Recognising emotions and talking about them is an important skill to teach children; I think we would all agree? But it is not as easy as seeing a smiley face and saying ‘happy’...
Recognising our own feelings is all about what is going on inside us, it’s physical. And we are all different. Unless you run to a mirror every time you feel anything new, very few of us actually see our own faces expressing emotions. So, helping children recognise that heavy weight of sadness in their tummy, that tingle of excitement in their toes or that bumpety bump, fearful heartbeat in their chest takes time, patience, and focus.
The starting point is to embrace ALL feelings and accept that they are all valid, rather than thinking of some as good and others as bad. Though, without doubt, some are more pleasant to experience than others. They give us valuable information about ourselves and others. We feel angry if we perceive ourselves to be treated unfairly, or if our boundaries have been violated. We feel sad if we lose someone we love or experience another kind of loss. Envy tells us what we want in life. Fear alerts us to danger and so on. Feelings really are essential for our survival and sense of self; they tell us the kind of people we are.
Helping children to recognise their emotions and understand what has caused the feeling, and then work out if they need to do something or talk to someone is a huge task and not to be rushed or treated lightly.
Take time to explore each emotion in some depth. Through poetry, stories, drama, art and musical activities, give each feeling the space it needs to be recognised, understood and talked about.
Here are some activity ideas to get you started taken from the Little Book of Big Emotions Series. Each activity can be done for all emotions (but not at the same time!).
Whole Body Feelings
You will need a wide roll of paper or take some chalk outside. Children can work in pairs or as a group together with an adult. Ask one of the children to lie down and draw around them. Talk about where you might physically feel the emotion you have chosen. Then colour in that part of the body with pens, pencils, or paint. Think and talk about the colours you are choosing and why. Children could make patterns or shapes that they feel express the feelings you are talking about. There are no right or wrong answers here. Every child’s experience is valid. You might extend this activity with older children and write the words that describe the feelings. For example, wobbly knees, shaky legs, sweaty palms, buzzing head.
Words and Sounds
Build up a vocabulary for each emotion. For example: annoyed, cross, angry, furious, livid. Make posters and displays using words and pictures, photographs, colours and patterns. Together with the children make up sentences with the words in. For example, ‘I was furious when my brother broke my toy’ or ‘I was cross when my mum wouldn’t let me stay up late’. Put the words in order of severity.
Give the emotion some sounds, for example: grrrrrrrr, aaaaaargh.
Use percussion instruments (or spoons and pans, twigs and trays, etc) to make noises and rhythms that suit the emotions. You could even add in some actions and movements.
Use story time to explore empathy and understanding. For example, you might ask the children how they think the giant felt when Jack stole his golden egg. Or how did Jack’s mum feel when he disappeared up the bean stalk. How did Jack feel when his mum threw the beans out of the window? In this way, story time can be a real prompt for building vocabulary, as well as recognising and understanding the emotions of others.
Poems with Feelings
Read and talk about the Angry Body poem. Look at the words used for angry: cross, fuming, mad. Ask the children if they know any other words? What about the descriptive words: fizzing, scream, shout, stamp? Can they think of any other words? Ask the children to act them out. Perhaps choose some actions together and then all do the same actions as you recite the poem. You might like to learn it off by heart and give it a little tune. Encourage the children to have a go at writing their own Angry Body poem.
This article has been taken from Little Learners, our FREE early years magazine full of resources, inspiration, ideas, and activities. Click here to read our latest issue.