By Lindsay N. Giroux, M.Ed., author of Create an Emotion-Rich Classroom in Early Childhood: Helping Young Children Build Their Social Emotional Skills
An intentionally created emotion-rich classroom provides opportunities for emotional growth for both children and teachers. Here are eight tips for creating such a space.
1. Display pictures or photographs of people with many different expressions.
These could be from magazines, photographs submitted by children and their families, purchased visuals, or photographs you take of school staff and children. Having pictures of emotions displayed around the room encourages conversation and makes looking at facial features more accessible. Check to make sure you are displaying a range of emotions on a variety of people (people of diverse genders, races, and ages) to avoid promoting stereotypes.
2. Create an emotions check-in routine.
This might be using “How are you feeling?” as a question of the day with emotions visuals to help children answer. Or you might use an emotions check-in chart to have children self-identify how they feel by putting their name or photo next to the emotion that resonates with them. Using a visual check-in system supports children who have less verbal language in responding. Remember to include yourself in the check-in routine as a way to model recognizing and identifying emotions.
3. Hang a mirror in your classroom or have shatter-proof mirrors accessible to children.
A mirror allows children to study their own expressions as they explore how they feel. Encouraging children to check out both their facial expression and body language can help build their awareness of how emotions look and feel in the body.
4. Offer a variety of materials to encourage children to engage with emotion expressions and emotion vocabulary in many ways.
Emotions stamps and inkpads, stress balls with different faces, and blocks with photos of people taped on all sides encourage children to explore emotions in various activities, centers, or interest areas. This also provides children with opportunities to use the emotions vocabulary words you are teaching and practicing and helps you informally assess their understanding through play. For example, you might ask a child to pass you the sad doll or ask another child why the puppet is feeling excited. Having a variety of materials will ensure that children choose the games or toys that are interesting to them and will encourage exploration of emotions outside of emotion-related discussions.
5. Curate your bookshelf with books that feature various emotions across content areas.
Having picture books that specifically teach emotions can be really helpful in introducing new concepts and stimulating discussion. But many other books have rich emotion experiences for children to notice and relate to. Choose books to read out loud and make sure there are also a variety of books that explicitly teach emotions and feature characters with rich emotional lives accessible for children to explore independently.
6. Model emotional competencies.
Normalize discussing emotions and share ideas for how to recognize and manage them. This could sound like, “I am feeling really frustrated because my printer won’t work to print the photo for our display. I think I’m going to take a break from printing and get a drink of water to help my body calm down.” Or it might sound like modeling how you recognize and respond to others’ emotions. “I see he is crying right now. Maybe he is feeling sad. I’m going to ask him how he is feeling and ask if he would like my help.” Teachers have emotional experiences themselves and support children’s emotional experiences all day. Intentionally modeling brings these experiences to children as a learning opportunity in a way that privately working through them does not.
7. Engage children and their families in discussion and brainstorming about emotions.
Consider polling families to ask about emotions that are important in their lives, and then plan to introduce and support children with those words. Tap into the rich knowledge of families by soliciting ideas for how their children calm down at home and brainstorming ways to practice regulation with children at school. Encourage families to share emotional experiences their children have faced outside of school so that you can support and discuss these during the school day. And be sure to send home documentation, such as videos, photographs, and notes of children engaging with emotions at school so families can celebrate that learning at home.
8. Last, but not least, explore emotions with enthusiasm and curiosity.
Children so often get excited about topics that their teachers enjoy. Turning emotions learning into an exploration and diving in together sends the message that the emotions we have are interesting and worth trying to understand.
I hope these tips help you in your efforts to create an emotion-rich classroom. What other ideas do you use in your setting?
Lindsay N. Giroux, M.Ed., specializes in coaching preschool teachers on implementing the Pyramid Model to promote social-emotional development and prevent challenging behavior. She is a contributing author of Connect4LearningⓇ, a PreK curriculum and the ChooseFi Pre-Kindergarten financial literacy curriculum. Her professional interests include teacher training, social skill instruction, and inclusion of preschoolers with special needs. Lindsay received a B.A. from Wellesley College and an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Special Education from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. She is currently the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (SEFEL) Coordinator for the Wake County Public School District and a North Carolina Preschool Pyramid Model Expert Coach. She resides in Raleigh, NC, with her husband and son.
Lindsay is the author of Create an Emotion-Rich Classroom.
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