Monday, 9 May 2016

Emotional Literacy

One of the many things that I appreciate about home education is the ability to spot needs and challenges, and address them as they arise.  Lately this has included an increase in one of my less-loved aspects of home education and parenting in general - refereeing sibling squabbles.  It's just a season, I know that, but one that can have me gritting my teeth and trying not to tear my hair out at times when these boys who are usually such good friends have a spate of "Muuuuuuuuuum, he said...", and screaming/ yelling/ blowing disagreements out of all proportion.  Emotions have been running strong and powerful, and they clearly need some help to handle it all.

Many years ago I went through a kind of group counselling course in a church that I was part of, and it was helpful both then and ever since in giving me a better understanding of my own emotions and those of others, and learning healthy ways to deal with them.  I've seen this in friends of mine who have also at some point been through some sort of counselling - they all seem to share an emotional strength and ability to process their feelings that I really want to be able to pass on to my kids where at all possible.
"Emotional literacy is made up of 'the ability to understand your emotions, the ability to listen to others and empathise with their emotions, and the ability to express emotions productively" (Wikipedia).  When I use the term 'emotional literacy', it is this that I am referring to, not the entire pedagogical approach instigated by Steiner, interesting though that is.
So anyway, at the same time as the kids were hitting an increase in out-of-control emotions, I noticed an advert popping up on my Facebook page for a new book, Emotionary.  You can click the link to find out more, but basically it's like a dictionary of emotions with a page to each feeling, illustrated and defined for children or adults.  I don't actually agree with all of the definitions.  For example, it says that anger is not useful in a civilised society.  I disagree: I think "righteous anger" at social injustice can be really helpful if channelled productively into bringing about positive change.  However that in itself turned into a really helpful discussion with the boys, and nit-picking aside, it is a really helpful book given the season we are in of pursuing emotional literacy.  It was published in order to help kids (and adults) identify and express their feelings - the first step in emotional literacy. I have it strewn (ie lying about) in the lounge at all times and today we did our second exercise specific to using the book.

Firstly, last week I had asked the boys to imagine they were creating a page to go in the book - to draw/ paint a picture and write a short definition of their chosen emotion.  We all tried to guess from the pictures which emotion was represented before the definition was read out... some were easier than others!

"Sleepiness" by Eldest, who added,

"Not to be confused with tiredness, 'cause that's more droopy-like, sleepiness makes everything/ everyone else seem dull except the odd thing that pops up to grab your attention.  Usually it arrives just before bed but can go away if you get a story or watch an exciting progrmme on TV.  It helps you to get to sleep."

"Excitement" by Middle...
"usually appears when something really happy is about to happen soon.  Excitement is the opposite of boredom but should not be confused with joy which is just really happy straight away"

"Joy" by Youngest

"Joy is like happiness, just the short way of saying it.  Joy is the opposite of anger"

Then today I asked the boys to do a spot of creative writing: could they write a poem or a piece of prose describing how a certain emotion feels or how they might visualise it - without using the actual word. Similar to their definitions of last week, but giving them a bit more space to be expressive and explore the feeling some more.  We had a brief chat about similies and metaphors (eg I told them instead of saying "Anger is like a fire-breathing dragon" they could say "It's like a fire-breathing dragon" or even "It's a fire-breathing dragon"), and then they were off!  Eldest had a flick through the Emotionary for inspiration, and then rattled off his poem almost instantly.  Middle struggled to focus at first but after referring to the Emotionary he got there too.  Youngest needed help getting to grips with the idea, so I sat with him and gave some prompts asking what made him feel his chosen emotion or what could he see that made him feel it.  He got it quite quickly then...

It's like a bright yellow ice lolly
Or like breathing in fresh air
Like baby squirrels chasing each other for fun
And me jumping up and down, shouting "hooray"
(Joy - by Youngest)


It is like a raging ball of fire
It is like killing your heart and love for life
It is like an evil wolf tearing at your insides
It is like completing a game then it crashes
(Anger - by Middle)


It is the uncontrollable buzz from the centre of your mind
It is the grey that turns to red at the strangest of things
It is the feeling inside shouting at the world to 'shush' or 'stop that'
It is the swarm ganging up on you
It is the slightly wrong path on the road to anger
(Irritation - by Eldest)


I found their chosen emotions interesting and was really pleased with how well they expressed themselves.  Eldest's and Middle's poems in particular I found really quite powerful and will hopefully provide a springboard for further conversation.

Incidentally, the book is helping, but another helpful resource that we have enjoyed is the film "Inside Out" which we watched at the start of this year, well before we got the book - I can't recommend that film highly enough as a lovely natural way into exploring feelings in a non-threatening way!

All of which makes it sound a little heavy and over-structured.  Actually it has all arisen quite naturally, and even the suggested activities have been quite spontaneous and fun.  I have no real idea where we are going next with this but am just hoping that we keep learning.  Emotional literacy is every bit as important and helpful as the type of literacy (comprehension, SpaG etc) taught in school. In fact, thinking of the current Yr2 and Yr 6 SATs, I would venture that lessons in emotional literacy are far more valuable - but that's another issue ;)

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