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.

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.

Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Problem solving skills in preschool

It can be frustrating when children act without thinking of the consequences. In this blog post, you’ll learn about the development of problem solving in specific parts of our brain, discover important aspects of executive functioning that impact problem solving abilities, how to teach problem solving to preschoolers, and problem solving activities for preschoolers and young children so they can use words instead of the preschooler’s behaviors or tantrums.

Problem solving skills in preschool

Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Before we get into the problem solving activities for preschoolers, and specific strategies to use in early childhood, it’s important to understand the development of the problem-solving process in kids. Supporting small children by giving them the skills to be problem solvers takes time and practice. We’ll get to those specific strategies below.

But first, does this scenario sound familiar at all…

I just don’t understand why Johnny keeps throwing the ball in the house. Doesn’t he realized that he could break the window? Johnny is three and he loves to play with his tennis ball in the house. Even though I have told him over and over again that we don’t throw them in the house, I still catch him sneaking them indoors at least once a week. 

Before we can address problem solving by helping kids look at the big picture and coming up with creative solutions for problem solving issues, we need to understand what is happening developmentally. Self-reflection is a challenging cognitive skill, and for young learners! 

Let’s take a better look at the development of problem solving skills…

Development of problem solving skills in preschoolers

Development of Problem Solving Skills

It’s through play, observation of others, and practice that young learners are developing problem solving skills in early childhood.

Problem solving, rational thinking and reasoning are all skills that are controlled by a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex. Our brains grow exponentially over the first five years of life, but not the part of our brain that helps us with critical thinking and problem solving skills. This part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex, isn’t fully developed until we turn 25 years old! 

As babies, we are exposed every day to new experiences, but at this age we don’t comprehend how these experiences affect us and those around us. If only children could think through their problems. This resource on executive functioning skills offers more information.

Have you noticed that it can be a bit scary when teenagers get their drivers licenses? They don’t always think of “what might happen.” This is due to their prefrontal cortex not being fully developed. 

But what about our three and four year olds? We know they can count, ask questions and get the cookie off the counter in a very sneaky way when we aren’t looking. In the Early Years study of 2011 called Making decisions, Taking action, they describe the prefrontal cortex entering a rapid period of development, making critical interconnections with our limbic system. (link: )

This study states “The prefrontal cortex pathways that underlie these capacities are unique to human brains and take a long time to mature. Early connections begin in infancy. Between age 3 and 5 years, the prefrontal cortex circuits enter a rapid period of development and make critical interconnections with the limbic system. During adolescence and early adulthood, the neural pathways are refined and become more efficient.”

What is so great about this part of the brain anyway? 

As the prefrontal cortex (that is located behind out eyes) develops over the years, we are able to engage with situations differently, assessing our surroundings in a new way. As we develop these new executive functioning skills, we are able to keep ourselves safe, build friendships and become successful in our careers.

This peer reviewed report competed by Merve Cikili Utyun, called Development Period of Prefrontal Cortex, discusses how amazing this part of our brain is, and how each of the three sections control different aspects of our functioning. It states that: 

“ PFC includes the following Broadman Areas (BA): 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 44, 45, 46, 47. “The dorsolateral frontal cortex (BA) 9/46 has been functioned in many cognitive process, including processing spatial information, monitoring and manipulation of working memory, the implementation of strategies to facilitate memory, response selection, the organization of material before encoding, and the verification and evaluation of representations that have been retrieved from long-term memory. 

The mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex (BA 47) has implicated cognitive functions, including the selection, comparison, and judgment of stimuli held in short-term and long-term memory, processing non-spatial information, task switching, reversal learning, stimulus selection, the specification of retrieval cues, and the ‘elaboration encoding’ of information into episodic memory.

BA 10, the most anterior aspect of the PFC, is a region of association cortex known to be involved in higher cognitive functions, such as planning future actions and decision-making. BAs 44 and 45, include part of the inferior frontal and these regions’ functions are language production, linguistic motor control, sequencing, planning, syntax, and phonological processing.

Finally, the orbitofrontal cortex mostly (BA 47, 10, 11, 13) in the orbitofrontal cortex has been implicated in processes that involve the motivational or emotional value of incoming information, including the representation of primary (unlearned) reinforcers such as taste, smell, and touch, the representation of learnt relationships between arbitrary neutral stimuli and rewards or punishments, and the integration of this information to guide response selection, suppression, and decision making.” 

Wow! No wonder it takes so long for this part of our brain to fully develop. Problem solving skills in preschoolers take time to develop!

When Johnny is throwing the ball inside the house, he is thinking about what is happening now, in the present. Not what has happened in the past (when he broke the window at grandmas house a year ago) or that breaking a window might happen in the future. 

What are some problem solving techniques?

Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. This critical skill doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice to become second nature.

It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember that children ages 3-5 (preschool-aged) don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own, or remember what they learned from a situation a week ago. 

Just like when Andrew was painting at the easel and his paintbrush got stuck in the container. Instead of asking for help or trying to “unstick” the brush, he screamed.  Or when Sally and Samantha ran outside to grab the red bouncy ball, Samantha screamed when Sally grabs it first. She didn’t see the other red bouncy ball in the bucket next to the bikes. 

Try some of these problem solving activities for kids:

Observation- Children need problem solving strategies that they can observe, and then practice in their everyday lives. Let kids see you talk through problems as you “figure out” a solution. This gives children a chance to see a problem-solving approach in real life situations. They get to see problem solving scenarios in action.

Repetition- Repetition supports brain growth in every area of development including problem solving, executive functioning, motor development, language skills and social development.

Multisensory Activities- Children learn best with multi-sensory cues, learning new skills through seeing, touching, hearing and experiencing the skills they are learning. In 2013, the US National Library of Medicine published an article titled Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. stating “The prefrontal cortex acquires information from all of the senses and orchestrates thoughts and actions in order to achieve specific goals.” (link:

Creative Activities- Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember they don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own. The best way to teach children how to problem solve, it to create activities that support these new skills in a positive way, that their developing brain understands.

Problem Solving Activities for Preschool

Here are 3 Simple Ways to Teach Preschoolers to Solve Problems

1.Teaching executive functioning and problem solving skills in everyday situations will support the growth of a child’s prefrontal cortex. For example, these activities that teach executive functioning at the beach show how much thought and preparation goes into building a simple sand castles.

  • Children have to think about how much sand to use, how to keep it standing, how to prevent sand from getting into their eyes and how to create another one if the one they are building falls down.
  • They must create, plan ahead, problem solve when things get tough and communicate to adults and peers for help.

