Identify Emotions with Pumpkin Emotion Faces

pumpkin emotions

This pumpkin feelings activity is an OLD one here on the site. But there is just something fun about pumpkin emotion faces that little ones love! It’s a social emotional activity for preschoolers and toddlers that foster emotional development…with fun and interactive pumpkin feelings!

This fun Fall activity helps with learning to identify emotions using pumpkin emotion faces! It’s a great emotional development activity for toddlers and preschoolers. Kids love moving the faces on the pumpkins and practicing different facial expressions is a bonus.

pumpkin feelings

Pumpkin Emotions Activity

You can use interactive felt pieces to create pumpkin emotions, or facial expressions on pumpkins to create different feelings on the pumpkins. This is a great way for toddlers and preschoolers to play with facial expressions, practice emotions, and put a word to the emotion.

You’ll need just a few items for this activity:

  • Orange poster board
  • Green paint or green marker
  • Black paper
  • Tape

Time needed: 10 minutes

How to Make a Pumpkin Emotions Activity for Preschoolers

  1. Cut out a Pumpkin Shape

    Use orange poster board and cut out a large pumpkin shape. Add a few lines with a black marker for more pumpkin details if you like.

  2. Paint the stem green.

    You could use green paint or a green marker. Or, use green paper and glue the green paper over the stem area.

  3. Cut out face pieces from black paper.

    Cut out circle eyes, a triangle nose, and different smiles. You can create angry eyes, surprised eyes, a circle mouth, a frown, a smile, etc.

  4. Add tape to the back of each pumpkin emotions piece.

    Roll the tape into a donut and stick to the back of each facial expression. You could also use sticky tack.

Identification of Emotions

The tricky part of developing self regulation in preschoolers is the development of an essential skill that impacts self-regulation in later years. Giving young children the words, or the emotion vocabulary, to explain how they feel by identifying emotion faces is the perfect starting point!

That’s where these pumpkin emotion faces come into play!

Young children often have difficulty expressing their emotions.  Recently my 18 month old son has reverted to hitting, screaming, and throwing things, which is part of typical development.

I was trying to think of a way to help him learn how to express himself in a calmer more acceptable manner and that’s how this pumpkin faces emotions activity came to life.  With all the fall fine motor OT activities and Fall-inspired posts lately, I got to thinking about decorating a pumpkin…

First, let’s break down the identification of emotions aspect. 

This is an important developmental process in toddlers and preschoolers. Emotional intelligence is a skill that needs practice to develop, and is essential for social situations, communicating with others, and self-regulation of emotions and feelings. Identifying emotions is one of the first steps for young children.

One way to do this would be to pair the pumpkin feelings activity with a feelings check in. Children could identify their own feelings and match it to the pumpkin facial expressions.

There are ways to support emotions identification in preschoolers, toddlers, and older children:

  • Use this social emotional learning worksheet to help kids match emotions to behaviors and coping strategies.
  • Put words to feelings. Do you feel sad? Are you unhappy? You feel mad. I am happy.
  • Point out facial expressions and emotions in books. Picture books are a great way to talk about emotions and see facial expressions in the context of a story.
  • Another fantastic resource that can help develop social and emotional skills is the activity book, Exploring Books Through Play.

pumpkin emotion faces with a paper pumpkin activity
 
 
Paper pumpkin with a happy face
 
 
 
Preschool pumpkin emotion activity, child places paper pieces on a pumpkin to make a smile

 

 

Identifying and Expressing Emotions with pumpkin Faces

 My 4 year old helped cut out the shapes of the eyes, nose, and mouths. The different shapes and the sturdy paper (we used cardstock) makes this a great scissor skills activity for preschoolers.

After the pumpkin emotion pieces were cut out, we started identifying emotions. Happy, sad, angry, etc. We have a great resource on emotional vocabulary that helps to teach preschoolers about identifying emotions.

Then, we talked about the shapes and what those mouths looked like. We talked about positive and not so positive ways to express our feelings. “When I get sad, it is not OK to hit”. 

At the preschool age it is important for her to be able to express her feelings with words and associate them with how her actions make others feel.  Learning about feelings helps with her social emotional development.

Preschool pumpkin emotions activity using a paper pumpkin
Paper pumpkin with facial expressions
Use a cardstock paper to make a pumpkin and facial expressions for a preschool activity


“This one has a mustache!”

Sad pumpkin face for preschoolers

“This guy is sad because his sister took away his toy.”

Paper pumpkin fine motor activity

Toddler Pumpkin Emotion Activity 

This is also a great activity for helping toddlers build emotional development skills. Toddler play is where all of the development happens, and this activity is a powerhouse.

Toddlers can use the activity for several skills:

  • Spatial relations activities
  • Fine motor skills
  • Working on a vertical surface to develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor work, and core strength
  • Social emotional development

We also had fun lining up the shapes. We had a row of triangles, circles, and ovals.

Another great emotions activity for toddlers and preschoolers are our emotions playdough mats to support naming and identifying emotion names and facial expressions to match the emotion name.

Toddler playing with pumpkin face pieces on a refrigerator.

 For little guy we placed the pumpkin on the refrigerator with a magnet and tape on the back of the shapes.  He had a blast making the pumpkin fall down…over…and over…and over again!  

Toddler copying pumpkin facial expressions playing on a fridge with magnet pieces.

  I would help him put a different shape mouth on the pumpkin and mimic the face. He thought I was pretty silly, but I think he started catching on 🙂

Toddler copying a surprised pumpkin face

  Surprised face!  

Toddler placing pumpkin facial expression magnets on a fridge.

  This also helps with learning spatial relations and where a nose, mouth, and eyes belong on a face.  He was trying to put the mouth where the nose goes…he will learn eventually!

Toddler moving pumpkin face pieces to make a smile

  We all know that babies and toddlers have feeling just as we as adults do, they just need a little help trying to figure out what they are feeling!  Hopefully this will help my little guy learn to deal with his frustrations a little better…I will keep you posted!

Pumpkins

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Stages of Empathy Development

stages of empathy development

Did you know the ability to use and practice empathy in everyday situations is a learned skill? There are actually specific and defined stages of empathy development. This blog discusses the stages of empathy development in the first five years of a child’s life. Not only do children need to understand who they are as a person and their own feelings, but how others feel. Empathy isn’t something that can be forced on a child, but it is something they can become familiar with, and understand through adult support and play based activities. 

It’s all part of the social emotional development in kids.

stages of empathy development

stages of empathy development

In this post I will be covering the stages of empathy development and some activities preschoolers can participate in, to understand and practice empathy. 

Empathy is the development of care for others. When I was young, my mom always told me to say “I’m sorry” when I was in a conflict with my cousin. Sometimes I didn’t feel sorry (after all, he was the one that took the Ninja Turtle from me first), but I did what I was told. After a while, saying “I’m sorry” felt repetitive, with no actual meaning behind it. 

Instead of teaching children to automatically say “I’m sorry,” without actually meaning the words, what would happen if we helped children understand how another person is feeling, and respond with care for that person’s feelings? This awareness of how others feel in a given situation is called empathy

Empathy is a complex skill that is learned over time.

Empathy Development

From the time a child is born, they open their eyes and notice that they are not the only being! There could be mom, dad, nurses, and other caregivers doing everything possible to get the baby’s needs met. As a child grows, they are introduced to siblings, cousins, peers, and other adults. Every interaction a child has, provides them with opportunities to understand social structure and engagement. 

Even though the baby doesn’t show empathy at this stage, the interactions are the beginning of empathy development.

According to Professor Martin L. Hoffman, the main theorist on the development of empathy in childhood, “there must be parallelism of feelings and affections with thoughts, moral principles, and behavioral tendencies.” According to this article in “The Matter of Style” the four stages of empathy include the following:

First stage (global empathy)

Global empathy comprises the first year of a person’s life. Babies do not yet perceive others as different from themselves.

For this reason, children may mimic feelings they see another person experiencing. You’ve probably seen the baby that mimics the facial expression of a parent when a wide eyed, funny face is made.

Second stage (egocentric empathy)

The second stage corresponds to the second year of life. Toddlers may be more aware that it is the other person who is going through the unpleasant situation. They are unable to understand or feel for the other person.

A child might clearly see another child crying, but have no understanding why they are crying, or have any feelings about it. The child may go to their mother to enlist help.

One way to foster this skill is by self-awareness skills such as using a feelings check in activity.

Third stage (empathy for the feelings of others)

The third of four stages of empathy development emerges from the second to the third year, or the preschool years. The child is aware that the feelings they experience are different from those of the other person, and is able to respond to them in a non-self-centered way.

