Is the friend sad or mad?
That’s what a group of students in Lynelle Stoddard and Camilla Rosenberger’s 3PreK class were trying to determine one cool November day, as they looked through each other’s personal photo albums.
Weston, as a baby, looks like he’s crying, one student observed. Another thinks he must be mad because he’s in a crib, and cribs are not fun. Weston can’t remember what he was feeling, and he really wants to look at his other pictures.
We use this year to work on how they treat each other and deal with situations.—Camilla Rosenberger, 3PreK assistant teacher
What the students were doing on this late fall day is a central goal in the 3PreK classroom: they were learning to name and hold their feelings, and how to turn those feelings into positive actions—life skills that will support them long after they leave the preschool classroom. To build these skills, the teachers have provided a selection of books for the students to read, including Silly Sally and When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry…. They have also been singing songs such as "If You’re Happy and You Know It," and have explored feelings while reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt as a class and then searching for a stuffed bear hidden in the Nature Yard. And along the way, there have been many conversations about how feelings play out in different ways.
“This is such an important time for their social-emotional progress,” said assistant teacher Camilla about the three- and four-year-old students. “We use this year to work on how they treat each other and deal with situations, through their education.”
Lead teacher Lynelle agreed. “We want them to learn strategies to manage their feelings, like taking big deep breaths to calm their bodies. When they’re angry, we encourage the strategy of ‘pretend to sniff a flower, and then blow out the candles on a birthday cake.’”
And, as illustrated on that November day, it’s important to the teachers that their students aren’t only dealing with their own feelings. The children are also learning how to identify what others may be feeling, and they interact with each other based on those cues. “Feelings photos” are part of these lessons. Every child has a set of photos taken of them displaying different emotions, and then the children look at their own faces before putting an emotion to each expression. This practice helps the students learn how to read each other’s faces, and to read the faces of those outside of the classroom as well.
We do activities like looking at your neighbor and asking them, ‘How are you feeling today?’ Or we will identify what emotion we see them displaying and we ask how we can help them deal with or work through that emotion.—Lynelle Stoddard, 3PreK lead teacher
“We do activities like looking at your neighbor and asking them, ‘How are you feeling today?’” said Lynelle. “Or we will identify what emotion we see them displaying and we ask how we can help them deal with or work through that emotion.”
Determining appropriate actions for emotions is another part of the students’ social-emotional growth. The teachers help the children work through which actions can help improve a situation and which ones may cause more problems. They may have conversations about sharing, consideration of others, and the importance of being a first-time listener—that is, following instructions without being asked multiple times.
“We have a lot of books that are based on turning feelings into actions,” said Camilla. “No Biting, Louise is a favorite one, lately. Books like these help the kids discern what are good actions and what are not.”
The 3PreK students may be little, but their emotions are big, and by helping them name emotions, understand them, and maybe control them (even a little bit), their teachers are giving them a foundation on which to learn, grow, and become people the world needs. Even if the individual lessons aren’t remembered, and the book titles fade from memory, the central message will remain.