What other activities does your child do on a regular basis that requires all areas of the prefrontal cortex to activate?

2.When children become upset, their emotions become so overwhelming that they can’t think. In order to calm down and problem solve, they need to access a multi sensory way to help them remember how to do that.

Soothing Sammy gives children tactile and visual cues that remind them how to calm down and problem solve in a developmentally appropriate way. They can be reminded of this positive reinforcement with two words “Sammy Time!”

By reading the book about the sweet golden retriever, who understands that everyone feels upset sometimes, children are encouraged to use all of the sensory strategies to calm down. They can talk to Sammy about what is happening and think through their problem to create a solution.

Ashlie’s four year old daughter did just this. She reports: “When Molly was having some big emotions about coloring a picture and needed to calm down, she visited Sammy and returned with a solution to the problem she came up with all on her own (well with Sammy’s help).”

Click here for more information on the Soothing Sammy resources.

3.Problem solving requires us to remember what just happened, what is happening now and what do we want to happen next. A preschoolers brain tends to blend all three of these situations together, not able to communicate any of them until prompted by an adult. And as an adult, we are left “guessing” what our children are thinking about. Visual cues are a wonderful sensory communication tool to support both children and adults in the realm of solving problems.

Using tools like “First/Then” cards to support routine and common situations like transitions and completing tasks. Using visuals clearly communicates what needs to be done, especially if using pictures of real children doing these tasks.

A Final note about problem solving skills in preschool

Solving problems are hard for young children, even teenagers, as their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed yet. Using multisensory teaching tools to support brain development, practicing tasks that teach executive functioning skills and using developmentally appropriate tools to help children calm down, will help even the most frustrating moments become a bit less stressful for children and adults. 

As we learn to be more patient with children, understanding that the part of their brain needed to solve problems is just beginning to develop, repeating the same directions over and over again may not be so frustrating. Our children are doing the best they can. It’s up to us to provide them with experiences to help their brains grow and develop. 

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.

5 Fun Ways to Support Emotional Vocabulary

teach emotion words and support emotional vocabulary development in preschoolers

It can be a challenge to teach develop emotional vocabulary in children and teaching emotion words to preschoolers. In this blog post, you’ll find out how our bodies react to our emotions in threatening situations, how to teach the most common emotion words to preschoolers and strategies to help young children understand emotions by giving them tools to support their emotional development.

Oh no! There Suzy goes again. She’s crying and I don’t know why. She seems hurt. Or maybe she’s nervous. Or is she sensitive to the classroom surroundings. Is she irritated or annoyed? All I did was hand her the red cup of water. I wish she knew the emotion words to communicate so I knew what the problem is.

How to teach emotion words in preschool to support emotional literacy and emotional vocabular development through play.

What is Emotional Vocabulary?

Do you ever find yourself confused to why your child is screaming? 

Did you know that there are over 34,000 different emotions?

Dr. Robert Plutchik was able to create an emotion wheel that categorized emotional vocabulary into these 8 areas, making a comprehensive list of emotions. 

  1. Joy
  2. Sadness
  3. Trust
  4. Disgust
  5. Fear
  6. Anger
  7. Anticipation
  8. Surprise

If there are over 34,000 emotions, you can imagine how children with only 300-600 words may feel when trying to communicate them. 

Tantrums and meltdowns usually occur because children don’t have the emotional vocabulary to communicate their emotions in a way that others would understand. There may be a component of personal experiences or an affective states that impacts how a child expresses their feelings in a given situation.

Think back to Suzy from the beginning of this blog. It turned out she was scared of the blender noise making the smoothie that was going to fill her red cup. In the moment of irritation/tenseness, she was too scared to remember the words she needed, so she started screaming instead. She didn’t know the emotions words to tell me the problem. 

Emotional vocabulary, or emotional literacy is essential to a child's social emotional development.

Why is Emotional Vocabulary Important?

And, why is it so hard  for children to use emotion words to communicate while they are upset?

It is very difficult for young children to express words that they are feeling. 

Emotional vocabulary like feeling impatient, helpless, uneasiness, hopelessness, nervousness, anxious feelings, fury, or apprehensive feelings contain a lot of meaning that aren’t part of the preschooler’s vocabulary just yet. Negative emotions that “take over” a situation in the way of a tantrum, breakdown, or other behavior can impact mood, learning, and personal relationships.

Similarly, positive emotions such as feelings of happiness, optimism, excitement, and euphoric behaviors can result in difficulty paying attention, silliness that interferes with learning or safety, or other strains on self-regulation.

Those are feelings that we definitely see expressed in the child’s body language, facial expressions, and behavior!

When a child has words to express their emotions, they develop resilience. They improve emotional literacy so that they can verbally express how they are feeling. Children move from feeling misunderstood to feeling certain of their situation. 

And, when we understand components of emotion, we can help a child develop their emotional literacy by giving them words that they can recall and use even in the heat of the moment.

Developing emotional skills by building a library of emotion terms also helps children to navigate social environments in the school, home, classroom, and community. This emotional competence carries over with experience and practice in using and understanding emotional terms, especially in the thick of big feelings. Having words for the feelings children feel fosters positive interactions with others. Improving emotional vocabulary even impacts physical health. A robust emotional vocabulary comes with time and practice, but developing experience helps in so many ways.

All of this is related to emotional competence! 

We all have an emotional vocabulary. Preschoolers need help to learn emotional terms.

Emotional Literacy

On January 15, 2021, Carolyn MacCann Ph.D., Psychology Today explained psychology Professor James Gross’ four components of feeling an emotions and Professor Klaus Scherre’s process model of emotions. She states:

“Having emotions is a universal experience, and every person in the world has felt angry, shy, scared, or embarrassed at some point in their lives. According to psychology Professor James Gross, there are four components of feeling and emotion:

  1. The situation you are in (whatever is happening to you at that moment)
  2. The details you pay attention to
  3. Your appraisal of what the situation means for you personally
  4. Your response, including the physical changes (like blushing or shaking), and your behaviors (like shouting or crying).”

She goes on to explain Professor Klaus Scherer’s component-process model of emotion that includes the following 5 components to emotions:

  1. Feelings (subjective feelings, like “I feel scared”)
  2. Appraisals (though patterns, like “I am under threat”)
  3. Expressions (facial and bodily expressions of emotions, like being wide-eyed with fright)
  4. Action tendencies (the tenancy to prefer certain actions like freezing or hiding); and
  5. Physical changes (physical symptoms of emotion, such as butterflies in the stomach).”