At this point, they are already in a position to understand that the other person’s intentions and needs differ from their own and, therefore, that person’s emotions may also differ from their own. Thus, for example, they become able to console.

Fourth Stage (empathy for the life condition of others)

The fourth stage comprises the final period of childhood. The feelings of others are perceived not only as reactions of the moment, but also as expressions of their general life experience.

That is, they respond differently to transitory and chronic states of pain, since they take into consideration the general condition of the other.

Activities for Each Stage of Empathy Development

How to support empathy development in each stage:

Ages 0–12 Months:  Supporting strong, secure attachments in infants, is essential at this age. As babies learn that others understand how they are feeling, and are supported by getting their needs met, they learn their emotions and feelings can be understood by others, even before they can talk. 

Ages 1–3 years: To help toddlers develop empathy, describe their feelings to them, and the feelings of others around them. This is helpful when they are engaging in play with other kids, as toddlers have a harder time managing their emotions. Explain social situations to children. This develops emotional vocabulary. “Sandy was sad because she fell and it hurt. It was so nice that you gave her some ice to help her leg feel better.” 

Ages 3–5 years: In the preschool years, children are learning how to respond to their feelings and the feelings of others. Adults can support empathy development by asking open ended questions and providing concrete ways for children to calm down and express their feelings. Example, why do you think Jeremy is so mad? Through using emotional tools such as the emotion play dough mats, children are able to regulate their feelings and learn how to communicate their needs to others. Emotional regulation games are another way to develop these skills.

A note about the various stages of empathy:

Children will develop empathy at the level of their social, emotional, and developmental age, not necessarily their chronological age. A seven year old child with autism who is functioning at a two year level will typically be working at the second stage of development.

With the explosion of atypical neurodevelopment, it is not unlikely for young children to be functioning well below their chronological age. Start where they are, and move forward. Adults can practice empathy as they try and help young people move through the stages of empathy development.

The social and emotional measures in this preschool rating scale includes empathy goals for children ages 19 months and up. As empathy development becomes a focus in Early Childhood and is essential for Kindergarten readiness, teachers and parents are looking for easier ways to teach empathy through play. 

Another great tool is our developmental checklist.

Empathy Activities for Preschoolers

Empathy is one of those areas that develop through interaction and the work of the child, or play. We have many social emotional activities for preschoolers to foster this skill.

  • Pretend play is a wonderful way to teach empathy to young children. You can do this as an adult directed activity, through puppets, or assigning roles to children during large group times. Encouraging a child child to pretend to be sad for a specific reason, while having another child take care of them, will help children learn the feeling of empathy. Read here about more of the dramatic play benefits in pretend play.
  • Emotion activities that are available to complete on a daily basis, help children learn how to name different feelings in themselves and identify those feelings in others. My Soothing Sammy Puppy Activities, Bug emotions activities, Pumpkin emotion activities, and Play dough mats are all great ways to teach emotion words and feelings to preschoolers. 
  • Friendship activities such as these from the OT Toolbox. This digital download contains 50 hands-on, multi-sensory play-centered activities for anyone helping kids learn about friendship, acceptance, empathy, compassion, and differences in others. These activities encourage cooperation, negotiation and communication through play.
  • Use Books- Reading books with children is an easy way to talk about the characters, the story, and how the characters feel. Use these social emotional books for preschoolers to get started. Be sure to check out our comprehensive list of children’s books to teach the Zones of Regulation for more ideas.

A final note on empathy

Empathy is something that is not natural to children, but a skill developed over time. It starts with strong, positive attachments in early childhood. When children have the opportunities to practice developing their social skills by being provided a variety of opportunities to engage in play throughout early childhood, their empathy grows exponentially.

You can support development at home, too. Adults can support the development of empathy in early childhood by asking open ended questions, creating opportunities for children to practice developing friendships through play, and providing children with concrete ways to respond to big feelings in themselves and others. It’s all part of the child development.

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

Empathy Activities for Kids

empathy activities for kids

Many years ago, we made empathy bracelets as one of our favorite empathy activities for kids. Empathy activities like this bracelet craft are easy ways to teach kids about empathy as a foundation for social emotional skills. We made empathy bracelets as a way to develop social-emotional awareness and self-awareness of others and how they feel.  When you use a hands-on activity like this bead activity to teach abstract concepts like empathy, children can stimulate thinking and allow kids to grasp the perspectives of others. Use the empathy beads and the Quick as a Cricket activity idea here to help kids think about others and the world around them.

empathy activities for kids

Empathy Activities for Kids

One fun way to teach kids about empathy is with the children’s book, “Quick as a Cricket”. By using this book about feelings, and a fun activity that can be adjusted to meet the needs of various kids, teaching about feelings and values is meaningful.  

This book really hits on the self-awareness of a child as they see that each feeling in the book makes up a part of him.  We thought that if this boy is feeling all of these emotions about himself, then others are too! If you are looking for for more activities based on children’s books then we have a lot to share with you!

Use empathy beads and make an empathy bracelet to teach kids empathy. Its one of many empathy activities to show respect and awareness of other's feelings.  This busy bag activity is based on the book, Quick as a Cricket.

Activity to teach empathy

Teaching kids about empathy is important. There are studies that show us that specifically teaching kids about empathy makes a difference. In fact, when we teach kids about empathy in ways that make sense to them (or are meaningful), we may see more positive positive social behaviors, such as sharing. 

Helping others becomes more meaningful as well. Additionally, research tells us that kids that learn about empathy are less likely to be antisocial  or present with uncontrolled aggressive behaviors.   

Additionally, it’s been said that empathy and perspective taking serve an important role in what  is called prosocial behavior, or helping others, sharing, taking turns, etc.  

After reading the book Quick as a Cricket, (just a few dozen times–this is a book you WILL read over and over again!), we talked about how each of us has many feelings that can be seen in animals.  

Some of our feelings happen daily, and some not for a while.  Other feelings pair together (feeling small and sad).   

Kids can have a difficult time with learning to be empathetic.  My kids really got an understanding of empathy as we talked about how other people might feel these feelings and we should be aware.  To take the empathy lesson a bit further, we made Empathy Bracelets with our empathy beads!    


Empathy Activity

Today, I have a fun friendship activity that uses a classic children’s book. Kids can struggle with the abstract concept of empathy and the perspectives of others.

This Quick as a Cricket activity will be a hit at your book club play date, or any day!  I loved the simplicity of our activity as it really went well with the simple rhyme of the book’s text.  

How to teach kids' empathy? Make an empathy bracelet with empathy beads to show respect and awareness of other's feelings.  This busy bag activity is based on the book, Quick as a Cricket.

  This post contains affiliate links.  

To discuss and learn more about empathy, we used just a few items. First, we read the book, Quick as a Cricket, by Audrey Wood.   If you haven’t read this classic book, it’s one you definitely want to find!  

The boy in the book discovers the characteristics of animals make up parts of himself.  The book has simple rhyming words and captures children’s attention.  It’s a great book to discuss self-awareness and feelings that make up all of us.  

Quick as a Cricket activity for kids. Make a bead bracelet and talk about empathy, acceptance, and perspectives of others.


Empathy Bracelets

You’ll need just two items to make empathy bracelets with kids:

  1. Pipe cleaners
  2. Beads
How to teach kids' empathy? Make an empathy bracelet with empathy beads to show respect and awareness of other's feelings.  This busy bag activity is based on the book, Quick as a Cricket.

We grabbed a handful of colorful pipe cleaners.

To make our empathy bracelets, we used a bunch of different colored beads.  Some of the beads were different shapes and sizes, and that fit in perfectly with our empathy talks.  

People come in different shapes and sizes but we all have the same feelings inside!  

To create the Quick as a Cricket activity, I used our snap and stack containers.  This worked great as a busy bag storage system so the kids could create bead bracelets whenever they wished as a quiet activity.  

How to teach kids' empathy? Make an empathy bracelet with empathy beads to show respect and awareness of other's feelings.  This busy bag activity is based on the book, Quick as a Cricket.

 

Before making the empathy bracelets, we read through the book once more.  

We looked at each of the animals and talked about their color and found a bead that went along with the animal.  

We discussed the feeling or description of the animal and how we sometimes show those feelings.  

Then we made our bracelets.  It was fun to see how each of my kids made their bracelets differently.  One just plucked the beads from the bin and said the feeling that went along with that color.  

Another flipped through the book and matched up beads to the animal.  

Each empathy bracelet is different as it is made by a different child.  But, they all mean the same thing; they represent the feelings that we all share!  

