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Emotions, Not Emoticons

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.

 

It’s Their Home Too

You may or may not remember this post from a while back when I talked showed you our new yard, and I talked about how dirt is a good thing.  If you haven’t read that post it’s a good read, but I have something else to talk about today.

Almost two years ago our family moved into a new home.  I was so excited, all I could think about was how this new house was going to have everything I needed.  It was going to be one where everyone could have their own room, and I would have enough cabinet space for all my kitchen necessities.  I remember being excited about getting to pick out carpet and tile, and lighting, and stressing about deciding whether we should go with maple or hickory. I remember picturing my children happily playing in the yard or in the playroom while I prepared dinner.  I remembering thinking everyone will love this house!

Flash forward to reality.  Yes we love our house, and yes it has lots of wonderful features and things, but in the heat of the move and design we may have lost sight of the fact that this is their place too.  All of my children do have their own rooms, but they rarely sleep in them, in fact they tell me that they miss our old apartment because we were all so close together there.  Most nights all three kiddos are sleeping in my youngest son’s room because they like to be together.  We ended up going with hickory floors, and I’m glad we did because they are dirty more than they are clean and all the variation in the wood color hides the dirt well.  I still don’t have enough cabinet space, and I usually find myself preparing dinner during the “witching hour” when they are all tired, and hungry and needy.  But the yard… the yard!  It’s finally done!  It’s taken us two years to get our landscaping completed and thank goodness it did because since we’ve lived here we’ve been observing more, and listening more to their needs, and because of that we made some changes.

For two summers we had a back dirt lot, not a yard.  During those two summers we got to “watch” our kids (read, strongly encourage) play outside.  They found bugs, went “hiking”, learned that thorns and bare feet don’t go well together, made “soup”, and asked us almost every single day, “When are we going to get grass?”  We worked tirelessly with landscape architects, collected ideas from Pinterest, and saved every penny we could.  We felt like this was our one shot to get it right.  We wanted it to be beautiful, and welcoming, and a place to gather.  In the beginning, I was picturing this.

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The thing about that, is there is really nothing there for my little ones.  No place to run, or hide, or roll, or dig, or explore.  So we adjusted our plans.  The backyard has lots of grass, we added a hill, and a path.  We planted raspberry bushes so that they could explore and pick fresh berries.  We have an awesome patio that we eat at every night, and we will soon have a sandbox.

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The front yard is quite small and simple.  Our plans called for a tree, a patch of grass, and a planter box off the front of our front porch.

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I was excited about the idea of quietly drinking a cup of coffee on my front porch as the day awoke.  It was going to be perfect.  So construction started and there were many exciting days filled with back hoe’s, front loaders, and concrete trucks.  All was going to plan until this happened.

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I got a text from my husband.  “Planter box or sandbox?”  I knew right then that we needed to make a change.  Sandbox, most definitely.  And that is what we did.

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Now I sit on my front porch and quietly drink my coffee while my kids play in the morning sun in the sandbox.  And in the afternoon we gather with neighbors and their children and seek shade in our front porch sandbox, and after school I cook dinner while my kids play in the sandbox.  The peonies can wait, because this is their home too.

Would You Rather?

It’s just a little game we play… oh, ALL THE TIME!  The children love it – it’s a great conversation starter, it gets that brain muscle working, and offers just another moment of connection between you and your children.  In our house we all take turns thinking of questions and answering them. Here are just a few on our most recent ones:

“Would you rather drive a garbage truck or a steam roller to school?”

“Would you rather wear your brother’s clothes all day or your Dad’s clothes all day?”

“Would you rather eat broccoli for breakfast or eggs for dessert?”

“Would you rather have wings so you could fly or be invisible?”

“Would you rather be a princess who wears a brown dress with tons of sparkles, or a pink dress without sparkles?”

If you’re real good, you may be able to sneak in a few real questions – Would you rather have carrots or snap peas in your lunch tomorrow?  Would you rather take a shower or a bath tonight?