Imagine what a small child must be feeling as they interpret the situation around them, processing what they are physically experiencing and trying to come up with a solution to the situation – all at the same time! Let’s look at Suzy, the little girl who is afraid of the blender. 

Using Professor James Gross’s four components of feeling and emotion, she is likely feeling the following:

  1. The situation you are in – mom just handed me a red cup but I can’t hear what she is saying because there is a loud, grumbling sound coming from the counter.
  2. The details you pay attention to – I hear chopping and grumbling sounds that are deep and scary.
  3. Your appraisal of what the situation means for you personally – The blender is so loud that I can’t hear mom talking, or even hear myself telling her to stop.
  4. Your response, including the physical changes – I feel my heart beating faster, my hands are shaking a little and I’m closing my eyes because all my senses are on overload. Nothing is helping so I scream and cry, hoping mom will turn the blender off. 

Now let’s look at Professor Klaus Scherer 5 emotional components as Suzie processes her emotions:

  1. Feelings – I am scared.
  2. Appraisals – I am in danger. My mom is in danger.
  3. Expressions – I’m closing my eyes really hard and have my hands over my ears.
  4. Action tendencies – I’m screaming because mom can’t hear me.
  5. Physical changes – I feel my heart beating faster, my hands are shaking a little and I’m closing my eyes because all my senses are on overload.

Wow! How do you feel after experiencing first hand what Suzy is experiencing? If only she would tug on mom’s shirt and say “turn off the blender, I’m scared of the loud noise.”

What Can You Do to Increase Children’s Emotional Vocabulary?

Adults have had years of experience processing their emotions and learning how to communicate them, but children need help. Learning emotion words is how preschoolers can reach out to us for help. 

Activities that teach emotional vocabulary and specific emotion words to young children in a way that they understand and remember, will make it easier for them to recall the correct words to use to describe their feelings, even when they are in a stressful situation. Emotion word lessons are best taught through an active approach. Here are five fun ways to teach emotion words to preschoolers.

These are hands-on, multisensory activities to support emotional development in young children. They are tools for Developing and Using Emotional Vocabulary. They are fun ways to develop personal experience in developing emotional vocab!

5 Fun Ways to Teach Emotion Words to Preschoolers

1.Practice emotional vocabulary with Emotion face paper plates! 

Tackle those fine motor skills while teaching emotion words. Understanding the facial expressions that match feelings help children identify and describe how others are feeling, so they know how to respond. 

Using play based crafts, like paper plates, will reinforce how different expressions mean different things. When a child is upset, have them look in the mirror and see if they can tell you what their face is saying. Is their face happy, sad, angry or mad? Once they respond with the emotional vocabulary, you can ask “why does your face feel that way?”

Activities like this one offers children the opportunity to practice facial expressions and body language while practicing emotion words.

2. Use Calming down with sensory supports to improve emotional vocabulary.

These amazing fall themed calm down ideas will help children regulate so they can remember all those feelings words that we teach them. While using the fall animal walk, have your child make a feeling face while they “leap like a squirrel” such as “leap like an angry squirrel!”

Children remember new emotional vocabulary while they are moving!

3. Read books about calming down and talking about emotions. 

Soothing Sammy creates a positive spin on calming down and talking about feelings. This three step program uses tactile prompts and visual cues from a friendly golden retriever named Sammy!

Soothing Sammy is a book and curriculum created to develop a child’s emotional vocabulary and to teach them how to calm down in a positive way.

As children read through the story, the simple images reinforce the lessons, ones even 2 year-olds will understand. 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. Once they are calm, talk with your preschooler about emotions and how to communicate what they are feeling. 

Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand and respond to emotions in oneself and others in a healthy manner, and using books is a powerful way to practice these skills.

Learn more about Soothing Sammy here

Use Soothing Sammy to teach emotions through play.

4. Play emotion pattern mirror games.

Teaching children about patterns doesn’t only have to be on paper or with objects, we can use play patterns to teach preschoolers about their feelings.

Children learn so much by looking at themselves in the mirror. Turn on the light in the bathroom or grab a foldable mirror and place it on the floor. 

Ask your child to make the feeling face you say, when you say it (happy, sad, happy, sad). Take turns (as an adult) making the faces your kids name. This game is bound to bring some laughter! Repeat with more emotions words. Learn more about this activity here.

5. Play emotion memory card games.

Repetition is the foundation of memory! What better way to learn new emotion words then emotion flashcards.

My favorite way to do this is with real pictures of children making different emotion faces. Print out 2 copies of your child making each of the following faces: mad, sad, scared, surprised, annoyed and excited. Place the images upside down (all mixed up) and see if your child can match them together!

As your child learns these words, create some more picture faces of new emotions to create a more advanced emotion word lesson.

*Note – if your child is under 4 year old, start by placing the cards face up for them to match!

A final note on emotional vocabulary

Emotions don’t have to get the best of us, or our children. As long as we learn the words to pair with our emotions, we are able to problem solve with family and friends. Learning emotional language will help our children as toddlers, preschoolers and all the way into adulthood.

These five super fun emotion activities make learning emotion words enjoyable and entertaining! After repeating these games several times, little Suzy will be able to tell me that she is scared because of the noisy blender, instead of screaming at me when I’m trying to make her a healthy treat. 

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.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence activities for kids

Emotional intelligence in children is a skill that takes practice, example, and more practice to develop. For all of us, emotional intelligence can be an ongoing skill that impacts social emotional skills, relationships, and functioning in day to day tasks. Here we are

For those of us raising children and working with children it is clear that they need more than ‘book smarts’ to navigate the rather complex world that they are growing up in. For a long time the intelligence quotient or Emotional IQ was the only benchmark for measuring children’s potential and predicting how well they would achieve.

In more recent times people studying development and psychology realized that there were other skills necessary for achieving success in the world. One of these sets of skills has become known as Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and understand your emotions and those around you with empathy and perspective. These emotional intelligence activities for kids develop Emotional IQ through play.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is described as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and to understand the emotions of those around you. The concept of emotional intelligence also known as emotional quotient or EQ developed in the 1990’s and has gained widespread acceptance in recent years.

Instrumental in the development of the theory and models of emotional intelligence is Daniel Goleman a psychologist and author. Goleman and emotional intelligence may be terms that you’ve heard connected, where he describes four main domains that make up Emotional Intelligence.

These domains are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. What do each of these emotional intelligence domains mean?

