Self-regulation and identifying and sharing emotions are something young students are constantly working on. Working with VEX 123 in the classroom helps students build their social-emotional skills through collaborative learning and group problem solving, as well as STEM Labs specifically geared toward social-emotional learning.
Why is it important to name and identify feelings?
The development of self-regulation is a big part of the work of young children, and being able to accurately and effectively name their feelings is an important building block in this process.1 Our emotions change throughout the day, and for young children, those changes can be felt with great intensity. Being able to give voice to those feelings, to give them a name, helps to share those feelings with others in prosocial ways. It is the first step in being able to exert some control over a feeling, and your expression of it.
Helping students to build an emotional vocabulary can help them to notice the range of emotions they feel, and to name them effectively, so that they can begin to manage and regulate them in the context of others. To do this effectively, children need to feel safe and heard, so they can build the confidence to be vulnerable, without judgment from others.
How are emotions connected to behaviors?
As young children are building this emotional vocabulary, their behavior tends to show their feelings before their words do. Helping children to see this connection between their actions, expressions, and feelings is an important step in ensuring that children see that they have control over their behavior — and, more importantly, that their behavior is not a reflection of their self-worth.
Encourage this by clearly naming behaviors and feelings for and with students in the moment. The framework of “When you do ____, it tells me that you feel ____” can be a useful tool to help students recognize this, and is a great conversation starter to help students take ownership of their behavior.
For instance, a student yelling as he goes to get his coat for recess can prompt a range of responses from the teacher. In this framework, the conversation could go like this:
Teacher: Sam, when you yell, it tells me that you feel angry. Do you feel angry right now?
Sam: No, I feel excited! We’re going to recess!
Teacher: Oh! That was confusing. What is something else you can do to show that you’re excited, without yelling?
Sam: I can smile and jump?
Teacher: Big smiles are a great way to show you’re feeling something happy! And they don’t disrupt the class with loud sounds. Great idea!
How does this connect to the development of empathy and self-regulation?
Understanding how you express emotion connects to how you interpret the emotional expressions of others — an important part of developing empathy.2 To have a truly empathetic response to someone, children need to be able to identify how someone else is feeling, and connect that to how they experience that feeling themselves. Classroom activities that make social-emotional learning a shared endeavor (like the Role Play Robot STEM Lab Unit), help build students' capacity for, and expectation of, empathy with their peers and their teachers.3
This empathetic development can be channeled to support students’ prosocial behavior, and self-regulation during their interactions with one another.4 Mediating disagreements and differences of feelings with young children is part of every classroom, and helping students to talk about their feelings regularly gives them the tools to be able to begin to solve social problems for themselves. Enabling students to make the connection between their own feelings and actions, and how that affects the feelings and actions of others, creates space for an empathetic loop to occur. So when disagreements do occur, students can work towards social problem-solving in healthier and more effective ways.
VEX 123 STEM Labs and Social Emotional Learning
The framework in VEX 123 STEM Lab Units is meant to support students’ development of self-regulation. Facilitation notes and reminders during Labs provide strategies for helping students make decisions, or give suggestions for what to do if they become frustrated during an activity. Establishing decision making strategies and agreements with students about how to talk to their partners, or ask for help, supports successful cooperative learning in STEM Labs and in the classroom as a whole. As students become more versed with STEM Labs, they can continue to refer back to these agreements about how to make a decision or how to support classmates when they are frustrated, and build on that empathetic response.
In the Mid-Play Break for Labs with open-ended challenges, students can discuss what successes and problems they are having with the challenge. By having a space to share those feelings of triumph or frustration, students can continue to build their self-awareness and recognize that others may share those feelings. Then, together, the class can brainstorm some potential solutions to help one another before beginning Play Part 2.
In the Share section, students can reflect on the Lab and their communication with the group. During this conversation, take time to help students talk through group work struggles and make a plan with them for how to work together better in the next Lab. Have students use the “When you do ____, it tells me that you feel ____” framework to structure these conversations.
Students will constantly be growing and learning throughout their time using VEX 123. Document these conversations or decision making strategies that students agree to and keep them as a benchmark. Share them with parents and guardians so that this social emotional learning can move beyond the classroom into their everyday lives and interactions.