Easy Ways to Talk About Emotions in Your EYFS Classroom

I’m writing this blog in partnership with  Nexus Education.com who share ideas, best practice and CPD that provide teachers a platform, full of videos, blogs and events, enabling a community eager to help and inform each other to shape UK education for the better.

Nexus Education had their second event recently solely focused on Early Years with Anna Lucas here on LinkedIn

Nexus Education believe, as I do, that there has never been a more important time to teach children about their emotions.

Early years classrooms are the perfect place to start learning about them. If children can explain how they are feeling and understand the emotions of others, they will have the best start to their school experience.

Let’s look at practical ways you can build this into your early years curriculum.

Why Talk About Emotions?

If you make talking about emotions a priority in your classroom, our youngest children learn early on how to self-regulate and express themselves.

Child mental health expert, Shahana Knight, suggests five great reasons why children need to learn to talk about emotions:

  1. Understanding the reason behind the emotion
  2. To help them feel more in control
  3. Negative emotions can lead to negative thoughts
  4. It means they can ask for help
  5. It helps them to be a better friend

Every teacher has experienced a frustrated child who can’t explain how they feel. They show angry, physical behaviour towards adults and other children without understanding why. You can help your children understand the emotions behind their behaviour.

What Feelings Should Children Know?

I was shocked to find out there are 27 human emotions! No wonder young children can struggle with them. In school, stick to the common feelings children are likely to experience.

They are:

  • Timid
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Happy
  • Sleepy
  • Surprised
  • Scared
  • Silly

I made My Mood Stars to cover all of these big feelings children experience.

Children learn to identify two major emotions, ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ at an early age. It is important they move on from putting everything into these two groups. For example, understanding that someone might feel scared, rather than sad, will help them learn how to respond appropriately.

It’s very human to try to minimise or ignore negative feelings, after all, we want our children to feel happy. But the only way to get children understanding is to talk openly about all of them. Dismissing unhappy feelings doesn’t make them go away.

Some children will come to school already able to express themselves. Others will need your help. Boys in particular may have experienced the old-fashioned idea that showing emotions is a bad thing. It’s crucial to show them it’s healthy to talk about feelings.

Emotional Development by Age

Early Years Outcomes provides helpful guidance about what you should expect at different ages.

16 to 26 months

Is aware of others’ feelings, for example, looks concerned if hears crying or looks excited if hears a familiar happy voice.

This is the perfect time to start naming emotions for young children. Draw their attention to body language clues.

22 to 36 months

Can express their own feelings such as sad, happy, cross, scared, worried. Responds to the feelings and wishes of others. Aware that some actions can hurt or harm others. Tries to help or give comfort when others are distressed.

Children can play games to learn the names of common emotions. They are becoming more aware of the feelings of children around them.

30 to 50 months

Aware of own feelings and knows that some actions and words can hurt others’ feelings. Begins to accept the needs of others and can take turns and share resources, sometimes with support from others

It’s at this point that children become a lot more social. This is why I made My Mood Stars so tactile. Children love touching them and passing them around!

40 to 60+ months

Understands that own actions affect other people, for example, becomes upset or tries to comfort another child when they realise they have upset them.

These older children start to understand that their actions can have a direct impact on another child. They realise that emotions don’t just appear; there’s a reason behind them.

Dual Coding to Develop Social Skills

I’ve been hearing a lot about dual coding in education. Simply put, it means showing children a visual symbol along with your words. This is something early years teachers have been doing for a long time.

That’s why visuals such as Makaton signs and My Mood Stars work so well in EYFS classrooms. They help children visualise an emotion as well as learning the name for it. It’s a great way to get them remembering this new emotional vocabulary.

In your classroom, point to one of My Mood Stars as you name the feeling or draw a picture of a face showing that emotion. Makaton signs are a great alternative for all students not just those with additional needs.

Emotional Development Activities

There are so many games you can build into your classroom practice. The key is making them engaging. The more hands on the better!

2-3 Year Olds

Have fun whilst learning the names of common emotions.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Mime an emotion and see if they can guess what it is. Your children could pick a My Mood Star to match.
  • Get your children pulling faces to match the feeling you call out.
  • Sing ‘If You’re Happy and You Know it,’ but change the emotion for each verse. For example, ‘If you’re sad and you know it, make a frown.’
  • Play snap and matching games with pictures of different feelings.
  • When you read stories, point out the emotions characters are feeling. Children can hold a picture of the emotion or the appropriate My Mood Star.
  • Get your class drawing the faces of different emotions and telling stories about them.

4-6 Year Olds

These older children will be able to play games and activities that help them develop empathy skills.

Try these:

  • Pick the emotion you are feeling. It’s a great starter for circle time.
  • Identify the emotion from clues. This is a simple way for them to see how people might behave when they feel a certain way.
  • Choose an emotion and discuss a time you felt like this.
  • Make one feeling the ‘emotion of the week’ and theme your learning around it.
  • Think about practical things they can do when someone feels each common emotions. You could create a class book or instruction manual.
  • Show pictures of each emotion or My Mood Stars and hide one of them. Can they guess which is missing?
  • Invent scenarios for each emotion and use role play to bring them to life.

Using My Mood Stars for Emotional Development

I made My Mood Stars because I want to help all children talk about and understand their feelings. Many children struggle to understand how their behaviour links to emotions. I created something tactile that little fingers can squeeze, throw and have fun with in their classroom.

A set of My Mood Stars is a simple way to put social and emotional learning at the heart of your early years curriculum. It is an inclusive and unthreatening way to get children talking.

Order your stars here.