  • Self-awareness – Self-awareness is having conscious knowledge of your own character and feelings. This results in being able to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness in kids plays a role in emotional control, mindset, habits, and executive functioning skills.
  • Self-management – Self-management is being able to control and manage your emotions in a healthy way. Self-management for kids involves self-regulation, mindset, habits, and self-control. Co-regulation plays a role in this aspect as well.
  • Social awareness – Social awareness is the ability to pick up the emotions of other people and to understand what they are feeling. This can be a challenge for children of all needs.
  • Relationship management – Relationship management is the ability to build relationships with others through positive interpersonal communication skills (Segal, 2020). Children develop relationship management skills through example by watching others in their lives, by interacting with peers and adults, and through play.

The domains are further broken down into twelve competencies and learnable skills that are relevant to the specific domain. (Matlock, 2017)

At the bottom of this post, you can find hands-on activities for children that develop each area of these emotional intelligence skills.

Emotional intelligence and emotional leadership

Emotional leadership is a term developed by Goleman and others, and refers to leadership in groups, impacted by one’s emotional intelligence. When you take a look at the domains of EI, you can see how they play into the functioning of a group.

Occupational therapists know a thing or two about group management and group leadership. At it’s infancy, occupational therapy played a major role in group therapy and mental health. While this domain of occupational therapy intervention is no longer primary area of intervention, there are still many OTs working in the mental health arena and especially in the group treatment intervention.

Emotional leadership is an important part of group occupational therapy sessions, as the participants are interacting with others in the group and developing specific individualized goal areas but also group goal areas. Groups in therapy have a leader, often the therapist, but sometimes the therapist presents as a facilitator but one that keeps the group on track as the group interacts with other participants.

In this way, participants can develop emotional leadership skills and skills that can be used outside of the group setting as a development of emotional intelligence and emotional learning.

It is clear that a lot of work has been done on developing an understanding of emotional intelligence and the components that make up this construct. But how important is emotional intelligence in the lives and development of our children?

Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Cognitive behavioral therapy recognizes that feelings or emotions can influence thoughts. When emotions run high they can alter the way our brains work and this can have a negative effect on our cognitive abilities. Our feelings can influence the decisions we make and how we interact with other people. It makes sense that having a greater understanding of our emotions will help guide how we interact with others.

Improving our emotional intelligence makes it easier to resolve conflicts, manage our stress and interact appropriately with those around us (Segal, 2020). And children will definitely benefit from developing these skills. Children’s learning is influence by their emotional state so managing emotions in a positive way allows children to be receptive learners at school.

Emotional intelligence includes the ability to name emotions. The act of naming emotions tends to diffuse their intensity and lessens the negative impact they may have on our cognitive abilities. The psychologist Dan Siegel refers to this as ‘name it to tame it’ (Schwartz, 2015). The value of recognizing feelings and emotions is evident but how does emotional intelligence develop.

Development of Emotional Intelligence

When asked how emotional intelligence develops in a recent interview Daniel Goleman stated that “emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages. These messages repeat over and over to form the core of a child’s emotional outlook and capabilities.” (Scholastic, viewed 2021)

As adults interacting with children it becomes important to ensure that we are able to recognise and manage our own emotions. Once we are able to do this we can become valuable role models for children and we can provide opportunities for them to see emotional intelligence in action. Recognizing and discussing emotions with children lays a foundation for their self-regulation.

The development of emotional intelligence begins in infancy, through interactions with caregivers, and continues as children are socialized across their school years alongside parents, peers, and teachers. Emotional intelligence is gained through both informal experiences (observations and conversations) and through and formal instruction (being taught emotion vocabulary, learning self-regulation strategies).

How emotional intelligence is taught depends on age, but unlike learning other skills such as math and science or English language arts, there is no age at which it is too early or too late to develop your emotional quotient. The parts of the brain needed to develop emotional intelligence are active from birth and will continue to develop throughout life.

As with many developmental tasks it seems that the first few years of life the brain is at its most receptive to learning key skills. And emotional intelligence is one of these important skills. (Brackett, Cipriano, 2015

This resource on executive functioning skills and emotional regulation shares more information on the role executive functioning skills play on emotional IQ.

 How to Teach Emotional intelligence?

An essential part of developing emotional intelligence is being able to talk about feelings. This skill set is often termed emotional literacy and it is something that we are able to teach young children.

We can teach children to read and understand emotions and to respond appropriately to their own emotions and the emotions of others. Goleman explains that you can teach young children about the most basic emotions, such as happiness and anger and when they get older touch on more complicated feelings, such as jealousy, pride, and guilt (Scholastic, viewed 2021)

It is important to remember to include a range of emotions both positive and negative when talking about feelings.

Although it is not always comfortable talking about negative emotions it is important that children recognize and accept the wide range of emotions that they are likely to experience during their lives.  We can incorporate opportunities to promote emotional intelligence in our everyday lives. 

Emotional intelligence activities for therapy, the classroom, ad home to help children develop emotional intelligence skills for functioning.

Emotional Intelligence Activities

What does promoting Emotional Intelligence look like in a therapy session?

As an occupational therapist (and a parent!) it can be overwhelming to think about the number of developmental needs that fall within your domain of influence. My therapy approach has always been aligned with building confidence and self-awareness in the children that I treat so in that way emotional intelligence has been fostered through incidental learning and interactions.

In more recent times I have used tools and resources that focus specifically on building skills that will enhance emotional intelligence – empathy, self- regulation, communication skills – depending on what the individual child needs. 

In my therapy session the first few minutes are spent getting a gauge of where the child is at and what their mood is like. By spending a few minutes engaging one on one with the child I am able to assess their level of attention, level of arousal and motivation at the time. I also have a mood meter on my wall and the kids love moving the arrow to the colour that corresponds to how they are feeling that day – low energy, just right energy, slightly high energy or off the chart energy levels.

With a reluctant child I might get the ball rolling by sharing how I am feeling that day and using the mood meter to plot my energy levels. I also have a feeling chart called ‘How does your jellybean feel today?” adapted from a book by Susan Jelleberg (Jellybean Jamboree).

This introduces the idea of naming emotions and of expanding our vocabulary related to emotions. In this way I feel I am working on the self-awareness component of emotional intelligence. 

The next step is ensuring that the child is in a good space to learn and this means aiming for a calm-alert level of arousal. The Zones of Regulation offer a number of tools to help children reach that just right space. Some children need activities to lift their energy and some children need activities to lower their energy levels. I find deep pressure or proprioceptive activities work like a charm and I also use breathing activities frequently in my therapy sessions.

