Building a strong social and emotional vocabulary is an important part of our universal mindfulness-based social and emotional curriculum. The lessons on emotions are always filled with fresh insight as well as tender moments when we are reminded about the beautiful spirit living inside the youngest in our community.
Our first session back after winter break is always exciting, as the children have so much to share about their holiday. This lesson was about naming and feeling their emotions.
After a clamor of hugs, our team sat down for our greeting and bell focus. As the lesson progressed, eager eyes watched as the students were encouraged to visit their feelings. Our facilitators invited the littles to offer up feelings – both “nice” and “yucky”. As the crowd rattled off a variety of emotions, one called out “exasperated” which stopped the session facilitator in her tracks. Not because she didn’t know what if felt like, but rather she’d suddenly forgotten how to spell it! Her reaction was met with laughter and encouragement to SOUND it out!
As the lesson progressed, the students curiously examined the book Visiting Feelings by Lauren Rubenstein. This book encourages readers to go beyond naming feelings, to give them a color, texture, shape, and perhaps even a temperature. After reading the book together, children described their feelings, and came to realize how big some feelings can be. One child pointed out, “That’s OK, that’s what the Big Feelings Care Plan is for!”
Children often remind their teachers and project staff of what we are supposed to do to lead a more mindful life.
We expose them to words that are intentionally sophisticated, like “self-compassion,” assuming that they will gradually come to understand and recognize them in context, but not expecting them to be able to say, read, or much less write the word! We call it “bathing” the children in mindful concepts. It’s always a beautiful moment when children start using these words and strategies spontaneously, as though it’s as ordinary as getting up in the morning. The lesson concluded with a body scan, pair and share about their current emotional state, and our daily self-hug using belly and chest anchor spots, which we call our “calm and ready pose.”
When children can name, describe, and experience their emotions without judgment, they gain power and discernment over their emotional lives.
Doing this kind of work at least partially in a group setting is critical to understanding that they are not alone, and that even adults have the same big feelings they have. During a series of sessions that focuses on emotions, the students in the “Calm Classroom K-2” program in over 90 Chicago classrooms, expand their emotional lexicon, identify where those feelings live in their bodies, practice self-compassion, and contribute to their classrooms becoming kinder communities.