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Nurturing Emotional Intelligence with Literacy | Bookmarks Included

As a former English teacher and mother of two young children, I know literacy and storytelling can be powerful tools to support children’s development of emotional intelligence. In this blog, we will go over the importance of Emotional Intelligence and reading, provide tips for promoting emotional intelligence through books, and share some resources to help you get started. 

Be sure to scroll to the bottom to download our FREE Emotional Literacy Bookmark Set. This resource is loaded with great prompts you can use while reading with children to increase their emotional intelligence and reading comprehension. 

Table of Contents 

Understanding Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, understand, appropriately express, and manage emotions, both in oneself and in others. These important skills lay the foundation for the development of empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, prosocial skills, healthy relationships, effective communication, and overall well-being.  

This is why supporting children’s development of emotional intelligence in early childhood is crucial. By teaching and fostering emotional intelligence from children’s earliest years, we can empower children to better navigate challenges, build resilience, and form meaningful connections with others.

So, how do we do this? 

While emotional intelligence skills can be developed through daily interactions and intentional teaching, books allow kids to explore situations and experiences they may not have encountered yet, understand another person’s perspective, and explore their own lived experiences through the lens of relatable characters. Exploring emotions through stories and books invites children to reflect on their own feelings and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills along the way.   

Related: SEL Language Tips for Emotional Intelligence 

Why Reading is Important  

Research has shown that children who are read to at an early age develop stronger language skills, including vocabulary and grammar, which later translates into better reading and writing abilities 1 

Exposure to books and reading at a young age has also been linked to higher academic achievement in various subjects throughout their educational journey 2.  

Reading aloud to children stimulates brain development, particularly in the areas responsible for language processing and comprehension 3.  

reading supports attention, memory, problem solving, critical thinking abilities

Reading supports cognitive skills such as attention, memory, and problem-solving, nurturing critical thinking abilities 4.  

Additionally, reading fosters emotional development, helping children understand and regulate their own emotions and promoting empathy towards others 5.  

The benefits of reading to young children are abundant and far-reaching, making it an essential activity for their overall growth and success. 

active reading
As a former English teacher and a mother to two young children (7 and 4)
, I spend at least half an hour every night actively reading with my children. This includes pointing out what I see, thinking aloud, and asking questions to activate their critical thinking skills, because I know reading with kids at a young age is the single most effective predictor of adult success.  

Tips for Promoting Emotional Intelligence Through Books 

Children’s books play a pivotal role in nurturing emotional intelligence. Through books, children meet diverse characters and encounter situations that allow them to explore a range of emotions.  

Reading stories that focus on emotions allows teachers and caregivers to support children’s development of empathy, emotional identification, and perspective-taking. By engaging in discussions and reflections prompted by literature, children can enhance their emotional vocabulary and gain insights into managing their emotions effectively. 

You can use guiding questions, conversations, and observations to call attention to the emotions, conflicts, resolutions, and problem-solving that happens in any story, not just the ones explicitly about emotions! Here are some tips and language samples to help you engage children in meaningful discussions while reading and foster their emotional growth: 

When talking about emotions with young children (infants, toddlers, preschoolers), be sure to model what to do by:

  1. Give your answers to the questions first, then ask if the child agrees or disagrees or has any additional thoughts.
  2. Point to the pictures to remind them about what happened in the story.
  3. Help children make the connection between how the characters may be feeling, and what happened in the story. 

Identifying and Recognizing Feelings: 

For young children, help them use the proper terms to label emotions and feelings characters may be feeling, and point out what the characters’ bodies and faces look like that lets us know they may be feeling this way. 

Tip: Describe how you identify and recognize feelings, so children can learn how you think.
"I see a big smile on this character’s face. What do you think they are feeling in this picture?"
 

Tip: Use visual tools to help guide young kids.
"Can you show me the face that matches how the character might be feeling?" 

Tip: Ask questions to activate their brains.
"What about his/her face makes you think the character might be happy?"
 

Building Empathy: 

Even young children can develop empathy through thinking aloud, and relatable situations. In the beginning, it can be helpful to give examples of how you may feel in a situation, before asking how they may feel. 

Tip: Use relatable situations to help kids learn that other people have emotions and feelings, too!
"If I lost my toy like the character, I would feel prickly. What would you feel if this happened to you? Prickly or cozy?" 

Tip: Help young children make connections.
"Can you think of a time when you or someone you know felt the same way?"
 

Tip: Help children practice thinking about how to show care for others through the characters and situations in books.
"What could the character's friend do to make them feel better? Could they maybe help them or give them a hug?"
 