In this way we tackle some of the self-management aspects of emotional intelligence. 

Social management is a tricky one for young children to pick you. Learning that the people around them do not always think and feel the same is them is an on-going process. There are some lovely activities to encourage empathy in children and to help them become aware of other people’s feelings.

Finally relationship management is encouraged through appropriate interactions between myself and the child during the therapy session. For some children this means learning how to deal with losing a game or competition, learning how to take turns or share or learning to give and receive complements.  

So within the confines of a short therapy session, while working on other specific OT goals, it is very possible to facilitate and encourage a child’s emotional intelligence. An understanding of emotional intelligence and is various elements means that it is also possible to encourage its growth in the classroom and in our homes.

And it is with this well-developed emotional intelligence that I believe our children will be able to successfully navigate the world they are growing up in and find meaning in their lives. 

For further information on some of the component skills and activities related to emotional intelligence have a look at the following links. There are numerous resources on the OT Toolbox that deal with developing different components of emotional intelligence.  

Self-Awareness Activities for Kids

To develop self-awareness it is important to be able to understand what you are feeling. Children can participate in some of the following activities in increase their awareness of emotions.

These self-awareness activities promote social emotional development through the awareness and process of practicing identification of emotions:

Penguin emotions game– Use this penguin theme emotions activity to support emotional intelligence in kids.

Social emotional learning– This social emotional skills worksheet supports the development of emotional intelligence by allowing children to draw in facial expressions that match various emotional states.

Social emotional learning 2– This comprehensive resource on social emotional learning supports development of emotional intelligence by offering resources and information on how children develop emotional skills and ways to support that development.

Spring matching emotions slide deck game– This Spring themed emotions activity supports the development of emotional skills by offering practice and matching of facial expressions.

Self-Management Activities for Kids

To develop self-management skills you need to move beyond identifying emotions and figure out strategies that will help to regulate these emotions and subsequent behaviours. 

This Zones of regulation toolbox offers a collection of activities and resources designed to promote self-regulation and self-management skills for kids.

Breath control is an important skill for kids to achieve in developing and refining self-management skills.

Deep breathing exercise cards are a powerful tool to use in building and developing self-management skills for kids. Print off these cards and use them over and over again to meet the interests and needs of a whole classroom or clinic of children.

Proprioception activities are heavy work movement activities that provide children with a sense of awareness when it comes to how their body moves through space or in a given situation.

Social Awareness Activities

To develop social awareness you will need to understand other people’s emotions effectively. These hands-on social awareness activities are strategies that children can use to develop emotional intelligence in social situations.

Empathy for others- Developing empathy requires practice and awareness. This Quick as cricket activity for Empathy helps children to understand the perspectives of others through a classic children’s book. The hands-on accompaniment activity gives kids a chance to practice their empathy skills and put them to work in social situations or through the social interaction with others.

Try these friendship activities to work on specific skills in developing social awareness, relationships skills, and interpersonal skills in children.

Through books, families can look at the pictures and come back to specific concepts again and again. And, adding hands-on, multi-sensory play experiences brings those concepts home.

In the resource, Exploring Books Through Play, you’ll do just that.

This digital, E-BOOK is an amazing resource for anyone helping kids learn about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and friendship. In Exploring Books through Play, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books. Each book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. Help kids understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play.

Click here to get your copy of Exploring Books Through Play.

Relationship Management Activities

To develop relationship management skills you will need to know how to develop and maintain good relationships with other people. These relationship management activities are strategies to work on emotional intelligence during interactions and relationships with others. 

These Social skills interventions are therapy activities designed to promote relationships with others through hands-on activities that give kids practice to support relationship skills with others.

This resource on Executive functioning in school is helpful in addressing relationships with peers, mentors, and teachers.

To work on emotional development requires many executive functioning skills, including impulse control, working memory, mindset, attention, planning, self-talk, inhibition, and more. To address these skills in kids, using a fun, hands-on approach to talking about these skills through lists, drawing, and goal-setting is key. You’ll find the exact tools to address these needs in the printable, Impulse Control Journal.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

Contributor to The OT Toolbox: Janet Potterton is an occupational therapist working predominantly in school-based settings and I love, love, love my job. I have two children (if you don’t count my husband!), two dogs, one cat, two guinea pigs and one fish. When I am not with my family or at work I try to spend time in nature. The beach is my happy place.

Social Skills Checklist

social skills checklist

Everyday, social skills are a part of every interaction we have with other people. Today, I have a social skills checklist that can be used to identify areas of difficulty and areas of successes related to social interactions, social emotional development, and a way to identify specific areas that impact in social emotional learning. This list of social skills for children can be helpful in breaking down social learning and social skill development.

Social skills checklist for kids development from preschool through adulthood.

Social Skills Checklist

Before we get to the social skills checklist, let’s break down social skills into the components.

This social skills checklist breaks down social abilities and social development in kids.

Included in this checklist are the individual components of social emotional skill areas, or social abilities:

  • Conversational Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Emotional Skills
  • Social Play
  • Emotional Development
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Peer Interactions
  • Self-Awareness Skills
  • Self-Confidence

You’ll see each of these social and emotional skills areas listed below with a checklist of each area related to social emotional learning. Use this list of social skills to support social emotional development in children.

How to Use a Social Skills Checklist

When we can identify specific aspects of our behavior and actions related to what’s happening around us, we can identify specific thoughts feelings, reactions and responses that impact our interaction in the environment and with others.

Having an awareness of each aspect of social and behavioral responses and internal thinking is a helpful place to start when it comes to promoting social emotional development. Then, we can know where to start by identifying specific areas of need in kids.

By helping individuals identify aspects of social skills, observing social emotional skills in others, identifying expected and unexpected behaviors, we can help the kids we serve to notice and the impact they have on others’ thoughts, emotions, reactions and responses.

By having individuals observe their own behavior, they can recognize how it impacts others, how it impacts participation in functional tasks in various environments, and they can make the connection between emotions, regulation, social skills, and functioning.

A Note About this Social Skills List

Remember that all children develop differently, and when it comes to social emotional learning, there is a close compont of executive functioning. Executive functioning skills down’t fully develop until adulthood. And so, social skill development can occur through adulthood as well.

This list of social skills is meant to be comprehensive. Not all aspects of social skills will be achieved and steps can be skipped or developed in various orders based on experiences. In general, the lists are written in a developmental order, but the segments of social skills (Conversational skills, Interpersonal skills, Emotional Skills, Social Play, Emotional Regulation, Peer Interactions, Self-Awareness skill, and Self-Confidence) can all be developing and occurring at once. These social abilities are all happening at once and are fluid in development.

