Being faced with a screaming toddler intent on running naked down the corridor is never a pleasant experience, albeit not an uncommon one. Toddlers and preschoolers are capable of feeling the same emotions as adults, but with life experience at a minimum, the ability to identify and control emotions is often lacking. Helping little ones learn how to manage emotions and recognize what is happening in their own little bodies and minds is one of the biggest challenges when educating a preschooler. Regardless of what topics or subjects you are interested in teaching, basic social skills, such as self-control, empathy, and the ability to verbally communicate are critical milestones for success.
The ability to understand emotions, both their own and those of their peers, increases the likelihood of a child being liked by others and better able to make friends. One of the best methods of increasing emotional competence in children is to speak with them about their feelings. Using your own feelings as a reference can also help. For example, you could offer, “When you ignore me after I’ve asked you to pick up your toys, it makes me feel frustrated and sad.” Discussing particular circumstances that make us feel happy, sad, scared, angry, etc. can help children begin to comprehend the causation of certain feelings. A better understanding of what situations may cause us to feel particular emotions can help children more effectively identify and begin to regulate their own emotions.
As part of the Friends and Feelings monthly theme, Mother Goose Time does a wonderful job of creating a play based weekly topic focused on identifying feelings. Using crafts, games, stories, and more Mother Goose Time teaches important concepts about friendship, feelings, and communication. “My Feelings Book” is introduced at the beginning of the week. This book provides space to identify what makes the child feel certain emotions. For example, we listed things that make Ladybug happy including being outside, going to the park, and helping with the gardening. Ladybug made happy faces in a mirror and then drew a picture of herself with her favorite happy face along with some of the things in life that make her smile. Each day of the week, Ladybug drew a different emotion and dictated aspects of her life that made her feel happy, sad, mad, surprised, and scared.
Mother Goose Time provides materials for several crafts to support the monthly theme. Working on the crafts is a lot of fun and also provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the daily topic. A craft that Ladybug particularly enjoyed was making her own mirror. While she created her masterpiece, we talked about how different people show that they are happy or sad. Some people may cry or frown, while others become more withdrawn or quiet. We talked about what she does when she is happy versus sad. Ladybug practiced making faces in the mirror and then we, her family, guessed what emotion each expression represented. We then took turns with each family member making a variety of faces and guessing what each family member was feeling.
While discussing what sounds and events may surprise us, we used craft materials from Mother Goose Time to create a clown face shaker. Using some festooning for hair, a giant red pompom for a nose, wiggle eyes, and markers to create a mouth, cheeks, and eyebrows, Ladybug created a face on a plate. By putting some beans on the plate and securing another plate to the first, we created a shaker that made fun and surprising noise. Ladybug hid in different places in the house and jumped out to surprise family members by shaking her clown shaker. Little Owl also loved the surprising sounds it made and it ended up being pre and post dinner entertainment.
Another craft that really worked well for us was a scared puppy headband. Ladybug loved being able to assemble the dog headband complete with ears. Stickers were provided to make spots and she was able to color the inside of the ears using markers and crayons. We took turns pretending to be the scared puppy. First, she was the scared puppy and wore the headband and I comforted her. Then, she was the owner and I the scared puppy. Recently, on a walk around the neighborhood we encountered a couple out looking for their dog who had taken off when she got scared during a thunderstorm. This was a wonderful chance to talk more in depth about that experience and what other things might be scary for dogs, other animals, and people.
Mother Goose Time also provides a number of games to help kids better grasp topics. A favorite game from Friends and Feelings was the “Feeling Shapes” game. Feeling Shapes made use of a monthly manipulative, tanagrams, and feelings illustrated on shape cards to help kids think more concretely about what it feels like to have more than one emotion at a time. The kids drew tanagrams out of the bag and used them to create a variety of patterns. Matching the tanagrams to the feeling shape cards, we then came up with scenarios where we might experience more than one emotion at a time. For example, we discussed that we might be both happy and sad at the same time if we had to move. We’d be happy to have a new house, but sad to leave the one we knew as home.