When you make these empathy bracelets, you could pull out colors to match the animals or feelings, or you could just let the child create as they wish.  It is completely up to you!    

You can talk about empathy and kindness in many ways using activities with kids.  Mine loved this Little Blue and Little Yellow book activity to promote kindness, too.   

Kids will love to wear their bracelets and fiddle with the beads.  As they fidget with the individual beads, they can remember the feeling that is associated with that bead.  They might see someone who is having a bad day and recognize the emotion.    

Encourage empathetic respect of other’s feelings even when your child is not feeling that same way.  You can explain that not everyone has the same beads or colors of beads on their bracelet (or might not be wearing a bracelet!) but they still have those feelings and emotions inside of them.    

How to teach kids' empathy? Make an empathy bracelet with empathy beads to show respect and awareness of other's feelings.  This busy bag activity is based on the book, Quick as a Cricket.

Empathy Activities for Kids

For fun and hands-on empathy activities for kids, grab our social emotional skills resource, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy, that explores friendship, acceptance, and empathy through popular (and amazing) children’s books!  It’s 50 hands-on activities that use math, fine motor skills, movement, art, crafts, and creativity to support social emotional development.    

  • Use plastic eggs to work on empathy by writing various scenarios on strips of paper. Kids can open an egg and state how they would feel in the scenario. This is a great group activity.
  • Use dolls and puppets. Act out scenarios and record the story on a phone or tablet. Kids can re-watch and describe the various feelings and how the characters felt and acted. 
  • For kids with autism, modeling, prompting, and reinforcement are strategies that can help.
  • Read books! These chapter books that teach empathy are great for the older kids or using as read-aloud books with the whole family. They are great ways to spark conversations about empathy. 
  • Writing about Friendship Slide Deck – writing prompts, writing letters to friends, and handwriting activities to develop friendship skills, all on a free interactive Google slide deck.
  • Create a social story about specific events or tasks that involve other individuals. This can create options for the individual to use during a task and can help when there may be unexpected situations to navigate that lead to feelings of anxiety or worries leading up to a social situation or activity.

  • Children can benefit from perspectives of others, including through personal space. Use this Personal Space Friendship Skills Slide Deck as a tool to address body awareness and personal space among others. Friendship involves allowing personal space, and body awareness and all of this is part of the social skill development that some kids struggle with. Use this free Google slide deck to work on body awareness and personal space.
  • Here are five simple activities to teach empathy to preschoolers.
  • Pretend play is a wonderful way to teach empathy to young children. You can do this as an adult directed activity, through puppets or assigning roles to children during large group times. Encouraging a child child to be sad for a specific reason and having another child take care of them, will help children learn body language of others. 
  • Emotion activities that are available to complete on a daily basis, help children learn how to name different feelings in themselves and identify those feelings in others.
  • Friendship activities such as these friendship activities.
  • Using Book-related play activities- This digital download contains 50 hands-on, multi-sensory play-centered activities for anyone helping kids learn about friendship, acceptance, empathy, compassion, and differences in others. These activities encourage cooperation, negotiation and communication through play.
Use this Quick as a Cricket activity to teach kids about feelings. It's a fun hands-on empathy activity for kids.

More Quick as a Cricket Activities

Expand on the empathy activities with other Quick as a Cricket activities that involve play and movement. First, pick up the book, Quick as a Cricket. Then use the empathy beads activity here along with these functional activities to inspire development:

Quick as a Cricket Snack from Craftulate can get kids busy in the kitchen building skills like executive functioning and fine motor skills.

Quick as a Cricket Sensory Play from Still Playing School includes play and sensory based learning.

Quick as a Cricket Art from Fun-a-Day inspires fine motor skills and motor development.

hands-on activities to explore social emotional development through children's books.

References on empathy skills

Schrandt, J. A., Townsend, D. B., & Poulson, C. L. (2009). Teaching empathy skills to children with autism. Journal of applied behavior analysis42(1), 17–32. doi:10.1901/jaba.2009.42-17  

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the development of care for others. When I was young, my mom always told me to say “I’m sorry” when I was in a conflict with my cousin. Sometimes I didn’t feel sorry (after all, he’s the one that took the ninja turtle from me first,) but I did what I was told. After a while, saying “I’m sorry” felt repetitive with no actual meaning behind it. 

Instead of teaching children to say “I’m sorry,” what would happen if we helped our kids understand how another person is feeling, and respond with care for that person’s feelings. This is called empathy. 

Empathy Development in Kids

Did you know the ability to use and practice empathy in everyday situations is not a born skill and that there are actually specific and defined stages of empathy development? It’s true!

There is real power to the development of empathy in the first five years of a child’s life. Not only do children need to understand who they are as a person, but how others feel. Empathy isn’t something that can be forced on a child, but it is something they can become familiar with and understand through adult support and play based activities. 

stages of empathy development

Here, we are covering the stages of empathy development and some activities that preschoolers can participate in, to understand and practice empathy. 

Empathy is a complex skill that is learned over time.

From the time a child is born, they open their eyes and notice that they aren’t the only being! There’s mom, dad, nurses and they all do everything possible to get the baby’s needs met. As a child grows, they are introduced to siblings, cousins, peers and other adults. Every interaction a child has, provides them with opportunities to understand social structure and engagement. 

According to this article by Professor Martin L. Hoffman, the main theorist on the development of empathy in childhood, “there must be parallelism of feelings and affections with thoughts, moral principles, and behavioral tendencies.”

According to this article in “The Matter of Style” the 4 stages of empathy include the following:

“ First stage (global empathy)

It comprises the first year of a person’s life and consists of the fact that the child does not yet perceive others as different from himself. For this reason, the pain that he perceives in the other is confused with his own unpleasant feelings, as if it were happening to himself. For example, the baby who, on seeing his mother crying, dries his own eyes.

Second stage (egocentric empathy)

It corresponds to the second year of life, and the child is aware that it is the other person who is going through the unpleasant situation. However, she assumes that the internal states experienced by the other person are being felt by herself.

Third stage of the child’s development of empathy (empathy for the feelings of others)

It runs from the second to the third year. The child is aware that the feelings he experiences are different from those of the other person, and is able to respond to them in a non-self-centered way. At this point, she is already in a position to understand that the other person’s intentions and needs differ from her own and, therefore, that person’s emotions may also differ from her own. Thus, for example, she becomes able to console.

Fourth Stage (empathy for the life condition of others)

It comprises the final period of childhood. The feelings of others are perceived not only as reactions of the moment, but also as expressions of their general life experience. That is, they respond differently to transitory and chronic states of pain, since they take into consideration the general condition of the other.”

How to support empathy development in each stage

Ages 0–12 Months:  Supporting strong, secure attachments in infants, is essential at this age. As children learn that others are understanding how they are feeling, and are supported by getting their needs met, babies learn that their emotions and feelings can be understood by other, even before they can talk. 

Ages 1–3 years: To help toddlers develop empathy, describe their feelings to them, and the feelings of others around them. This is helpful when they are engaging in play with other kids, as toddlers have a harder time managing their emotions. For example, “When Sandy was sad, it was so nice that you gave her some ice to help her leg feel better.” 

Ages 3–5 years: In the preschool years, children are learning how to respond to their feelings and the feelings of others. Adults can support empathy development by asking open ended questions and providing concrete ways for children to calm down and express their feelings. Through using emotional tools such as pretend play-based activities, children are able to regulate their feelings and learn how to communicate their needs to others.

A 6 year old boy recently saw his 3 year old brother become upset because he couldn’t climb as high on the play structure. The 6 year old could use toys to help his brother and asked him if he needed help calming down. Once calm, his brother helped his 3 year old get a step stool so he could reach the rung on the bottom of the play structure. 

The social and emotional measures in this preschool rating scale, includes empathy goals for children ages 19 months and up. As empathy development becomes a focus in Early Childhood and essential for Kindergarten readiness, teachers and parents are looking for more easy to teach empathy through play. 

A final note on empathy

Empathy is something that isn’t taught to children, but a skill developed over time. Starting with strong, positive attachments in early childhood. When children have the opportunities to practice developing their social skills by being provided a variety of opportunities to engage in play throughout early childhood, their empathy grows exponentially. Adults can support the development of empathy in early childhood by asking open ended questions, creating opportunities for children to practice developing friendships through play, and providing children with concrete ways to respond to big feelings in themselves and others. 

How to Encourage Growth Mindset Mistakes

growth mindset mistakes

When using a growth mindset mistakes can help you grow! Rather than thinking our intelligence is fixed and unchanging, the growth mindset encourages people to see their abilities as things that can improve. Here, we’re covering why it is important to teach students the growth mindset. You’ll also find strategies to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset when mistakes happen.

