Love, happiness, excitement, gratitude — these are the emotions that many of us associate with Valentine’s Day. But how do young children learn what these words mean in the first place? How do they learn to articulate and communicate their feelings and emotions to others? Today’s blog from Jumpstart’s Hillary Roselund shares ideas about how to use storybooks as a tool to aid young children in their social-emotional development.
At Jumpstart, we are strong believers in the power of reading and storybooks to inspire learning for young children. As a language and literacy organization, we think first about using books to build children’s early reading skills, like being able to connect story events and know the meaning of words. But, an explosion of new research and attention to social-emotional development has made us see the great potential of using books to support children’s development in both the language and social-emotional domains. Focusing on characters’ emotions and the ways in which emotion drive a story’s plot can have amazing benefits for children’s social-emotional learning.
Consider this: Having a richer vocabulary of “feeling words” — words that help children understand the emotional experiences of others and themselves — helps children to get along better with others, communicate their needs, and form stronger relationships. Many children know happy or mad, but miss all the subtle gradations of feelings in-between because they do not have labels and definitions for more nuanced emotions. Think of words like elated, thrilled, grateful, or furious, outraged and annoyed. What’s exciting for us at Jumpstart is that books can help children develop their feeling word vocabulary; by embedding emotion talk into our read-alouds, we can simultaneously build children’s understanding of books, and their social-emotional competencies. (Learn more about the importance of a “feelings lexicon” from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.)
As Valentine’s Day approaches, try reading some of our favorite Jumpstart picks about family, friends, and love with a child in your life. Although there are many books that talk about emotion and introduce children to different emotion words, we especially like narrative books with a central story problem and resolution. These books give plenty of opportunities for talking about the causes and consequences of character’s emotions, and for connecting emotion to story events. As you read, pay attention to characters’ facial expressions and experiences — use rich emotion words like concerned, frustrated, unsure, curious, adored, comforted, and safe that describe how characters feel at various points in these stories. Emphasize both the emotion words used in the text, and those that might not be stated directly but are suggested by what’s happening on the page or in the pictures.
Check out these emotion-rich books with themes about family, friendship, and love:
- Llama Llama Misses Momma by Anna Dewdney
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- Love Monster by Rachel Bright
- Bear in Love by Daniel Pinkwater
- Love Waves by Rosemary Wells
Research tells us that children retain new vocabulary best when they hear and experience those words many times in different contexts. Take advantage of the chance to reinforce emotion vocabulary as you create and decorate cards with your child this Valentine’s Day. Ask questions to encourage your child to express their thoughts and feelings about giving and receiving cards, such as, “How will you feel when you give Grandma this card?” or “How will your friend feel when he opens your Valentine?” Remember that it is through conversations like these that little hearts and minds learn empathy and how to respond to others in kind and thoughtful ways!