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As co-teachers at a begin to ECSEL school, we have experienced countless moments where ECSEL language, tools, and techniques are so vital to shaping children’s social-emotional learning and overall character development. One of our favorite tools to use in our classroom is Our Emotions Board. Whether it be a transitional tool in classroom drop-off routines, a part of morning circle time, used during curriculum to discuss the feelings of characters in stories, or a peaceful space during the day for children to have agency over-sharing and discussing their many feelings, Our Emotions Board is always there to help us support our students. What stands out most to us about the board is that it provides valuable learning lessons not only for children but for adults and teachers too!
In fact, Our Emotions Board has been an amazing community-building resource both within our school and among the families of our students. Starting with the children, Our Emotions Board helps them not only better identify the many feelings they experience throughout the day, but also to better understand the feelings of their classmates, siblings, caregivers, and teachers. Family members and caregivers have become a part of this experience when they drop-off their children in the morning-- a special routine of each family member checking in with their feelings together at the board before saying goodbye. For us teachers, Our Emotions Board has been so important for our own emotionality-- being honest about our own feelings prepares us to better help our students do the same. As teachers, being able to check in on Our Emotions Board not only lets our students know that adults have feelings too, but lets other teachers know when we might be needing more support.
This begin to ECSEL tool has been such an integral part of our lives and the lives of our students. We have witnessed first-hand how using Our Emotions Board can empower children to have agency and control over their emotions, even when they are dysregulated. We wanted to share a very special story to illustrate the impact and pivotal role Our Emotions Board has in our classroom:
By the time Addie entered our Pre-K class, she had been enrolled at our begin to ECSEL school since infancy. Like many other young children, her emotions often ran high. There were countless times where she would shut down emotionally, or express heightened emotions through prolonged tears and tantrums daily. Addie was incredibly emotionally aware, but also shied away from change and following-up after experiencing dysregulation. In these moments, she often chose not to use the begin to ECSEL tools that we had available to support her in working through her feelings, managing them, and finding a solution. This became as much of a challenge for Addie as it was for us. Without being able to share and discuss her emotions freely, Addie held on to them, letting them affect her ability to join in on curriculum activities, and experience classroom life to the fullest.
As the school year went on, we worked with Addie to slowly incorporate Our Emotions Board as a way to support her in sharing her feelings. With some children, this can be a slow process-- one that requires frequent observation and attunement from teachers to notice when the board is being utilized and when feelings are changing. We first used Our Emotions Board with Addie to help her transition into the classroom at drop-off-- an event that understandably almost always ended in screaming and tears. Although she wasn’t yet ready to discuss her emotions, we encouraged and supported Addie in simply showing us what she was feeling by placing her photo under one of the emotions on the board. We modeled this with our own photos, and rather than pressing her to discuss these feelings, we thanked her when she showed us on her own and reassured her that we would be there when she wanted to talk.
As Addie moved on to sit in the cozy corner with a book, we watched carefully as she inched her way back to Our Emotions Board and changed her feeling to “calm.” We exchanged excited looks-- this was our moment! One of us approached Addie and shared that we saw her move her photo on the board, and asked if she was feeling better. Addie, who we knew to be stubborn at times, opened up almost immediately and told us, “I’m feeling sad because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Daddy, but now I’m also calm because I looked at my family photo and got to read a book.” We thanked her for sharing and validated her feelings; it can be hard to say goodbye. We let her know that she did a wonderful job of using Our Emotions Board to show us her feelings, and the biggest smile spread over Addie’s face.
From that moment on, Our Emotions Board became a part of Addie’s everyday routines-- not just at drop-off, but throughout the day during transitions, curriculum activities, circle discussions, before pick-up, and during interactions with her friends. When she would notice another friend looking upset, she would take their hand and lead them to Our Emotions Board to help them in sharing their own feelings. Addie would notice our frustrated expressions when trying to calm down our chaotic class of 4 and 5 year olds, and she would move our photos on Our Emotions Board and tell her peers that “Miss Lauren and Miss Emily are feeling frustrated.” She even taught her parents to use the board at drop-off and pick-up! That one pivotal moment provided Addie with a resource to add to her emotional toolkit anytime strong feelings arose. She was able to recognize and identify her feelings, share and discuss what made her feel that way, and try to find solutions to feel better before moving her photo on Our Emotions Board. She was able to use the board as a tool to support her dysregulation, and find comfort in gaining agency over her feelings.
We love to share this story, and there are so many others to share just like Addie’s. Children (and adults) need space, time, and an allowance to feel whatever emotions they may be feeling, and to be given the right tools to support them in managing those emotions when they are ready. Our Emotions Board does just that, while also helping to build empathy in both children and adults. We can’t imagine our classroom without it.
At Housman Institute, we believe our role is to nurture the social, emotional, and cognitive well-being of all students and educators without bias. It is critical that every child feel recognized and validated from their earliest days—to understand that their voice matters, regardless of background or experience and is being heard. We listen to, respect and support the needs of our educators as we recognize their critical role in a child's emotional growth and development. Together we need to begin the important work to help all our children and educators, as we move toward a more equitable environment for early learning, setting the stage for the building blocks of empathy and conflict resolution, and a more equitable future for us all. To learn more about how our program works to address equity in early childhood school communities... visit here.