Use this social skills checklist to identify areas of development, including self and social awareness in one-on-one tasks, peer tasks to function, learn, and play.

conversational Skills

Conversational skills occur throughout almost all functional tasks and environments. From the home, to school, to the community, conversational skills are needed for social interactions all day long.

  • Participates in conversation (verbal and/or non-verbal)
  • Responds to yes/no questions
  • Answers questions
  • Initiate conversation when it is appropriate to do so
  • Initiates conversation around specific topic
  • Adds to a conversation around a specific topic
  • Asks questions around a specific topic
  • Responds to questions around a specific topic without getting off track
  • Makes a variety of comments, related to the topic, without getting off track
  • Ends conversations appropriately
  • Waits to interject in a conversation
  • Maintains appropriate proximity to conversation partner
  • Recognizes the facial expressions of others
  • Recognizes the nonverbal cues, or “body language” of others
  • Requests assistance from others when needed
  • Understands the jokes of others
  • Maintains eye contact during conversations (able or unable)
  • Maintains an appropriate distance when interacting with peers
  • Speaks at an appropriate volume in conversations
  • Speaks at an appropriate volume on virtual/digital conversations online or via a device
  • Considers the perspective of others
  • Notices when others may be struggling
  • Offers assistance to others
  • Verbally expresses their feelings
  • Responds to greetings expressed by others
  • Joins a conversation with two or more people without interrupting
  • Maintains back and forth conversation
  • Initiates greetings to others
  • Provides compliments to others
  • Introduces self to others
  • Politely asks others to move out of their way
  • Acknowledges the Compliments Directed at Him/Her by Others
  • Allows Peers to Join Him/Her in Activities
  • Responds to the Invitations of Peers to Join Them in Activities
  • Allows Others to Assist Him/Her With Tasks
  • Responds to Questions Directed at Him/Her by Others
  • Experiences Positive Peer Interactions
  • Compromises During Disagreements With Others
  • Responds Slowly in Conversations
  • Changes the Topic of Conversation to Fit Self-Interests
  • Misinterprets the Intentions of Others
  • Makes Inappropriate Comments
  • Engages in Solitary Interests and Hobbies
  • Ends Conversations Abruptly
  • Fails to Read Cues to Terminate Conversations
  • Exhibits Fear or Anxiety
  • Regarding Social Interactions
  • Experiences Negative Peer Interactions
  • Engages in Socially Inappropriate Behaviors
  • Exhibits Poor Timing With His/Her Social Initiations
  • Is Manipulated by Peers Engages in Solitary Activities in the Presence of Peers
  • Conversational skills online in email or text messages
  • Conversational skills during times of stress such as tests, games, etc.

Interpersonal skills

Part of interpersonal skills is the self awareness and social awareness involved in peer interactions. Interpersonal skills refers to interacting with others in social situations, classrooms, homes, and the community. Also involved is interpersonal skills on a digital manner, which is a new ballgame for many adults who are raising children in this digital era.

Types of Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills can be broken into several areas:

  1. Listening
  2. Collaboration
  3. Empathy
  4. Problem solving
  5. Conflict resolution
  6. Constructive feedback
  7. Diplomacy

Interpersonal skills enable us to interact with others. These social skill checklist includes aspects of interpersonal skills.

  • Introduces him/herself to someone new
  • Introduces people to each other
  • Makes eye contact (if able/willing)
  • Uses manners
  • Problem Solving related to others in a specific situation
  • Referring back to previous situations where they needed to use problem solving (working memory)
  • Seeks help from peers in a one-on-one setting
  • Seeks help from peers in a group setting
  • Seeks help from adult
  • Accepts consequences
  • Plays a game successfully
  • Wins a game with appropriate behavior
  • Wins a game with appropriate conversation to others
  • Loses a game with appropriate behavior
  • Loses a game with appropriate conversation to others
  • Responds to constructive criticism
  • Shows self-confidence in group situations
  • Shows self-confidence in one-on-one situations
  • Shares with others (when appropriate)
  • Shows ability to compromise
  • Shows ability to cooperate on a problem
  • Shows ability to cooperate on a disagreement
  • Listens to others
  • Takes turns
  • Uses personal space
  • Respects the personal space of others
  • Follows directions in a given situation
  • Works with others to follow directions as a group (walking on one side of the hallway)
  • Identifies/defines problems
  • Generates solutions to problems
  • Carries out solutions by negotiating or compromising
  • Understands impact his/her behavior has on peers
  • Interprets body language in others
  • Interprets or recognizes body language in self
  • Clearly communicates
  • Offers constructive feedback to others in a one-on-one basis
  • Offers constructive feedback to others in a group setting
  • Responds to constructive feedback from others in a one-on-one setting
  • Responds to constructive feedback from others in a group setting
  • Offers input to problem solve
  • Accepts input from others to problem solve
  • Uses given information to problem solve with flexibility

Emotions and Social Skills

  • Understanding emotions in general
  • Identifies emotions in others
  • Identifies emotions in self
  • Able to identify a potential reason for emotional displays in others
  • Able to identify a potential reason for emotional displays in self
  • Justifies emotions once identified
  • Able to regulate emotions with appropriate responses
  • Displays empathy towards others
  • Displays a variety of emotions
  • Identifies likes and dislikes
  • Demonstrates affection and empathy toward peers
  • Refrains from aggressive behaviors toward peers
  • Refrains from aggressive behaviors or self-talk toward self
  • Identify emotional state during a conversation or situation
  • Uses different tones of voice to convey messages
  • Compliments others
  • Appropriately receives compliments
  • Asks for a favor appropriately
  • Apologizes independently
  • Says thank you
  • Gives compliments to peers
  • Gives compliments to adults
  • Flexibility
  • Accepts making mistakes without becoming upset/angry
  • Accepts consequences of his/her behavior
  • Accepts unexpected changes
  • Continues to try when something is difficult
  • Ignores others or situations when it is desirable to do so
  • Conversational Skills
  • Problem Solving
  • Compliments
  • Flexibility


Beginning Play Behaviors

  • Maintain proximity to peers within 1 foot
  • Observe peers in play vicinity within 3 feet
  • Parallel play near peers using the same or similar materials (Playing alongside a peer with own toys or games)
  • Imitate peer (physical or verbal)
  • Take turns during simple games (e.g., rolling ball back and forth)

