Working through feelings can be tough. They aren’t really tangible. Often times they are hard to describe, and talking about them proves to be difficult even for adults. Feelings are also real, and present, and important, and confusing, and powerful. We need them, and honestly living a life without feelings would be stale, dull, and disconnected.
In our classroom we talk a lot about feelings. We teach the children about “I statements” when they use the peace flower, and we teach them how to recognize that inner “feel good” feeling with the love light. But what about those other feelings like worry, fear, stress, anger, etc? What about excitement, bravery, and confidence? What do we do with those feelings? How do we teach young children to feel those feelings as well learn to navigate them? How do we teach them that emoticons are no replacement for real emotions? These are questions that have been tugging at my heart lately.
I don’t know the answers, so I go back; I go back to my training, to what I know. Maria Montessori was brilliant at breaking big things down into tiny bite size pieces so that they could be easily understood. She made things tangible and real for children. Surely the same can be done when it comes to emotional intelligence right?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There is very wise woman among us and the children at our school are so lucky to have her as their teacher. However, I’m the luckiest, because she is my sister. A while ago Ms Kelly delivered a special basket to my house. We call it the feelings box. In it are a variety of items to help my children navigate those big feelings when they arise. When she showed it to me I was giddy with excitement and I wanted to show my kids right away, but something inside me made me wait. I needed to sit with it for a while, I needed to let the purpose and importance of this basket come to me, and I needed a clear message for my children. What were these things for? Why do we have them? When can I use them? Again, more questions. I wanted to make sure my children knew these things were special, and that they weren’t toys, but rather tools to help all of us. I wanted to make sure that they understood this was something positive, and wonderful, and I knew it needed to be handled with care.
When I finally did present the basket I covered it with a blanket. We talked about the kinds of feelings we feel, and whether or not we had felt any of them during the day. I told them that we had a new basket of tools (this is very important, these are not toys) to help us with our feelings. They can help us feel them, organize them, and understand them. Deep stuff eh? Then one at a time I pulled each tool out of the box.
This is a breathing ball. It expands and contracts, and I showed my kids how to take long slow breaths while pulling it out making it bigger – like our lungs, and then blowing air out slowly and collapsing the ball slowly as well.
This is a stress ball that can be squeezed and stretched.
This is a tangle, just something to fidget. I told them, “This is something fidget with while you sit with your feelings.”
These are yoga cards with a few of our favorite calming yoga poses.
This is kinetic sand. If you haven’t touched this stuff yet you must. It’s amazing, and calming, and you can kind of just get lost in it.
This is a timer, and my children really like to lay on their tummies and watch the droplets fall.
This is just a small coloring book with markers. We have found that coloring is one of the most regulating activities for our kids, they get lost in it.
This is a melting snowman, an dis by far one of the most used tools in the kit. It’s basically silly putty that they build a snowman out of.
It comes with all the cute little accessories, and then they sit, and watch it melt.
And usually, but the time the snowman has melted so have their big feelings.
This is our little peace bag. Inside is a worry stone, a tea light, and some lavender essential oil (in a nifty little roller bottle they can safely use on their own). They put a little oil on their wrists, and either lay on their back, put the tea light on their belly and practice some belly breathing or sit quietly and rub the worry stone between their fingers.
The feelings basket lives in our living room and is available for anyone to use at any time. Sometimes I use it myself. It’s been a huge hit. Sometimes I offer choosing something from the feelings basket as a choice when we are working through big feelings, and sometimes they choose it on their own. More than anything it has opened to door to more conversations about emotions for our family. We experience them together. We share them, we work through them, and we honor them.