Connecting Emotions to Personal Experiences: 

Observing significant experiences or emotions the child may have experienced that day is a great anchor when connecting emotions to personal experiences. Take note and be sure to point out what you notice as it is happening and refer back to it when reading together. 

Tip: Ask questions to help them connect to others.
"Have you ever felt happy/excited/sad/angry like the character in the story?"
 
"Can you think of a time when something made you feel similar to what the character is feeling?" 
"What happened to make you feel that way? What did you do?" 

Exploring Solutions and Problem-solving: 

Even young children can begin to solve problems! Listen and help build upon their ideas, to encourage them to develop this higher-order skill. Also, in the beginning, talking aloud and creating solutions together, and finding out if the characters in the book had the same approach are great ways to develop problem-solving skills. 

Tip: Use the situations presented in books to practice identifying and solving problems.
"What do you think the character could do next?"
 
"What could the character have done instead?" 
"What could you do to help the character feel better? What helps you feel better?" 

Encouraging Reflection and Self-expression: 

If younger children are struggling with reflection, feel free to help them out. If you noticed a lot of reactions from children during the climax of the story, ask them if the climax made them excited. 

Tip: Have children practice reflecting and expressing through the stories they read.
"What did you learn from this story?"
 
"The middle of the story made me feel excited! Which part of the story made you feel the most excited?" 

Creating Art or Role-playing: 

Art and role-playing can give young children an alternative way of playing through a hard situation or expressing hard to express feelings or thoughts about conflicts. I love creating alternate reality or parallel versions of events that occur throughout the day, to allow my kids to unravel their personal problems through fictional characters. Starting with a book on a topic related to what the child is struggling with is a great way to start. 

Tip: Invite children to creatively retell the story. This will allow them to personalize and understand the situation in a deeper, more personal way.
"Can you draw or paint a picture of how the character might be feeling?"
 
"Let's use puppets or stuffed animals to act out the story. What do you think the characters feel?" 

Related: ECSELent Adventures Book Series includes a list of guiding questions  

Resources for Promoting Emotional Intelligence Through Literature 

Using Books as a Tool to Discuss Tough Topics 

One of the hardest parts of raising and teaching children is having to discuss tough topics. As adults, we do not want to say the wrong thing or create a traumatic, inappropriate, or ineffective conversation when children are exposed to death, bullying, anger management, or anxiety over illnesses. 

Ultimate Guide to Talking to Kids About Tough TopicsIf you need additional help, refer to The Ultimate Guide to Talking About Tough Topics With Young Children.

In this comprehensive guide, there are suggestions of books to use, and how to guide discussions around Tough Topics. 

Books We Love for Promoting Emotional Intelligence from an Expert in the Field 

Dr. Donna Housman is a child psychologist who developed the ECSELent Adventures book series to aid educators and caregivers to help them support children with their emotional intelligence.  Each book follows lovable and relatable characters who face challenging situations, such as death, bullying, exclusion, anger management, and anxiety. The characters solve their problems using coping strategies and prosocial skills that any child can use in their own lives. Each book includes a list of guided questions to guide caregivers and educators in further supporting the development of emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills in young children. 

Gilly and the Garden - a book about grief, loss and death

Gilly and the Garden - a book about the sensitive topics of grief, loss, and death. 
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Theo’s Deliciously Different Dumplings (an Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist)Theo’s Deliciously Different Dumplings - a book about differences, diversity, exclusion, and bullying. 
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Ottersons' EruptionThe Ottersons’ Eruption - a book helping both children and adults with anger management and understanding the root of their emotions. 
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Riley's Really Big WorriesRiley’s Really Big Worries - a book about anxiety, germs, and overcoming fear. (Coming in fall, 2023.) 
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Develop Your Skills in Promoting Emotional Intelligence Using Books 

Making the Most of Storytime - using children's books to teach emotional intelligenceTo further enhance your storytelling abilities and create impactful experiences for children, the Housman Institute offers the "Making the Most of Storytime" e-course. This comprehensive course equips educators and caregivers with practical techniques and strategies to maximize the emotional intelligence benefits of storytelling. 

Activities for Book Lover's Day 

Book Lover's Day is August 9th! This is an ideal occasion to celebrate the joy of reading and promote emotional intelligence in young children. Encourage children to explore books that delve into emotional journeys and spark conversations about feelings. Organize reading circles, storytelling sessions, or puppet shows that focus on emotional intelligence themes. Create interactive activities such as role-playing or art projects that allow children to express and process emotions. Let Book Lover's Day be a celebration of emotional growth through literature! Here are some activity ideas we love for Book Lover’s Day: 

1.) Role-play your favorite book using puppets or stuffed animals. 

