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Little Bodies, Big Feelings: Real Life Emojis

Written by Alexandrea Gerba, Associate Pre-K Teacher at Avenues New York

Little kids have big feelings, especially during the first few weeks of school. When it comes to saying goodbye to grownups, learning new routines and accepting that you can no longer have your pets all the time, life gets real. To help with the transition of becoming a big pre-K kid, children and teachers in the Orange/Chengse rooms have been talking a lot about their emotions. We asked the kids to share what they know about emotions, and then generated a list of all the feelings we know. One child made a quick connection and said, “Hey! Emojis, emotions. They’re like the same thing!” We used this observation to help us draw facial expressions for our own class emojis and then thought about how and why we feel the ways we do.

Students created a list of the feelings they know.

Things that make us Happy: Candy, surprises, school!, playing, hugs

Things that make us Sad: when you feel sick, when someone says “you can’t play,” when I’m tricked, when I don’t get to watch T.V., when I have to say goodbye to my grownup

Things that make us Angry: when people don’t share, when someone hits me

Things that make us Frustrated: timeouts, when people don’t pick up

Things that make us Calm/Peaceful: naps, going to school, showers, massages

Things that make us Silly: spinning like a tornado, when I hear a funny joke

Things that make us Excited: candy, mommy and daddy, my birthday!

Things that make us Scared: lightning, monsters under the bed

Things that make us Worried: first day of school, trying new things, night-night

Things that make us Embarrassed: Accidents, spills

Practicing facial expressions!

Making a sad face.

As a group, we practiced making different facial expressions that captured the different feelings. We also talked about ways that we can change our feelings, like how we might go from being sad to happy, or frustrated to proud. “You can give a hug,” one child suggested. “You can just try it again until you get it,” suggested another.

During storytime, we read On Monday When It Rained, by Cherryl Kachenmeister, and related to how the little boy in the story felt each day. To further help students identify their feelings and recognize when their emotions are changing, we began to use a tool we call “Feeling Sticks.” It consists of eight cups labeled with a different emotion.

After drop off, as part of our morning routine, children move a Popsicle stick with their name on it to the cup that best corresponds with their emotion that morning. Children are encouraged to move their feelings stick throughout the day according to their mood. The process helps children correctly identify their feelings, and helps friends and teachers get a better understanding as well.

While the Feelings Study started off as a unit to help us transition back to school, we know the conversations won’t stop once our study is over, nor should they. In an ever-changing world, it’s more important than ever for us to feel safe talking about how we really feel, and what better place to start those conversations than in the early childhood classroom? As one child reminded us, “It’s okay to have feelings!”