Growth mindset mistakes

Growth Mindset Mistakes

In life we strive to be perfect. Some of the best inventions have come from mistakes.  For children (and adults), it can be a real challenge when simple mistakes happen. Errors happen all day long: in math problems, in conversation, in the classroom, or in a myriad ways!

The problem is when these mistakes become a setback in emotional or behavioral self-regulation

Mistakes are part of the learning process!

Developing a growth mindset is about what you are going to do, not what you can’t do. Try again, or make the most of what you have already.  

Learning from mistakes examples:

Some inventors decided to make the most of what they had created by accident.  They learned something valuable from their mistakes. Check it out!

  • Penicillin – Alexander Fleming was a medic through WWII.  He was used to using antiseptics to treat infections, but was trying to find a safer alternative. He was studying staphylococci in several petri dishes. He stacked them on top of each other and went on vacation. When he returned, he discovered there was a fungus growing on several of the dishes that had destroyed the staphylococci infection. His poor housekeeping skills and growth mindset mistakes lead to the discovery of penicillin!
  • Microwave – Percy Spencer was working on magnetron technology. When he stood too close to the magnetron he noticed his candy bar had melted in his pocket. He tried popcorn, eggs, and other foods next to the magnet and voila! The microwave was invented.
  • Potato Chips – This was the result of trying to please a picky customer.  Cornelius Vanderbilt repeatedly sent back his potatoes to the chef because they were too soggy. After several returned attempts, the chef decided to slice the potatoes really thin and fry them as a joke. The customer loved these fried potatoes, and the potato chip was born.
  • Velcro – George de Mistral was walking his dogs and noticed several burrs sticking to their fur. He marveled at the way these burrs clung to the dogs. After a few trials and mistakes (including chopping bits and pieces off of the material), he created what is now known as velcro.
  • Post it Notes – Dr. Spencer Silver was trying to invent an extremely strong adhesive. What he ended up with was an adhesive that stuck but could easily be unstuck and repositioned. He deemed this mistake a failure, until someone suggested reusable book marks and notepads.  The classic yellow color was born from the only available colored paper at the time!
  • Coca Cola – This popular drink was born from nerve tonic. This was supposed to cure all ailments. Unfortunately it had alcohol in it, and in the age of prohibition it had to be removed. A little sugar was added and the carbonated beverage was advertised as making people healthier. We now know that this beverage definitely does not make one healthier, it does the opposite. However, in moderation, it is a sweet treat with a boost of caffeine.
  • Slinky – Richard James was attempting to invent a spring that would stabilize equipment on Navy ships. He accidentally knocked it off his table and was delighted to see how it slinked down to the floor.  While the Navy rejected his invention, millions of children throughout the world have owned at least one Slinky.
  • Silly Putty – During WWII James Wright was trying to invent a cheap alternative to synthetic rubber.  He accidentally spilled boric acid into silicone oil and created a stretchy bouncy product.  This toy has morphed into Theraputty, a helpful tool for strengthening and stretching muscles. Check out these theraputty exercises for ideas to use this tool!)
  • Playdough – This craft staple and children’s favorite building material was designed as a wallpaper cleaner. With the decline in popularity of wallpaper in recent years, the company is thankful they rebranded this as the playdough we know today! And, we all know the benefits of play dough, so this is a wonderful mistake that was made!

These are just a few of the inventions made while trying to invent something else.  The products were born from people learning from mistakes. There are dozens more including; Crazy glue, popsicles, artificial sweetener, Viagra, Smart Dust, ice cream cones, the pacemaker, and more.  

Why are these mistakes important? We can help kids see that there is importance of mistakes happening. Otherwise these products would never have been invented!

What else did these inventors learn from their growth mindset mistakes?

A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.). Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, stronger, and more talented through putting in time and effort.

This way of thinking became popular through the work of Carol Dweck in her book (Amazon affiliate link) Mindset.  She teaches about the “power of yet.” This mindset shifts the focus away from all the things one can not do, to what one can not do YET.

The power of yet teaches people:

  • they can learn
  • learning takes time and effort
  • results come from hard work
  • giving up isn’t an option 

 This is huge when we think about the kids we serve and the ability to develop and strengthen self-esteem.

These inventors believed they could learn new skills with enough effort and practice. Giving up was not an option for them. If they had given up on their “mistakes”, and not persevered with their ideas, they would not have invented some amazing products!   

I don’t believe these inventors “got lucky” or “were in the right place at the right time”. Perhaps they did have a little fortune on their side in their innovation, but most of them had the growth mindset, and will to succeed.  

If they had not invented what they did, they probably would have gone on to create something else, or reach other an achievement. 

Mindset is the difference between those who excel and those who give up. The issue is that there can be discomfort in making errors…and then persevering.

Learning from mistakes and moving forward drives people to succeed. It offers a chance to reframe mistakes into another chance, a new opportunity, or another try. Some people innately have this drive, while others need to develop it. 

Mindset Tools for Mistakes

Below are some mindset tools to help us make mistakes with a growth mindset. These are new strategies, but also tools to support mindset.

As therapy professionals, educators, or parents, we can drive the enthusiasm in persevering or trying again. The obstacles kids struggle with are part of the course, and we can support that development with words of encouragement. The OT Toolbox is featuring several posts involving mindset to help create a treatment plan for yourself, or the learners you work with.

Use these tools in a growth mindset lesson to support self-awareness skills.

Develop Brain Skills- Brain activity happens with learning, and making mistakes is part of that learning process. Using persistence to complete a task is not only an executive functioning skill, it’s also an opportunity to develop grit, or resilience. This is an important life skill!

  • Amazon (affiliate link) has a great Growth Workbook for Kids. It is a fun and engaging activity book, for ages 8 to 12, that can help you train your brain and develop creative problem-solving skills through practice and perseverance. You’ll learn how to foster a “can-do” attitude and celebrate your mistakes as a path to ultimate success.
  • Mindsetkit has a great presentation on the critical role of mistakes.  

Give yourself permission to make mistakes- Switch thinking from an error that means starting over is a bad thing. Mistakes can be permission to achieve a new skill. 

Sometimes, as humans, we view mistakes as something bad. But when we stretch mistakes into something good, it’s switching the perspective in our brains. We can try a different strategy. We can use new skills that we learned as a result of that mistake. 

Working with kids is a great opportunity to try again, but an important one that can have a huge impact!

Learn from mistakes- There is always an AHA-moment mistakes allow. At some point, maybe long after the mistake has happened, that we have a moment of “Aha!” where we learn something about ourselves. We can ask ourselves a few questions as part of this mistake learning:

  • What have you learned from making mistakes?  
  • What did the mistake teach me?
  • What did I do that contributed to this mistake?
  • What can I do differently next time?
  • What tools can I use next time?
  • Was this a “big mistake” or a “small mistake”?
  • What did I learn from this mistake?

Talk about different kinds of mistakes- Not all mistakes are life threatening, or high-stakes mistakes! We can work with kids to identify different types of mistakes. Ask kids to identify different scenarios on a scale of intensity.

  • small mistakes
  • big mistakes
  • life-threatening situations 
  • learning curve errors
  • sloppy mistakes

Find courage to try again- I have learned that there is not much that can not be undone or fixed. This gives me the courage to try. Talking about this concept of trying again can be helpful for kids. We can even bring up times in our life that we as therapists have had to try again.

  • Don’t like that paint color in your bedroom you just painted?  Paint over it.
  • Not sure about the tattoo you just had done? Get it removed or “painted over”
  • Not thrilled with the way your hair color/cut came out? It will grow back, or try again with another color.
  • Cookies came out overdone? Chop them up and sprinkle over ice cream, or feed them to the goats.

Mistakes can be spun as a trial run. Every mistake is good practice for the next time!

Use self-talk- Kids can use self-talk as a strategy to hush that inner critic that tends to “beat up” our emotional state. Instead of repeatedly thinking “I’m so dumb”, “How could I make this mistake”, or “I’ll never be good enough”, we can teach kids the emotional regulation strategy of self-talk to support their mindset. 

Positive self-talk is a huge asset to teach to switch the perspective of mistakes as a bad thing to just part of the learning and living process. There is power of the word that  we speak to ourselves!

A final note on growth mindset mistakes 

I once took a pottery sculpting class years ago on a whim (actually after a bad breakup).  My coil pot was crooked, bumpy, and leaning to the side.  Instead of becoming discouraged, I took a step back.  It kind of looked like the sorting hat from Harry Potter.  I painted it and proudly display it as a sorting hat replica!  What could have been a mistake and failure, turned into a one of a kind art piece.

Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Emotions Playdough Mats

emotions playdough mats

One fun therapy tool to address social emotional learning in children are emotions playdough mats. Kids can use the printable play dough mats as tools to develop emotional awareness. understanding feelings, naming feelings, and practicing facial expressions. All of this occurs along with the many benefits of play dough! Let’s get some emotions play dough activities into your hands!

Emotions playdough mats

Emotions Playdough Mats

Facial expressions convey feelings and emotions. This is an important social and emotional skill for preschoolers. It’s through play and practice that young children explore different emotions. Using play as a tool to support that development makes sense!

Arlin Cuncic from Very Well Mind states, “If you only listen to what a person says and ignore what their face is telling you, then you really won’t get the whole story. Often, words do not match emotions, and the face betrays what a person is actually feeling”.  You can read more about Understanding Emotions through Facial Expressions.  

Early research stated we have seven universal facial expressions, however research from 2020 states we have closer to sixteen.  Some expressions may last a long time, making them easier to read, however there are also micro expressions that are fleeting. A micro expression may be covering up a lie or concealing another emotion. The introduction of global mask wearing made reading facial expressions that much more difficult. 

Many people have difficulty reading emotions or understanding them. Today’s freebie, the Emotions Playdough Mats is a great tool to teach and talk about feelings, facial expressions, and emotions. 

Emotions play dough mats

Use Playdough mats to learn feelings

Some emotions such as anger, crying, and happiness are fairly easy to read, but what about the more difficult facial expressions such as disgust, disappointment, boredom, disinterest, or doubt?  

Younger learners often say they are bored, when really they might be overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, tired, scared, or a host of other emotions. Using tools like the emotions playdough mats is a non threatening activity to help learners understand these complicated feelings. 

One way to support this development is by using a PDF play dough mat with a feelings theme. Toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and older children can use this strategy to practice different facial expressions while creating faces made from playdough.

People learn by doing, not just listening or watching someone else do it. The Emotions Play Dough Mats explore through play. 

Play based therapy is at the heart of occupational therapy. The great thing about this activity is that it works on multiple skills whether in the classroom or therapy clinic.

  • Playdoh is a great sensory medium – it addresses tactile, visual, olfactory, and proprioceptive input for little hands.
  • The dough can be purchased or made at home. I found this cute website for sensory dough in dozens of different styles.  If you prefer to make your own, you can find different playdough recipes here.
  • Playdough is also great for strengthening the tiny hand muscles. Make your dough soft or stiff, or substitute with therapy putty for a more intense workout
  • Working with playdough is a great fine motor activity. Folding, pinching, pulling apart, flattening, molding, cutting, and rolling are great fine motor skill builders
  • Cutting playdough is a powerful fine motor activity! Add scissors and cut out the shapes you need.

How to Use Feelings Playdough mats

What are some other skills you can think of that can be incorporated into working on the emotions playdough mats while creating play dough faces?

  1. Print off the PDF files.
  2. Laminate them or you can slide the page into a page protector sleeve. 
  3. Use play dough to create faces on the playdough mats based on the prompts.

Use the printable pdf file over and over again to support social emotional learning with children!

There are more ways to use these resources to address fine motor, sensory motor, visual motor, and of course social emotional skills: 

  • Use play dough to create facial features. Children can explore and identify nuances of facial features that are paired with emotions. These features might include furrowed eyebrows, frown lines around the cheeks, small eyes, etc. By using the playdough face mats, kids can create these features.
  • How about social function?  Following directions, turn taking, task completion, orienting to details, neatness, multi-tasking, attending to task, and impulse control can be addressed using the playdough emotions mat
  • What about bilateral coordination?  Using two hands together to create the playdough pieces, or one hand to hold the paper while the other hand works the playdough to create facial expressions, facial features, and emotions in the dough.
  • Can you think of visual perceptual skills addressed with this activity?  Parts to whole, copying from a model, creating a representation from a picture, visual memory and recall are just a few.
  • Explore social skills- These emotion playdough mats are perfect addition to social skills interventions. Ask the child why a person may feel the way the facial expression is depicting. How can they support or help a person who feels that way? Have they ever felt that emotion or feeling? What did they do about it when they did feel that emotion? This feelings activity can go in so many different directions using a bit of follow-up questions and conversation while creating with the emotions playdough mats. Include a social skills checklist and you’ve got a strategy to support social emotional development in therapy sessions.
  • Focus on fine motor strength by creating a small face from the play dough. Can you use a toothpick or a pencil point to poke a smile or frown into a ball of play dough? This can be another fun hands strengthening activity of its own!

How can you modify these playdough emotions mats? There are so many ways to extend this social emotional learning activity!

  • Definitely think about laminating these to make them easier to use, more eco friendly, and less messy
  • Cut out facial expressions from magazines to glue to the blank faces. Now you have added cutting and pasting to your task!
  • Have your learners draw facial expressions instead of using playdough. Voila! A visual motor task has been born
  • Create a smart board activity so learners can draw on the board, drag pieces, or work together
  • Take pictures of their artwork and create a collage to keep
  • Make this part of a larger lesson plan by adding gross motor, social, sensory, and other fine motor games
  • Pre-cut pieces of facial expression for beginning learners to identify and glue
  • Advanced learners can talk about the emotions, research them, write stories or situations about each face, and role play
  • Use fine motor add-ons to improve dexterity and eye-hand coordination. Think: craft pom poms, sequins, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, etc. Use the materials to add to the various emotions on the free playdough mats.
  • Emotions Monster I Spy page is a great resource to add to your lesson plan
  • The Emotions Frog Slide Deck is another great tool
  • Incorporate these social emotional learning worksheets for more fine motor work while exploring feelings with kids.
  • The OT Toolbox also has a spring themed slide deck to add to your “toolbox”

While there are definitely people who can’t read facial expressions or body language, there are others who are too attuned to these. The Highly Sensitive Person is often hypersensitive to the emotions and facial expressions of others. They feel and notice much more than typical people. The HSP might be shy or cautious because they feel and see too much.

They may avoid eye contact because of the amount of information transmitted through the face. If you are highly sensitive you might find daily occurrences to be “too much”.  

Too loud, bright, busy, chaotic, messy, overwhelming, smelly, sticky, and on and on.  The irony of wearing masks, is that they have been great for those who are highly sensitive to facial expressions. 

Whether your learners are highly sensitive, just learning about emotions, or having difficulty reading non verbal communication, the emotions playdough mat is a creative way to add fun into your treatment plan while working on important skill acquisition.

Free printable emotions playdough mats

Would you like a free printable playdough mats of your own to work on SEL with kids? Get a PDF version of these playdough mats to print off and use with your therapy caseload or in your classroom (or home)!

Enter your email address into the form below to access this printable resource. Or The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this inside the membership on our social emotional toolbox. 

FREE Emotions Playdough Mats

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    Working on addressing feelings, emotions, acceptance, and empathy in kids? Use the hands-on activities selected to support these concepts in skills using popular children’s books as a theme. Grab Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy today!

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    Social and Emotional Development Milestones

    social emotional development milestones

    Wondering about social and emotional development milestones and what social emotional development should look like in young kids? Social emotional learning occurs from birth and continues on for many years to impact learning and interacting with others. Let’s break down HOW social emotional development happens at each age and stage.

    We’ve covered social emotional toys and even books to support emotional development because these skills are something that every child learns through play and interacting with others.

    Social and emotional development milestones

    Social and emotional Developmental Milestones

    Social skills have become one of the most discussed milestone checklists as children re-enter the world after being out of social situations due to being at home for most of their early years. Included in this progression, are the stages of empathy development.

    As children start to socialize, adults are noticing that, without opportunities to play with other children, social development can become impacted. By the time a child enters Kindergarten, they are expected to be able to participate and learn new skills while other children are in the classroom.

    This is only achieved through practice being around other kids.  This blog will discuss how different developmental milestones impact social development, and where to go for more supports if social skills are a concern. 

    When children enter preschool, they are immediately bombarded with play opportunities with peers. This is a wonderful time for children to learn how to share space, share toys, build friendships, learn from children and new adults.

    As children develop their cognitive, communication and play skills, their social skills become more advanced. Here is a list of the social skills preschoolers are able to do (by age).