Intermediate Play Behaviors

  • Play associatively with other children
  • Shares toys during play
  • Changes play with flexibility
  • Respond to interactions from peers such as accepting a toy from a peer;
  • Answers questions during play
  • Return and initiate greetings with peers (e.g., wave or say “hello”).
  • Know acceptable ways of joining in an activity with others (e.g., offering a toy to a peer or observe play and ask to join in).
  • Invite known peers to play
  • Take turns during structured games/activities (social games or board games)
  • Ask peers for toys, food, and materials

Advanced Play Behavior

  • Play cooperatively with peers
  • Game play with rule following
  • Game play with problem solving when rules are broken
  • Make comments about what he/she is playing to peers
  • Organize play by suggesting play plan
  • Plays the role of a leader during peer play
  • Follow another peers play ideas
  • Plays the role of a follower during peer play
  • Turn taking during structured activities
  • Take turns during unstructured activities
  • Invites unknown peers to play (age-appropriate unknown peers in settings such as playgrounds)
  • Give up toys, food and materials to peers
  • Offer toys, food, and materials to peers


Emotional regulation is broken down into several areas when it comes to different social skills. this includes internal self-regulation as well as self-regulation during peer interactions, group interactions, problem solving, and flexibility of emotional regulation. A component to these concepts is working memory.

In these ways emotional regulation is related to executive functioning skills.

  • Understanding emotions
  • Identify likes and dislikes
  • Identify emotions in self
  • Label emotions in self
  • Identify emotions in others
  • Label emotions in others
  • Justify an emotion once identified/labeled
  • Demonstrate affection toward peers
  • Demonstrate empathy toward peers
  • Ability to demonstrate intense fears
  • Uses tone of voice to convey a message

Self Regulation and Social Skills

  • Allow others to comfort him/her if upset or agitated
  • Self regulate when tense or upset (using self-regulation skills independently)
  • Self regulate when energy level is high (using self-regulation skills or strategies)
  • Use acceptable ways to express anger or frustration (e.g., states they are upset or asks to take a break)
  • Deal with being teased in acceptable ways (e.g., ignore, walk away, tell adult)
  • Deals with being left out of group
  • Request a “break” or to be all done when upset
  • Accept not being first at a game or activity
  • Say “no” in an acceptable way to things s/he doesn’t want to do
  • Accept losing at a game without becoming upset/angry
  • Deals with winning appropriately
  • Deals with losing appropriately
  • Accept being told “no” without becoming upset/angry
  • Able to say “I don’t know.”

Flexibility of social interactions

  • Accept making mistakes without becoming upset/angry
  • Accept consequences of his/her behaviors without becoming upset/angry
  • Ignore others or situations when it is desirable to do so
  • Accept unexpected changes
  • Accept changes in routine
  • Continue to try when something is difficult

Problem Solving in social situations

  • Claim and defend possessions.
  • Identify/define problems.
  • Generate solutions using working memory or with innovative thought generation
  • Carry out solutions by negotiating or compromising
  • Seek assistance from adults
  • Seek assistance from peers
  • Give assistance to peers
  • Identify when assistance is needed for self
  • Identify when assistance is needed by others

Self-Regulation and Group Interactions

  • Participate in group interactions
  • Respond/participate when one other child is present.
  • Respond/participate when more than one other child is present.
  • Respond/participate in a group of children WITHOUT adult supervision
  • Respond/participate in a group of children WITH adult supervision
  • Use appropriate attention seeking behaviors (e.g., calling name, tapping
  • shoulder).
  • Follows the rules of a group
  • Remain with group during group tasks
  • Follow the group routine
  • Follow directions during group settings
  • Make transition to next activity when directed
  • Accept interruptions/unexpected change
  • Take turns with others in group settings
  • Work collectively as a group to solve a problem
  • Interact with group members
  • Refrain from breaking off into smaller groups
  • Refrain from gossip or turning other group members against one another

Peer Interactions

  • Invites peers to join them in activities
  • Joins peers in activities
  • Takes turns during games or activities
  • Takes turns in situations such as waiting in line, using the bathroom etc.
  • Maintains personal hygiene
  • Interacts with peers during unstructured activities
  • Interacts with peers during structured activities
  • Asks questions about others
  • Asks questions to to continue a conversation
  • Engages in one-on-one interactions with peers
  • Interacts in groups of peers
  • Maintains the “give-and-take” of conversations
  • Expresses sympathy for others
  • Expresses empathy for others in conversation
  • Expresses empathy for others in action
  • Acknowledges the interests of others
  • Limits negative conversations about others
  • Responds to negative conversations about others

Self-Awareness Skills

Self-awareness is an important part of social emotional learning and development of social skills. Self-awareness refers to the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values. This ability to be self-aware influences how an individual responds to situations. Self-awareness also impacts behaviors.

Self-awareness is greatly related to emotional regulation, the limbic system, and fight/flight/freeze concepts.

Self-awareness involves body awareness, confidence, an awareness of interests, strengths, and weaknesses in given tasks.

Self-awareness skills include:

  • Identifying personal strengths
  • Identifying personal weaknesses
  • Identifying one’s emotions
  • Identifying and developing interests, likes, and dislikes
  • Demonstrating an awareness of feelings and values
  • Having self-confidence
  • Understanding the concept of over-confidence
  • Being able to differentiate between abilities and inabilities
  • Examining prejudices and biases
  • Experiencing self-efficacy
  • Having a growth mindset

Social Confidence

It’s through the development of self-awareness skills that social confidence forms. When we are able to be aware of ourselves and build in the areas listed above, confidences in our abilities to react, respond, and use regulation strategies follow. This is one aspect of social confidence.

Another aspect of social confidence refers to develop self-esteem and an ability to interact with others in a variety of situations. This can happen in established friendships, new friendships, established and known settings, and new or novel settings.

Social confidence refers to these aspects of social skills:

  • Having confidence in our emotional response
  • Being yourself
  • Participating in new settings
  • Participating in new activities
  • Reaching out to others who the child doesn’t know
  • Participating in activities even through there is a chance of failure
  • Trying again after failure
  • Learning new things
  • Being supportive to others
  • Not worrying about what others think of one’s actions
  • Not worrying about what others may think of one’s behaviors

How to promote Social Skills in Kids

Take a look at the lists of specific social skills in this checklist. It is hard to think of any daily task that doesn’t require some aspect of social skill development. From interacting with family, the community, peers, there are tasks occurring all day long that require social skills.

Use this social emotional learning worksheet to work on identifying emotions and to drive social skill development.

Use these social development toys to promote social skill progression.