Another fabulous game that both my preschooler and toddler loved was introduced to us via a “global friend.” “Global friends” arrive as part of the Mother Goose Time monthly kits and give us a chance to talk about other countries and cultures. This global friend was from France and introduced us to a French game called Petanque [pay-tonk]. In addition to teaching us more about kids in another country, this activity allowed the kids to focus on the emotions typically encountered when playing a new game. Ladybug was able to identify that she was happy when she got a chance to roll the ball and frustrated when her younger brother didn’t understand that he had to wait his turn. The game itself was delightful and I was surprised at how much fun both kids (3 and 21 months) had while playing.
To play, have the kids throw a bean bag or similar item from a designated spot. Then roll a small ball and see how close they can get that ball to the original target (bean bag). Whoever gets the ball the closest to their thrown item wins that round. We used masking tape to measure how far the ball was from the bean bag and then compared them. The game was an excellent exercise in cooperation (turn taking), math (measurement), and identifying and managing emotions in a way that was conducive to continuing and enjoying the game.
A dramatic dice featuring several emotions is also included in the curriculum to help the kids understand how to “relax the emotion.” Controlling their responses when they became angry, scared, or even happy is particularly challenging for young children. This activity focuses on allowing children to identify and feel that emotion via dramatic play. Then, they are given them the opportunity to relax and breathe while releasing that feeling. Notably this worked best with my preschooler who was able to conjure up potentially scary or anger provoking situations and then breathe while counting to ten to feel calmer. We also practiced using squishy items or stuffed animals to squeeze when we were angry as opposed to screaming, hitting, or crying.
The Woodcutter’s Woes is a short story about a man who must make difficult choices about happiness. During the story, he experiences several emotions including happiness, sadness, excitement, and surprise. As each of the emotions are labeled in the story, Ladybug and Owl made an expression to fit that emotion. This was an excellent method for keeping them actively engaged in the story! The kids loved making expressions in their mirror and then comparing that to the expressions on their sibling.
A poster entitled “Why You Might Be Sad” is available as part of Mother Goose Time’s extensive online resources for this theme. Four different children are depicted in various distressing scenarios. This printable was a huge hit with my kids. Both took turns describing what was happening in each image. We left this print out on the dining room table and Ladybug revisited each image several times throughout the day retelling the stories of the featured children and why they were sad. This poster was simple, but very effective as a conversation starter about what sorts of things can make you feel sad and that it’s OK to be sad.
Mother Goose Time provides an “I Can Read” book with each monthly theme. This month’s book, “Sad, Mad, or Glad?” focused as always on early reading essentials, but also gave the kid’s a chance to talk about how they felt, how the characters in the book felt, and why they might feel that way. The kids love having their own books with simple text about the topic of the month. These books are often kept out for reading over and over and Ladybug has developed an ability to re-read them from memory and occasionally even pick out and identify some of the individual words.
In addition to supplying an unique thematic book each month, Mother Goose Time also provides a list of recommended additional reading. We have had great success getting the majority of the titles from our local library. Several of these books have become family favorites and are routinely added to our “go-to” list of books for recommendations for others or for marathon reading sessions with the kids. Suggestions for the topic of identifying emotions include “How Full Is Your Bucket?,” by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer (happy); “The Pout-Pout Fish,” by Deborah Diesen (sad); “I Was So Mad,” by Mercer Mayer (mad); “The Wednesday Surprise,” by Eve Bunting (surprised); and “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” by William Steig (scared).
With each monthly theme of Mother Goose Time, the kids learn about a specific topic, broken down into weekly segments. As the month progresses and the children enjoy playing with their new manipulatives, crafts, games, and storybooks, they are developing their motor skills, literacy capabilities and building a wider based understanding of mathematical and scientific concepts. Mother Goose Time also uses songs, outdoor play, journaling, reflection, guided discussion, investigation stations, music and movement and more. Our family loves using Mother Goose Time with our preschooler and toddler and it is no surprise to us that the play-based and easily adaptable program lent itself well to learning more about identifying feelings.
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As a blog ambassador for Mother Goose Time, I am happy to share preschool curriculum ideas, activities, and crafts with my readers. Mother Goose Time provides our family the opportunity to use their curriculum free of charge in exchange for honest and authentic stories based on our personal experience.