    Early Preschool: 3 years

    • Express emotions
    • Copy adults and friends  
    • Show affection for friends without prompting  
    • Turn taking in games, with prompts
    • Show concern for a crying friend (empathy) 
    • Understand concepts of “mine” and “his” or “hers” 
    • Separate easily from mom and dad  
    • May get upset with major changes in routine  

    Mid-Preschool: 4 years-

    • Enjoy trying new activities
    • Playing with different toys or types of toys   
    • Play imagination and interactive games with others “mom” and “dad”  
    • Are more and more creative with make-believe play  
    • Would rather play with other children than alone 
    • Cooperate with other children  
    • Often cannot tell what is real and what is make-believe  
    • Talk about what they like and what they are interested in 

    Later Preschool: 5 years-

    • Want to please friends  
    • Want to be like friends  
    • Are more likely to agree with rules  
    • Like to sing, dance, and act, also aware of gender  
    • Can tell what is real and what is make-believe  
    • Show more independence (for example, may visit a next-door neighbor by themselves with adult supervision) 
    • Are sometimes demanding and sometimes very cooperative

    When in the classroom, it is important that we give children ample opportunities to practice social skills through large group, small group and free play activities. Giving children the ability to engage in play allows them to create their own rules, investigate social norms and understand how to work within a team with other children. One of the best ways to encourage social interaction is through pretend play. 

    Keeping these stages of development in mind when creating self-regulation IEP goals is very helpful.

    Activities to support social and emotional Development Milestones

    Here are my 5 favorite ways to encourage social growth within the pretend play area:

    1. Change up the play space with prop boxes.

    The pretend play area doesn’t just have to be a play kitchen. Pretend play is a way for children to interpret the world that they see everyday.

    This includes places they go, things they watch on television and different roles they see in the community. Prop boxes for pretend play are buckets filled with items related to a theme.

    If you notice children are interested in a specific topic (such as the hair salon, the grocery store, a train station), you can grab a prop box and allow children to expand on their knowledge of the topic together!

    1. Encourage role play.

    As children start to play together within the pretend play area, adults can facilitate different roles. One year, the children were very interested in drive through restaurants.

    They pulled over the puppet theater that had a chalk board front on it. With some support, they decided who was going to be the cook, who was going to take orders, who was the person deciding the menu, who would be the cashier and who would be “Driving” through the drive through!

    After some negotiations, everyone had their roles. They loved this so much they created menus and opened up the rest of the classroom tables for dine-in for the rest of the children. As the preschoolers worked together, they were learning communication, problem solving and turn taking skills through play. 

    1. Bring pretend play outdoors. 

    There is no hard and fast rule saying that all pretend play has to be inside. Bring those prop boxes outdoors and set up an area for children to use them in a large space. This type of play can be so exciting when outside in nature.

    Children can use leaves, sticks and other items as props in their play. When there is ample room to run and play, sometimes more children become involved in the play experience. This is also a great time to support children with sensory needs. Check out this sensory processing disorder checklist for more information.

    In play, being indoors around too many kids might be overwhelming to them. Inviting them to engage in outdoor play in open space with plenty of areas to take sensory breaks with proprioception activities,  supports children of all sensory processing needs, giving them opportunities to partake in important social practice. 

    1. Give children the ability to create their own space. 

    One of most powerful aspects of pretend play is to let children lead. When we step back and allow children to create, engage and develop on their own, they are able to practice social development freely.

    Without adult intervention (unless needed), children are able to work on problem solving skills and create a play narrative that adults may not think of. Giving children time to decide play roles may bring up some uncertainty with taking turns, but it allows them to work through their disagreements together.

    When adults aren’t always in the middle of play, magic happens. 

    1. Don’t limit the amount of children allowed to play in one area.

    Often times I see preschools limit the amount of children allowed to play in one area of the classroom due to the size of the space.

    This may mitigate overcrowding but it also prevents children from learning how to socialize freely in different sizes of groups. If multiple children desire to engage in the pretend play area, instead of limiting the amount of children, push some other classroom areas to the side and expand the pretend play area.

    6. Be aware of when children need support interacting with each other. 

    It’s important to remember that preschoolers (even adults) are still learning how to interact with groups of children. Sometimes adults need to step in to support cooperation during social play. Frustration can present as a sensory meltdown or a tantrum.

    When a child becomes frustrated and needs to calm down, self-regulation strategies can support the emotional regulation needs. Using a problem solving tool like the (Amazon affiliate link) Soothing Sammy Program to help them. After children calm down with “Sammy Time” use the prompts in the story to encourage problem solving communication between the children.

    Sometimes all children need is a break to gather their thoughts and help to communicate their feelings. You can find some more problem solving activities.

    Others may benefit from a social story to consider options that might happen in a given daily task.

    Emotional Milestones and other areas of development

    A child’s development is greatly impacted by 8 key areas of growth.

    This includes::

    1. social development
    2. emotional development
    3. gross motor development
    4. fine motor development
    5. language development
    6. cognitive
    7. sensory
    8. self-help skills.

    When delayed in just one of these areas, other areas of development may also be impacted, including emotional milestone achievement, because of the deep connection between emotional regulation and cognitive processing.

    When a child is delayed in language, they are unable to use words to communicate their needs to their peers.

    If they are having a hard time understanding directions, they won’t be able to participate in some social activities or games.

    If a child is impacted by sensory differences or  delayed in their cognitive milestones, they may find it frustrating or difficult to engage in imaginative games with their peers.

    If they are unable to keep up with gross motor or fine motor activities, they may feel left behind.

    If you are concerned about a child’s development in any area, and they are under three years olds, reach out to your local Early Intervention Program for a free developmental assessment.

    If your child is between the ages of 3 and 5, your local school district can complete a developmental assessment free of charge. This social skills checklist is a wonderful tool to help know where to start. These emotions playdough mats are another great hands-on activity to explore emotions with preschoolers and toddlers.

    Social and emotional development milestones are an important skill that preschoolers learn through experiences. With ample opportunities to practice and the right supports, children will learn how to engage with their peers and how to problem solve. As children are exposed to different play situations with different people, and in different settings, the social skills they learn will benefit them throughout their entire lives. 

    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

    Turn Taking

    turn taking

    We all use turn taking on a daily basis. Taking turns in conversation, walking through a doorway, during meals, at appointments, while shopping, and even while driving are just some examples of how turn taking occurs day in and day out. While learning to take turns is a part of social emotional development, this can be a real challenge for some kids. Here, we’re covering all things turn taking: development, how to teach kids to take turns for functional independence and self-care, and turn taking activities.

    turn taking

    Turn Taking

    So what does turn taking mean? Turn taking, or the act of taking turns in a situation, conversation, or even means sharing space and time with another individual. Turn taking can look like many things:

    • Speaking and then listening when others speak in a conversation
    • Taking turns in a game
    • Taking turns in line to get a drink from a water fountain
    • Waiting one’s turn in a food like like in the cafeteria
    • Taking turns in speaking during circle time or sharing time in the classroom
    • Taking turns with a favorite toy
    • Waiting while others have an opportunity to receive services such as a food server in a restaurant
    • Waiting for one’s turn in a scheduled event such as at doctor’s appointments or waiting for one’s number to be called at the deli counter
    • Taking turns in moving situations such as when walking through a door or when turning at a stop sign
    • Sharing a responsibility such as when taking turns taking out the family garbage or caring for a family pet
    • Taking turns to get on or off a school bus, or while waiting in line at the car drop off line
    • Taking turns with a toy in the home or in the classroom
    • Taking turns using equipment like slides, swings

    As you can see, taking turns is part of daily life. There can be limitations to aspects of turn taking in some situations, for those with intellectual or behavioral considerations, particularly in the social circumstance of conversation or sharing a toy.

    Other circumstances that offer a more concrete environment such as waiting for one’s turn in a doctor’s office waiting room can be an opportunity to practice the components that allow for turn taking skills.

    Throughout a preschool day, children are expected to wait often. This could be while they wait for a snack, wait to go to the bathroom, wait during a transition, wait for a toy or wait for a turn in a game. As children become exposed to more opportunities to practice taking turns, they get better at it and more patient. But when they first start out, taking turns can be frustrating for children and teachers alike! This aspect of turn taking incorporates the working memory skill in transitions for children.

    Turn Taking in Conversation

    Turn Taking in Conversation- This component is one that is modeled, and a part of social emotional learning. Interrupting a conversation, speaking out of turn, and interrupting instruction is an important skill to understand.

    Turn taking in conversation is important for social reciprocity, but also safety. This skill requires auditory processing skills and receptive language skills.

    What is social reciprocity?

    Social reciprocity refers to the give and take of social interactions, including conversation, verbal interactions, or physical interactions.

    Social-emotional reciprocity (SER), or the give-and-take of a social interaction is also a part of the turn taking continuum. Social reciprocity refers to an individual’s ability to engage in social interactions between two or more people.

