Emotional literacy can be defined as the ability to understand, process and express emotions while using them effectively and constructively. An individual’s skills with this impact a persons ability to effectively use emotional literacy when empathising with others, emotional regulation, ensuring that past experiences do not create obstacles for current understanding and decision making.
Emotional literacy is the foundation of emotional intelligence, and is something that is continually developed as we learn through life’s many experiences. In early childhood education, emotional literacy is an important part of each child’s personal learning journey, but it is not always seen as the most crucial set of skills to be emphasised in the programme of a centre.
The social and emotional development of a child is now recognised in research and literature as the most vital areas of early childhood development. Supporting a child’s social and emotional development is ingrained within Te Whāriki and should also be ingrained in each of us as teachers and as an early childhood education centre. The strands within Te Whāriki all point towards supporting children to the ultimate goal which is “to grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society”.
The curriculum is acknowledging of social and emotional development and by using emotional literacy within our programme, we are ensuring positive life skills for children. Emotional literacy is the foundation of the child’s deepening understanding of emotions, such as empathy and which in turn is supportive of them as a whole as they grow into those competent and confident learners.
How do we use emotional literacy in our programme?
Over the last two years, we have built on our own personal and professional knowledge on the emotional wellbeing of children and how to improve children’s circumstances through developing their emotional literacy.
We have gained further understanding through The Incredible Years course, and other professional development.
We have also done extensive research and reading on various understandings of emotional intelligence from around the world, and used this knowledge in our own practice.
Through those steps, we have reflected on our progress and how it has positively influenced our children. We have also reflected on how we can improve.
Thanks to the wonderful Incredible Years course, we have the roots of knowledge which support us as teachers to improve positive behaviours and expression of emotions. This has supported us in our understanding of the underlying issues that influence children’s as individuals and their behaviours which needed closer attention. We have highlighted children who needed closer attention and developed specific plans to support their improvement of positive behaviour. Those plans are similar to each other but were developed to cater to each child and how they responded to our plan. The plans revolve around encouragement and praise which builds their confidence and self-appreciation. We highlight them when they make good choices, and ignore negative behaviours. If negative behaviours were to persist, we would encourage them to make the right choices using forecasting such as “I know you are a good friend and will give such and such a turn with blah dee blah when you are ready”. We have also provided constant and consistent praise for children with higher needs as we watch them play or follow out a routine/task which is important as a contributor of our preschool. Other times we have used stickers as visual reminders of their personal positive behaviours which were rewarded for.
We have developed visual reminders such as flash cards and charts which are specific to our children and what is required of them. It has supported them in the understanding of is an expectation, and influenced positive communication between us as teachers and them as learners. These flashcards were used frequently at the beginning of this year to influence one child in his understanding of preschool and where his belongings are kept, when it was his turn to have his nappy changed etc. and often sought them out as a way to communicate with teachers as he has only basic language skills. When he saw the personalised photos of his belongings, it brought him a sense of joy and comfort. This was an excellent way of showing him we are responsive to his needs and emotions.
Overall, we are supporting our children to be strong communicators. We want children to acknowledge their own feelings and feel enough trust in us as teachers and in our environment to be able to express the negative as well as the positive. The Incredible Years programme helped us as teachers to be more open and responsive to our children and the underlying reasons behind their behaviours. It has allowed us to practice our own skills of empathy, and model that when responding to others in a distressed or overjoyed state. Giving our children the opportunity to express themselves and be a listening ear, shows them that they can trust us and not automatically jump into problem solving mode. They are affirmed and acknowledged as individuals. This brings us closer to our children and we are continuing to develop stronger relationships with them and their family. When a child looks to us for attention, our reactions determine that trust they’re looking for. It is our job as educators to be the people they can turn to and communicate openly with. Emotional literacy is facilitated through communication and contribution, and is a two way road.