Before children learn rhymes, numbers and letters, they need to learn how to express their emotions

Children who acquire a strong emotional foundation in the early years of life have the capacity to better manage everyday social interactions later in life.

UNICEF MK
A group of children in a kindergarten looking at illustrations of different emotions with their teacher
UNICEF/2019/Georgiev

29 March 2019

The early years are not only a time when children learn to take their first steps or say their first words. They are also critical years when, through their relationships with others, children start building expectations about their world and the people living in it. Every day, they learn emotional skills important for establishig healthy relationships in life. Skills such as the ability to recognise, express and manage  a wide range of feelings. Skills that form the foundations for children’s further development and mental health and wellbeing.  

Developments in science confirm that children who acquire a strong emotional foundation in the early years of life have the capacity to better manage everyday social interactions later in life.  That’s why together with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, UNICEF and the United Kingdom Government are supporting a programme to introduce development of socio-emotional skills of pre-school children. The programme is being piloted in 30 kindergartens, including the kindergarten “Korchagin” in Skopje.

A group of children in a kindergarten looking at illustrations of different emotions with their teacher
UNICEF/2019/Georgiev

Through play and using emoticons, children explore different feelings and how to express them.

“Before they learn rhymes, numbers and letters, children need to learn how to express their emotions,” says Rosa Cvetanovska, a professor of preschool education and educator in the kindergarten working with the team at “Korchagin” - Skopje. Rosa is one of the 30 preschool educators selected and trained to lead the programme.

A kindergarten teacher hugs two children while sitting in a kindergarten
UNICEF/2019/Georgiev

Rosa helps children sense and respond to the emotions of others.

“Warmth and affection—even on bad days and when children are misbehaving—are critical to children’s well-being in early education. Anyone who works with children knows how important it is to help build their emotional intelligence and empathy. We teach them empathy through awareness of how others are feeling. Children develop their ability to understand how others feel which helps them grow up to be kind and considerate adults,” says Rosa.

A set of two photos with a child painting and a closeup of the painting
UNICEF/2019/Georgiev

Social skills are best developed through cooperation and togetherness. One of the favorite games in the kindergarten is drawing and painting together on one large sheet of paper. Today’s topic is “Heart”.

“They haven’t all yet developed the ability to understand the meaning of words that denote emotions such as love, sadness, anger. But when we draw, for instance, a giant heart and I ask them “What does this remind you of?”, they say, “Of Mom, of Dad, of you... “
 

A set of three photos with a small girl from kindergarten presenting different emotions
UNICEF/2019/Georgiev

One of the children shows the emotions of surprise, frustration and joy.

“... they don’t always know what the words surprise, frustration or joy mean, but they are able to recognize the feeling and know how to capture it through facial expressions.”

Physical exercise class in a kindergarten with children and teacher stretching
UNICEF/2019/Georgiev

With great interest, children  embraced the new games for keeping focus and relaxation - along with Rosa, they exercise cat-like movements, one of the exercises introduced to help build children’s bodies and brains, unwind and get ready for their next activity.

“I structure the time with children to intentionally focus on their social and emotional development. And this is in fact the biggest change this programme has introduced. When the teacher has intention to build some skills then the activities are planned to help this happen. For example, through breathing exercises I stimulate focus, impulse control and emotional intelligence; other activities are planned to give them opportunities to learn and practice cooperation, sharing, turn taking and problem solving.”

A photo of the Rosa - kindergarten teacher standing in front of the classroom
UNICEF/2019/Georgiev

Rosa at the kindergarten’s door. In the morning, before they come inside, children choose one of the emoticons stuck on the door to show how they feel.

“If I were born again, I would be a preschool educator again. To do this job, we must have love. For example, myself - I love everybody: the children, my colleagues and children’s parents. I think it’s very important for the educators to become aware of their own emotions first, to learn how to recognize and express them, and when it comes to negative emotions, to learn how to manage them. This programme is also working to support teachers in managing emotions. Only then, can teachers work with children.”