    This ability can be difficult or impossible for some individuals, and may be a consideration especially with some, but not all Autistic individuals.

    Taking turns with others, or social reciprocity, is a social emotional skill that is needed for many areas including learning, play, interacting in the community, conversation, and other areas. Let’s cover social reciprocity and how turn taking games or activities can be used to develop social emotional skills.

    Social reciprocity develops from birth. We see this when babies mimic facial expressions, or eye gaze. This interaction occurs with the parent or caregiver during feeding, but we see this give and take develop very quickly.

    Continued back-and-forth interactions occur through play, vocalizations, and in daily activities like during dressing, wake/sleep time, etc.

    With development of verbal communication, social reciprocity further expands, particularly as verbalizations progress from sounds, to words, to monologue communication, into a conversation.

    When children grow, typically we see a conversation ability expand. This develops as executive functioning, inpuarticular working memory skills, develop.

    We see references to previous conversations or information. We see social interactions in various situations. We see public speaking, or speaking out in a group. All of these are part of social reciprocity and the use of turn taking in social situations.

    For some of the individuals we work with, particularly Autistic individuals, we may see a preference to talk about one particular topic. The give and take of the conversation, or the reciprocity aspect is not there. It might be that they either do not respond to these social initiations because they do not realize that there is a back-and-forth aspect. Or, it could be that the social cues (such as verbal fluctuations, pauses in communication, eye-contact, and other nuances of a conversation or social situation are not addressed.  

    So, as you can see there is a huge social aspect to turn taking.

    Turn Taking Development

    Young children are learning new skills everyday, and even more-so when they are in groups with other children. A child’s environment can include a variety of objects that they would like to use the same time that others are using them.

    Taking turns isn’t a skill children are born knowing how to do. In fact, as babies, we are all very self-serving and aware of only individual needs. This developmentally, serves the infant and baby. Crying out is a survival instinct. There is no “turn taking” in sleeping through the night or wanting to be fed at all hours of the day!

    Turn taking develops as a skill through modeling and observation…and then practice with age.

    There are several developmental components that play a role in turn taking abilities:

    • Awareness of self
    • Awareness of others
    • Executive functioning (working memory, attention, task completion, etc.)
    • Intellectual awareness (first, then concepts)
    • Spatial awareness

    Young children learn how to share through ample opportunities and supported facilitation from adults. When children are in a group with other kids, opportunities to learn how to take turns or comes in a variety of forms, waiting for an object, waiting to participate in an activity and waiting for their turn when they are in a large group of children completing a similar task.

    Below, you will learn some simple ways to support turn taking activities using visuals.

    Turn taking activities

    Turn Taking Activities

    We can support turn taking skills through activities driven by modeling, practice, and play.

    Visual Supports- Visuals support children in understanding what another person wants. Visuals can be utilized with a parent-child relationship, a teacher-child relationship, and even a child – child relationship.

    As children learn more words, they are able to comprehend directions (both new and familiar), but before they learn meanings of words, visuals will help a message be communicated. 

    Other visual supports can include:

    Verbal supports- As an early childhood educator, I like to give children the opportunity to play with an object for as long as they would like without putting a time limit on it. I don’t use timers in my class to signify when a child has to be done with a toy.

    When children are playing with toys, they are using that object for a purpose, and it can be frustrating to hear a timer go off in the middle of their game. This can cause frustration from the child around having to end their play and some friction around the child that will be receiving the toy.

    Instead, we say the phrase “when you are all done, then _________ would like to play.” Typically a child is done using a toy within 15-20 minutes and the next child gladly accepts the toy. 

    Verbal supports can include:

    • Verbal prompts
    • Music or other auditory prompts
    • Modeling
    • Social stories

    activities to promote sharing and turn taking

    In the classroom environment, kids may have their first experience with turn taking and sharing.

    Here are my five favorite ways to teach sharing and turn taking with preschoolers.

    1.Use a turn taking chart. 

    When multiple children are excited about using a toy (such as the tricycle outside), it may take a while for one child to be done playing with that object. When there are multiple children waiting for one item, they tend to become frustrated because they don’t want to loose their spot in line.

    That is where the turn taking chart comes in!

    This chart is simple. It can be made with a chalkboard or white board, hung outside near a highly desired item. When multiple children are requesting an object, the adult can write their name in order on the white board. When one child is done with the object, the teacher can cross that name off and go to the next name on the list.

    This allows children to feel confident they can play with something else while they wait and they won’t be forgotten or skipped. As a bonus, this activity teaches written name recognition to children, as they learn how to read the list and find out when their turn will be.  

    2. Use turn taking cards.

    One of the most common times that “turn taking” becomes an issue in the preschool room, is when a child gets up to go to the bathroom or get a drink, and they come back to find the objects they were using have been swiped up by another child or put away by a teacher cleaning up.

    Turn taking cards are my favorite way to prevent this from happening. This simple 5×7 card has a child’s picture glued to the front and the words “ (child’s name)’s turn!)

    Every child in the classroom has one and they can place it on an object they are using if they need to step away for a minute but want to return to finish what they were doing.

    Children and teachers understand that the child is coming back to continue working and leave the object alone. A wonderful children’s book that has some more examples of turn taking cards is the book (Amazon affiliate link) “Sammy Learns to Share: A Lesson in Turn Taking!”

    3. Teach Large Group Turn Taking. 

    During large and small group activities, such as circle time, centers, specials classes (gym, music, etc.), lunch time, recess, or group activities, children have to wait their turn to participate.

    This could be waiting to share an idea during circle, stir the cookie dough at snack, or wait to be the Goose during Duck Duck Goose!

    There are some fun ways to visually share whose turn it is now and who will be next. If you are going around in a circle (which is often the easiest) the child whose turn it is can hold onto an object. This could be a  “speaking stick” or a “stirring chef’s hat” they are wearing for a cooking project.

    4. My turn Your turn cards- Printable cards that simply say “my turn” and “your turn” could also be used! When children are able to see whose turn it is and who will be next, their patience increases! 

    5. Turn taking routine charts.

    These visual boards are great to use during everyday routines, such as bathroom time, snack time or lunch time. I also add children’s pictures to these visuals, when practicing taking turns during routines.

    Add children’s pictures in a specific order, so the children know who is next to complete the daily task.

    Using visuals communicate to children what is expected of them and when. As they become used to the routine and taking turns, fading out this visual tool may be possible. 

    6. Play turn taking games.

    Turn taking games are fun ways to practice the skill of taking turns. I love giving children plenty of opportunities to practice taking turns with their peers and siblings. When young children have time to practice new skills, including social skills, they will become familiar and attentive to situations where they need to put these skills into practice.

    Luckily, the skill of taking turns and sharing time, space, and physical objects can be practiced with almost every game. This is especially great for toddlers through preschoolers and utilize items that you already have.

    Meltdowns with Taking turns or sharing

    What if after all of these strategies, kids are still frustrated with taking turns? You have probably seen a meltdown or temper tantrum because a child or even teenager or adult is asked or required to take turns or share.

    It’s important to remember with young children or individuals with Autism or other considerations, that turn taking is asking too much of the individual. There is not the ability to cognitively or physically see the reasoning to share or take turns.

    When a meltdown or temper tantrum occurs, what is going on behind the “behavior” or actions that we are seeing? It is likely that the physical or verbal responses to this request is inability to communicate one’s wishes or needs. Or, it could be that the individual simply does not see the reasoning for the turn taking or sharing request.

    Sometimes, children still have a hard time with waiting and taking turns. They could become upset and need a few moments to calm down or be redirected to a new activity.

    Addressing self-regulation tools as a strategy to address emotional regulation needs can help.

    The (Amazon affiliate link) Soothing Sammy Program is a wonderful way to support children in calming down if they become upset or overwhelmed. The sweet story begins with children visiting Sammy, a golden retriever, when they are frustrated, sad or mad. Sammy shares some calm down items with them (such as a drink of water, a squishy ball, a place to jump, etc).

    When the children are calm, Sammy helps them devise a plan so they can decide what happens next. In the back of the book, there are instructions on how to build your own Sammy house for your home, classroom or clinic, for the Sammy plush included in the program. Children can visit Sammy to calm down when they feel overwhelmed. You can find the full Soothing Sammy program here.

    Young children are just learning how to engage in play with peers and their social skills are also developing at a pace that sometimes seems frustrating to adults.

    As children are exposed to more opportunities to take turns, and are given the visuals and extra supports needed to learn how to respond to frustrating situations, they are able to adapt, learn new skills and eventually take turns with minimal interventions.

    Visual supports are a wonderful way to remind children that they are heard and that their turn is coming! Which visual supports are your favorite?

