provide an open space for students to talk about their emotional state. Children are resilient human beings, and many will quickly pick up what they’ve missed, so let’s give them more resources to feel connected, supported and nurture the beautiful mental state of happiness!