Exploring emotions in the early years by Rachel Comfort
Emotional intelligence spans far wider than just being able to express ourselves. It allows us to access more meaningful relationships and learning opportunities. A simple google search of ‘emotional intelligence’ returns many links to articles and products claiming to support the development of emotional understanding in the early years. This speaks volumes as to the importance of learning how to understand and display emotions appropriately from 3, 4 and 5 years old. Naturally there are exceptions to this expectation, however by teaching as many young people as possible how to identify and express their emotions, we can support those who are less able. What’s more, we can teach children to empathise with those who are unable to express themselves.
Early years learning environments are often filled with resources for children to build their knowledge of core subjects. More recently schools are beginning to emphasise the need to learn about emotions too.
I recently took some resources into an EYFS setting to see how they would be utilized. I used a mirror and the TickiT My Emotions Wooden Tiles. It was a very simple activity to set up and as soon as the children entered the room, they were fascinated by it.
As an advocate for child initiated and inquiry-based learning, I tried to stand back and observe how the children engaged with this activity. I was surprised that the children were fascinated by their own reflections. They looked at themselves in the mirror and pulled many different faces. Presumably they are less familiar with seeing their expressions within this environment.
It reminded me of when my son was younger. During a tantrum he watched himself through the camera on my phone. He noticed his facial expression, just as he began to cry. He watched how his face changed and then began experimenting.
These photos show how my son explored his own facial expressions and how his face changed when his emotion changed:
In an educational environment, these opportunities could be hugely beneficial in developing emotional intelligence. Given that we are always feeling an emotion, developing a child’s ability to identify theirs and their peers’ emotions, in different settings, is a vital step to developing an awareness of others and therefore strong relationships with others.
During my observation I noticed a lack of vocabulary linked to emotions. Most children only referred to sad, happy, or scared. The use of a mirror and the wooden tiles allowed for conversations about emotions, and the introduction of new vocabulary. Before long, a few children began to share their memories of when they had felt an emotion, which they recognised on one of the tiles. Through the conversations that followed, the children grew their vocabulary by attributing their experiences and feelings to that on the tile. The use of images of real children was hugely beneficial in this example because they were so relatable for the children.
The children initiated using the tiles to play a few games. These included matching two or more emotion tiles with each other. This gave me, as the supporting adult, a fantastic opportunity to model and introduce new vocabulary. The children also began acting out an emotion for the other children to guess which tile matched the actor’s emotion.
The use of a mirror and the wooden tiles I believe is an open-ended resource. *TeachWire state that “the creative nature of open-ended play enhances cognitive skills, such as working memory, cognitive flexibility, self-regulation and self-discovery.”
Written by Rachel Comfort, mother and SEN practitioner in Early Years and Key Stage 1.
Find out more about the TickiT My Emotions Wooden Tiles here.
Here are some of our favourite TickiT mirrored resources for exploring emotions:
*TeachWire, 2022. Q&A What Does Open-Ended Play Actually Mean? Available here.