    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

    Multisensory Learning: Emotion Activities

    multisensory learning emotions activities for preschoolers

    In this blog post, you’ll discover 4 Multisensory Emotion Activities for Preschoolers that utilize multisensory learning and exploration to promote emotional intelligence for kids in the preschool age. Let’s take a look at these social emotional activities for children ages 3-5. In this blog post, you’ll learn how to teach children about emotions through hands-on learning activities, designed to help children remember how to process their feelings even in times of stress. Simple activities like emotions playdough mats can support skill building in playful and fun ways.

    multisensory learning emotions activities for preschoolers

    Multisensory Learning: Emotion Activities

    When children are overwhelmed, they don’t listen to reason. Learning new skills through play, using multi sensory forms, help children recall these skills at a moments notice. 

    What happens when you sit your child down to teach them a new skill? Do they remember what they learned 5 minutes later? Do they seem interested in listening to you talk to them or would they be more engaged in their learning if they actively solved a problem with you. 

    If we use at least two of the following 4 components to teach new emotion skills, children (even adults) will remember better. 

    1. Touch/Tactile
    2. Sight/Visual
    3. Sound/Auditory
    4. Movement

    Why do children learn how to manage their emotions better when they learn a new skill in multiple ways?

    Multisensory Learning

    Multisensory learning engages all the different parts of our brain and our body! An amazing article discusses Multisensory Learning is an Effective Strategy for Teaching Students How To Read.

    As they dive deeper into the topic of reading, they describe the neuroscience behind multisensory learning as: “the human brain has evolved to learn and grow in a multisensory environment.

    According to the whole brain learning theory, all brain functions are interconnected for this reason. We remember how to do things best when the directions we’re given engage multiple senses.

    The definition of multisensory learning, then, is using the neuroscience behind how we learn to teach lessons that engage two or more senses.

    Most educators add audio or visual multimedia into their assignments, but multisensory learning can also include tactile, smell, and taste-related materials. As long as the activity engages multiple areas of the brain, it can help students develop stronger memories around how to do it.”

    The definition of multisensory learning is using the neuroscience behind how we learn to teach lessons that engage two or more senses.

    Multisensory Learning for Emotions

    As we teach children how to respond to their feelings and the feelings of others, we can use tactile, visual, movement and auditory cues to make these activities more meaningful and memorable. 

    Let’s take a look at some ways that using the senses as a tool supports development in these multisensory learning emotion activities based on sensory systems.

    Tactile Experiences and Emotion Activities

    When you hear the word “pumpkin goop” how do you feel? Do you instantly cringe? Do you think about the pumpkin seeds inside a pumpkin and feel hungry?

    Touching something directly affects the touch receptors on our skin. This signal moves through our body to the thalamus, which relays information to our brain! This powerful sense helps our brain understand what we are doing and associates an emotion that goes along with that activity (such as “eww,” or “this is hot!”)

    When we have a positive experience learning a new skill through touch, our brain remembers that feeling and makes it easier to recall the experience. If we use tactile activities within our teaching approach, children will be able to remember what they did and why, making recalling new skills easier. 

    Children engage longer with tactile experiences. 

    Visual Processing and Emotion Activities

    When children are toddlers, they need lots of hand gestures to know what to do when given a direction. Seeing an action helps them understand. When children are learning how to name objects, showing them pictures of objects (or showing them the object) allows them to associate the name of the object. This is true for all learning activities. Looking at visuals that explain a new concept, such as emotion faces or letters in a book, help children remember.

    Per this article, 65 percent of the population are visual learners. Hearing a direction or sound  goes into our short term memory, while seeing something goes into our long term memory. Per this report, 

    One of the easiest ways to ensure that learners store information in their long-term memory is to pair concepts with meaningful images. Visuals help students make sense out of the content and direct attention, increasing the possibilities that the learners will remember the material.”

    Visuals help with faster recall.

    Auditory System and Emotion Activities

    Listening to music during activities keep us calm and alert. Sounds of nature, environmental sounds and communicative words help our brain remember specific things. Do you remember what song you danced to at your wedding? Or the top 10 hits of 1985? I bet if you hear just one word, phrase or instrumental bridge from any of those songs, you will be singing at the top of your lungs in minutes! 

    When children learn new skills, paired with a song, such as “Old MacDonald,”  “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “BINGO” they remember the sounds of animals, how to spell BINGO (even if they don’t know how to spell their own name yet) and that the stars are up in the sky! Pairing new skills with sayings or songs help us recall the lesson quickly. Are there any emotion songs that you know?

    Auditory supports help children remember easier.

    Kinesthetic System and Emotion Activities

    According to this link, in an article by Marwa Abdelbary, physical therapist, children are able to remember more when movement is embedded in their day.

    She reports that  “studies show that children who are more active exhibit better focus, faster cognitive processing, and more successful memory retention than kids who spend the day sitting still. Keeping the body active promotes mental clarity by increasing blood flow to the brain, making activity vital to both learning and physical and neurological health.”

    Learning while moving engages muscle memory and new areas of the brain. 

    Multisensory Learning for Emotional Awareness

    When you teach  a child a new skill using all of the components, they will remember the best! 

    This “Playful Alphabet Curriculum” is a great example on how to teach the name and sound every letter using visuals, tactile, movement and recall games.

    It starts with reading an interactive ABC book, then introducing each letter with five different activities: sensory, art, movement and literacy. Each of these activities use a different part of the brain to learn the letter name and sound. 

    Teaching children emotion words and how to process their feelings is a very important skill. Let’s teach them using every sense so they can remember quicker.

    We previously covered specific strategies to teach teach emotional vocabulary to preschoolers. Be sure to use those emotions words strategies.

    Multisensory learning activities for teaching emotions to preschoolers

    4 Emotion Activities using multiple senses

    These multisensory learning emotion activities use multiple senses to teach preschoolers and engage them in multisensory learning through play and hands-on activities.

    Multisensory Emotion Activity #1: Calm down and remember how to problem solve with “Soothing Sammy”

    Soothing Sammy” creates a positive spin on calming down and talking about feelings. This three step program uses tactile, visual, auditory and movement components to teach preschoolers all about their emotions! First, read through the “Soothing Sammy” story, then practice all the different ways to calm down (sipping water, squeezing a ball, jumping, and more!)  After, allow your child to build Sammy’s house out of an empty box, and place sensory calm down items in.

    Encourage them to visit Sammy’s house and read his book when they become overwhelmed. Play the Sammy music, create the Sammy mask and complete the calming down activities (like the lavender bubble mix) to help children remember how to calm down when they feel overwhelmed.

    Multisensory Emotion Activity #2: Use a fun theme!

    This Frog Themed Slide Deck offers a fun frog theme way to work on identifying facial expressions and practicing visual memory skills.

    Movement and auditory components can be added to any game, including this amazing frog themed slide deck. After having your kids match the emotions to the pictures, recreate the scene by asking your kids to jump like a frog! Add some music to initiate a freeze dance! When you pause the music, have the child jump like a frog and make an emotion face! What face are they making!

    Multisensory Emotion Activity #3: Get clear on facial expressions and emotion names.

    Use this Social Emotional Learning Worksheet as a guide.

    This freebie is a great way to prompt preschoolers to think about their emotions. Although they will be too young to write, let’s bring in a visual instead, a mirror! Ask your child what makes them sad, then make a sad face in the mirror. If available, take a picture of your child making the face, print it out, and allow your child to make their own facial expression book. 

    Multisensory Emotion Activity #4: Move with heavy work.

    Add Play Dough and Movement to this adorable Bugs Emotion Set.

    Heavy work activates the proprioceptive system and adds kinesthetic value to learning. Using play dough as a heavy work activity helps learning “stick” and makes activities fun and engaging.

    These adorable bugs are experiencing lots of different feelings! Have your child make the same face the bug is, then imitate how the bug moves. Does it slither along the ground? Does it crawl or does it fly by flapping its wings. Next, using playdough and a hard surface, have your child make the bug and create its emotion face with a toothpick!

    A final note on multisensory learning and emotions…

    These multisensory learning emotion activities are designed to help preschoolers develop social emotional skills in fun ways!

    Learning new skills through multi sensory activities help children recall their lessons faster. Through visual, tactile, movement and auditory enhancements, any activity can be effective. Teaching new skills through play, using more than two sensory components will help children remember how to respond to their feelings quickly and appropriately in a variety of situations.

    Generalizing this skill through multisensory learning experiences will help preschoolers at home, at school and out in the community. 

    How can you incorporate these multisensory learning emotion activities into your home or classroom?

    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.