Hemmy and Shemmy PuppetsMy kids (7 and 4) love to role-play The Ottersons’ Eruption because they get to pretend to be the angry dad who lost control of his emotions. We love working together to help Dad and Hemmy calm down. Read a story together and act out your favorite parts. Maybe you can even make a new ending! 

2.) Create your own book!  

Whether it is drawing and writing out each part, or using a story generator online to help, help kids feel empowered by creating their own book!  

preschool prek activity
3.) Make an origami character bookmark. 

Fold your own corner bookmarks following this tutorial! You can draw any character you like. My daughter made Josie Bunny.  

4.) Visit your local library or check out a digital library. 

The library is a great way to get kids to love books. If you are unable to leave the house, digital libraries like Epic are great choices. They have books based on grade level and include options such as audiobooks for pre-readers. 

5.) Role-play library! 

One of my kids favorite activities is role-play library, stemming from this Bluey episode. While playing library, see what situations naturally come up, such as kids disagreeing on rules, or wanting to borrow the same books. Help facilitate problem-solving by helping them empathize with other children, and work together to find a compromise.  

6.) Cuddle up with your favorite book and read together. 

cozy corner
Set up a special spot in your house or classroom to cozy up and read together! Here are some ideas of how to make your spot extra cozy.

7.) Participate in a book trade! 

Find some friends with similar interests and reading ability to trade books with or get copies of your childhood favorites to trade with your littles. 

8.) Hold a book club. 

book club
If your kids or students are able to focus on books independently, organize a child-appropriate book club! Everyone can read or look through the same book together, get together some finger sandwiches, a charcuterie board, and some apple juice and talk about the book. How did it make you feel? What was your favorite part? What happened in the beginning, middle, or end?
 

9.) Listen to an audiobook. 

Here is a recording of Dr. Donna Housman reading an excerpt of The Ottersons’ Eruption on Book of Wonder. Feel free to listen to it with your kids! 

10.) Make a book poster. 

Invite kids to draw a poster about a book they read, as if it was a movie poster. What feelings should the poster make the person viewing the poster feel? Excited? Scared?  

11.) Have a book emotions scavenger hunt. 

find the feeling
Open up your favorite book with a list of items to find, such as something that makes you excited, something that makes you feel cozy, or someone who looks angry.  

Conclusion 

Child literacy and storytelling are invaluable tools for nurturing emotional intelligence in early childhood. By leveraging books and storytelling, we empower children to understand and manage their emotions, practice empathy, and develop healthy social skills. Explore the ECSELent Adventures books about tough topics from the Housman Institute and enroll in the "Making the Most of Storytime" e-course to expand your resources and capabilities as an Early Childhood Educator or caregiver. Together, let's celebrate Book Lover's Day by fostering emotional intelligence and laying the foundation for a brighter future for our children. 

Free Emotional Literacy Bookmark Set

🖨️ Download: Emotional Literacy Bookmark Set!

References: 

  1. Neuman, S. B., & Celano, D. (2001). Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities: An ecological study of four neighborhoods. Reading Research Quarterly, 36(1), 8-26. 
  2. Mendelsohn, A. L., et al. (2001). Impact of a low-literacy intervention on children's language development and literacy outcomes. Pediatrics, 107(4), 1-7. 
  3. Hutton, J. S., et al. (2015). Association between Maternal Reading Beliefs and Child Brain Activation during Story Listening in 4-to 8-Year Olds. Journal of Pediatrics, 167(2), 358-365. 
  4. Bus, A. G., et al. (1995). Joint caregiver-child storybook reading: A route to literacy development. Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 48(5), 343-348. 
  5. Dunn, M., & Styles, M. (1996). The effect of mothers' literacy skills and children's pre-school experiences on children's literacy skills. Journal of Research in Reading, 19(1), 19-29. 

Karen ChowAbout the Main Contributor: Karen Kim Chow has worked in education for 15 years. She has an MA in Education (English) from UC Irvine and a BA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. She has experience teaching English and serving as an Instructional Coach and Instructional Designer for TK-12th grade in all subject areas including English, Literature, and Writing. She is a mother of two children (7 and 4 years old) so needless to say, there are overflowing bookshelves in every room of the house. She is an active member of the SEL Division of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee at their school.  

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