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Can you draw your feelings?

We spend a great deal of time in the Rainbow Room, our 4 year-old preschool classroom, focusing on feelings: the verbal and non-verbal expression of feelings, the perception of other people's feelings, and the various feelings generated by our own and our friend's actions. At this age children are really connecting to their peers, so comprehending feelings is important. There's a strong motivation to be social and the 4-year old's language skills support and enhance these friendships. But the preschooler's emotional literacy is still evolving, and sometimes feelings and actions are misperceived. Adults can assist children with interpreting the complex maze of feelings and relationship by articulating the feelings around us - noticing the feelings of characters on TV or in books, checking the feelings of people in our families, and asking lots of questions: "How did that make you feel?" "How do you think he felt when that happened?" "Can you tell what she is feeling? How can you tell what people are feeling?"

Recently, I asked the Rainbow Room children to reflect on their own feelings one morning and draw what that feeling would look like. This activity was different than our usual morning observational drawing; I wanted to see how feelings were represented by 4-year olds. I expected a lot of "happy" feelings, maybe some smiley faces, because most children are happy most of the time coming to school. But the different ways the children approached this activity, and the complexity of the emotions that manifested, was very intriguing. Take a look:


Notice the effort to create a smiling mouth


This child indicated specifically why he was excited that morning


This child incorporated his favorite things in his happy picture: "a pirate ship nose and pirate flag hair"


This child blended his interest and skill in geography with his face, drawing a Louisiana nose


This child indicated she was sad, but then added that she was just pretending.


Like her friend, this child wanted to be sad, too.


A literal description of the topsy turvy emotions one can have (upside down)


Instead of matching her feeling to an emotional vocabulary word, she is connecting her feelings to a loved one.


I pointed out to this boy that his faces both look happy; he said one is mad but looks happy.


This is his second picture; both are happy but look mad. He is aware that we don't always show our emotions.


This child is clarifying that she looks and feels the same way


This child chose to depict a face and also possibly her old school


There's no mouth to either support or refute the child's mixture of feelings


Mad monster, with mad fingers and toes, and three mad eyes. She appeared to enjoy this creative process (but I don't think she was really mad)

About the Author: 

After spending three years in Nottingham, England, Elaine rejoined our preschool faculty in 2011. She had taught at Sabot for two years prior to moving to England, and also co-led a pilot program with Henrico County Schools, the Richmond Children’s Museum, and Sabot to establish a play group for two year-olds. She enjoys sharing her love of the natural world with children, and helping them to develop social and emotional skills. She holds a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Virginia Commonwealth University, and her undergraduate degree is in Anthropology from the College of William and Mary.