Reading Our Emotions

January 26, 2017

Reading Our Emotions

Early childhood educators believe theory can inform our practice, and we also believe that our work can inform the development of theory. One of the most important roles of an early childhood educator is to move into each day with this curiosity and say, yes I believe this to be true, or on the contrary, use our experiences and observations with children to challenge theory. A lot has been written about toddlers’ egocentrism and that has resulted in them being unfairly labeled the “terrible twos”.  But we know from carefully observing children and looking for competencies, that’s not true. We know that toddlers are very caring, kind and empathetic. We see it every day.

As educators, we recognize one of the ways we can support toddlers’ social and emotional development is to offer stories that can be read with emotional expression. As the children listen they are emotionally drawn in and begin to interpret the story through their own unique experiences and feelings. By sharing stories, children can experience love, emotions, appreciation and relationships as they hear the words that help describe and deepen their understanding of these feelings.

We began reading ‘Owl Babies’ while preparing for our Special Person Day. We chose this story because it was about love and caring, something we feel for the special people in our lives. We soon discovered this book meant so much to the children in our care.

The children gravitate to this book and appear to use it for comfort when they are feeling sad, scared or lonely. I believe that all the children can relate and connect to the story, which details the separation between a mommy owl and her owl baby. In the story the older owl siblings offer their baby brother different perspectives to comfort him as they wait for their Mom to return. This parallels what happens in the classroom when newer children’s feelings are acknowledged and support is offered by those children who are familiar with the drop off routine. The children engage in the story by connecting to and demonstrating the changing emotions of the owl babies. The children often choose to find a quiet spot to reflect with this book on their own as they empathize with the owl babies and connect with their own feelings.


The book ‘Grumpy Bird’ has helped toddlers in our Shamrock Program recognize that they all do not feel the same way at the same time. It has created opportunities for us to discuss ways we can be kind and caring to one another, even when our friends are angry or sad. The children know this story well and study the pictures carefully for further understanding.

In this video Violet demonstrates her understanding of what she knows about making others feel happy. As Violet moves through the book she points to the bird and says, “He sad!” She then proceeds to turn the page, find him and kiss him. When she finds him near the end of the book she states, “He happy!” Violet then begins the book again at the first sad bird picture and says, “Be happy!” and blows a kiss to the sad bird, turns the page and does the same for the bird on each of the following pages. Her familiarity of the story allows her to connect emotionally, practice her strategy and express what she knows. I believe Violet feels that kisses make her feel better when she is sad, and her actions show us she believes her kisses will make someone else who is sad feel happy too.

The work of Jean Piaget, a famous child development researcher and the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development in children, is still often referenced. He theorized that very young children’s thoughts and communications are typically egocentric and they lack the ability to see a situation from another person’s view. Our everyday work with children allows us to challenge this theory. Violet clearly recognizes the character in the story’s feelings, connects with the character and empathetically wants to make him feel better with her kisses.

‘My Friend is Sad’ has few words, but the characters are well illustrated against stark white backgrounds to emphasize the characters facial expressions and body language. This book has a simple storyline about relationships and illustrates “who” we need versus “what” we need. Our friends play a huge role in supporting our wellbeing because they understand and know us best. The children appear to connect to the characters’ emotions, even without having the story read to them. When this story is being read we see the children’s gaze focus on the emotional faces of the characters. The children give words to label emotions and some narrate the story to others. When we read this story, the children have a deeper focus and try not to miss a page because each page holds a clue.

Shamrock My Friend Is Sad 3

In these photos we see Randi, Violet, Abby and Bentley looking through the book “My Friend is Sad”. They are identifying emotions, and looking to one another for other possible perspectives to gain further understanding.

I believe that it is important to offer storybooks about emotions to young children. Through studying these sometimes complex stories, toddlers have the opportunity to safely experience and connect with the emotions of the characters. As they engage with books we can observe their gaze, reaction and response; looking for clues as to what they comprehend and understand. We can watch and document their learning as they experiment with these concepts in the classroom. This furthers our understanding of the competency of toddlers and their deep desire to connect with others on an emotional level through empathy, understanding and compassion.

We have integrated a library day into our weekly routine and are developing a system for books to accompany the children to their homes to share with families. We are excited to engage our Shamrock families in a shared study, so together, we can deepen our understanding of their children’s emotional learning.

“Ray loves your empathy stories. We bought him Owl Babies for Christmas and we read it every day. The work you do every day is creating very caring little humans!   Thank you for all that you do.”

~ Kim Franks-Thomas, Compass ELC Shamrock Parent

Click HERE to view some of our favourite books that we often share together to help support the social and emotional development of young children.

Shauna Mahon, RECE Compass ELC Shamrock

To read previously posted Compass ELC Blogs, please click HERE