Because I’m Happy

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.5

Objective: Use art and movement to express the emotion of happiness

What You Need: Happy: Helping Children Embrace Happiness, by Esther Adler; watercolor palettes and brushes; watercolor paper or card stock; white oil pastels; eyedropper; music video or recording of “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams

What to Do: Focusing on happy feelings and events can be a great way for students to regulate negative feelings. Barbara Leyne, a retired first-grade teacher in Victoria, British Columbia, shared a video and a book to get students to think about what makes them happy and why.

Leyne began the activity by showing the Pharrell Williams music video “Happy.” While it played, students took notes or drew pictures to show how the song made them feel. (If space allows, let students move or dance to the song and then share how they feel.) Next, Leyne read the book Happy: Helping Children Embrace Happiness. She paused while reading to ask questions like “How can we tell the character is happy?” or “When you’re happy, is that the face you make?”

“While I read the book aloud, I paused and asked students to turn and talk to their partners. They loved doing that, and I liked how it gave everyone a chance to talk and share their thoughts without taking up a whole lot of time,” says Leyne, who blogs at Grade Onederful. Finally, she suggests having students talk about things that make them happy (e.g., riding their bikes, finishing a puzzle, helping a friend) and say why.

Next, pass out watercolor paper or card stock and white oil pastels. Have students write and/or draw something (their dog, a kite) that makes them happy in oil pastel. Then, hand out the watercolor palettes and small brushes. With the eyedropper, place a few drops of water on the palettes to moisten the paints. Encourage students to paint over what they have written in oil pastel, focusing on bright hues or colors that evoke happiness. The words and/or drawings will magically appear beneath the paint. Lastly, have children share their watercolor paintings and explain what they’ve drawn and why that makes them happy!

Emotion Cards

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.1

Objective: Explore empathy and feelings by thinking about how to react to expressions of emotion

What You Need: Magazines, cardboard or card stock, glue stick

What to Do: Consider starting each day by using an activity that’s part of the RULER program, developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. At McMicken Heights Elementary School in SeaTac, Washington, teachers employ a color-coded “mood meter” (green for happy, red for mad, etc.) to help children identify their emotions. Students begin each morning meeting by greeting one another and asking others how they’re feeling that day and why. Kids then empathize or ask if they can help. This is especially useful in the younger grades, as it allows even the shyest students to articulate how they are feeling.

Chelsea Lee Smith, a homeschool teacher in Queensland, Australia, explores empathy with her students by sharing and discussing “emotion cards.” “Empathy is a crucial character trait to develop,” she says. “Giving children practice identifying and discussing feelings is a great place to start.”

Before beginning her activity, Smith, who blogs at Moments a Day, creates emotion cards. She cuts out pictures from old magazines of children displaying various negative emotions, such as fear or sadness, and mounts the images on card stock before laminating them. (You can also use a glue stick to paste the images onto squares of cardboard.) She creates enough sets for several small groups of students.

Then, Smith splits students into groups of four or five and distributes the cards. A student within each group chooses a card and says what the emotion on it is. The group then discusses what they could do if someone around them was feeling that way. She asks a child who is experiencing this emotion to talk about what others can do or say to make him or her feel better.

“When children can identify their own feelings and the feelings of others, they can relate to people at a deeper level,” Smith says.

1,2,3,4 Breathe

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.1.G.A.1

Objective: Understand and calm emotions by counting breaths

What You Need: Large drawings of shapes (squares, triangles, rectangles, circles) on poster- or chalkboard

What to Do: A deep, cleansing breath can take a student from upset to calm. Pediatric physical and occupational therapists Lauren Drobnjak and Claire Heffron, from Bedford, Ohio, have kids work on breathing techniques to help them learn how to acknowledge and regulate their feelings—and practice their counting!

“Studies show that focused breathing correlates with a reduced heart rate,” say Drobnjak and Heffron, who blog at The Inspired Treehouse. “It may seem like a difficult concept for kids, but it’s amazing how easily they pick up on breathing techniques.”

Begin by asking students to share a time when they were sad, angry, or scared. Have them talk about how their bodies felt during those moments. Were their hearts beating fast? Did it feel like they couldn’t breathe? After discussing this, explain that focusing on their breathing can help them calm their bodies when they are feeling upset.

Drobnjak and Heffron begin with a foundational exercise: “counting to 10” breathing. They count aloud as students breathe in and out: 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, 3 on the inhale, and so on, up to 10. Once students are comfortable with this, they explain that children will use their breath in different ways as they listen to their teachers count aloud in a “four-count breathing” exercise. As Drobnjak and Heffron count, children breathe in for a count of four, hold their breath for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, and pause, breathing normally, for the last count of four.

Finally, Drobnjak and Heffron show students a drawing of a square and tell them they will trace their own squares in the air as they breathe for counts of four. Pointing their index fingers and holding their hands up high, children trace a horizontal line with their fingers to the right while breathing in for a count of four. They trace downward while holding their breath for a count of four, then horizontally to the left as they exhale, to make the bottom of the square. Lastly, they trace upward to form the other side of the square as they pause and breathe normally.

As an extension activity, have students trace other shapes (triangles, rectangles, circles) while counting and breathing. What do they notice? Does the shape of what they’re tracing affect their breathing? Can they experiment with different counts?


Photos, Getty Images (from left): Malcolm Macgregor; Raquel Lonas; ShapeCharge

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