For more ways to pinpoint areas of development in kids, try the Impulse Control Journal. This comprehensive resource outlines daily interactions and allows children to identify how they’ve behaved or responded to situations.

Children can identify aspects of social situations that have worked well, and aspects that they can improve upon.

The Impulse Control Journal has activities and tools to support and develop mindset, habits, goals, interactions, working memory, and much more.

Click here to get your copy of this resource today.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

Another fantastic resource that can help develop social and emotional skills is the activity book, Exploring Books Through Play.

This digital E-BOOK is an amazing resource for anyone helping kids learn about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and friendship. In Exploring Books through Play, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books. Each book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. Help kids understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play.

The book Exploring Books Through Play, has 50 different activities based on popular children’s books. Each book is used for 5 different activities that cover a variety of areas: sensory play, crafts, gross motor activities, fine motor activities, handwriting, scissor skills, and so much more.

This book is designed to address emotional regulation and connecting with kids.

social emotional activities for kids


We have handpicked these easy and hands-on activities to help kids develop essential social emotional learning skills.

As classroom curriculum becomes more focused on academics, social and emotional development can get lost in the shuffle. This book focuses on abstract concepts of friendship, acceptance and empathy. By using children’s books that foster understanding of these concepts through pictures and stories, we can help children understand and see these emotions in action. What if you could use books and interactive activities to teach friendship? What if you could read a book that centers on accepting differences and create or make an activity or craft that helps children see acceptance in action. What if you could explore emotions through story and interactive play? In this book, you will find books that cover abstract concepts and use play to build social and developmental skills.  The 10 books covered include:

  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee
  • Boy + Bot
  • Little Blue and Little Yellow
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story
  • Chrysanthemum
  • The Day the Crayons Quit
  • Leonardo the Terrible Monster
  • The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
  • Whoever You Are and Penguin and Pinecone

Want to help kids learn more about complex concepts such emotions, empathy, compassion, and differences?

Creative book activities that help kids develop fine motor skills and gross motor skills, while exploring books.

Exploring Books Through Play uses children’s literature as a theme to engage in fun, hands-on activities that help children and adults delve deeper into the characters and lessons, bringing the stories to life and falling further in love with literature. Read a story and then bring the characters to life while learning and building skills. Each story offers unique activities designed around central themes of friendship, empathy, and compassion.

Each chapter includes 5 activities for each of the 10 children’s books. The activities are perfect for children ages 3-8, can be used in small groups or as a whole class, and are easily adapted to a home or classroom setting.

Click here to get the Exploring Books Through Play resource.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Friendship Activities

friendship activities

Today, we are covering friendship activities. These are friendship crafts and lessons that support the social emotional skill development of interacting with others by creating close relationships. Friendship activities are great for therapy interventions and as a supplement to social emotional skills. Friendship activities involve learning and using empathy, and activities to support friendship skills are a great way to develop these learned skills.

These friendship activities support the social emotional skill development of interacting with others by creating close relationships. Friendship activities are great for therapy interventions and as a supplement to social emotional skills. Friendship activities involve learning and using empathy, and activities to support friendship skills are a great way to develop these learned skills.

I am excited to share a collection of friendship activities designed to help children establish and build friendships. How do you teach friendship? This can be an abstract concept for kids, but by using friendship skills activities like games to teach social skills, friendship crafts, friendship recipes, and printables about friendship, we can teach children skills like empathy, perseverance, sharing, cooperation, and other essential components of friendship.

Be sure grab these friendship activities for teletherapy:

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.

Personal Space Friendship Skills Slide Deck– 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.

Friendship activities to help kids develop social skills for friendship skills. Includes friendship recipes, friendship crafts, social stories information, and more.

Friendship Activities

Are you a good friend? Do you make a good friend? Do you have good friends? All of these are such important questions for children who are learning each day the necessary social skills that build lasting friendships. Strong social skills are an important piece of everyday life and the earlier this is recognized, the better social growth and development a child will experience. 

Strong social skills are an important piece of everyday life and the earlier this is recognized, the better social growth and development a child will experience.

Demonstrating and recognizing the friendship qualities that makes a good friend and keeps friendships strong is an important skill to have early on in childhood. Children will develop friendships with others from different backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles, and abilities.

Adults have a responsibility to teach children about kindness and friendship to all. Learning this along with how a good friend acts and behaves and what is the right and wrong way to treat a friend is essential for strong social skill development.

Friendship activities can help children begin to explore the friendship qualities and behaviors that are important to learn how to be a good friend, if they make a good friend, and recognize do they have a good friend.

Read on for some creative ways to engage children in learning friendship skills.

Teaching Friendship Skills to Kids

There are many wonderful activities that can be used to help children develop friendship skills. What are some of the specific skills that are needed for building and maintaining friendships?

  • Empathy
  • Acceptance
  • Sharing
  • Listening
  • Asking questions/being interested
  • Helping others
  • Responding to social situations
  • Communicating
  • Turn-taking
  • Cooperating
  • Solving problems
  • Perseverance
  • Being supportive
  • Trustworthiness

Some of these concepts are very abstract.

Using concrete examples, modeling, social stories, and activities that provide examples of these social skills can be powerful.

One way that I’ve loved to help children with social skill development in hands-on, and memorable ways is through play. To bring real-life visual examples that provide an opportunity for conversation and discussion is to use children’s books to inspire exploration of friendship skill development. Here are children’s books and activities that develop friendship skills.

Use the books to inspire discussion and play-based exploration of concepts such as empathy, acceptance, and differences.

Another way to address abstract concepts is through play. Use everyday toys to explore and develop turn-taking, communication, sharing, and problem solving.

Or, address turn-taking with blocks as kids communicate and practice taking turns.

Explore differences with this friendship sensory bottle.

These other friendship activities will give children the time to play and read to help them build a better understanding of good friendship behaviors and how to demonstrate them. Let’s take a look…

Sensory Friendship Activity

Friendship Countdown Chain

Friendship Ice Cream Cone Throw

Friendship Recipe

Food is always a fun way for children to learn!  Using food is a great way to explore different friendship characteristics while making a tasty friendship treat to eat!

These recipes include food items like cereal, fruit, chocolate, and nuts. Be sure to always check for food allergies and especially peanut or nut allergies, if you include these in your treats. 

Freight Train Activity – This mesmerizing book teaches basic concepts of shapes and colors, but can be expanded to discuss differences, awareness of others.

Friendship Treat Recipe

Friendship Snack Mix

Friendship Snack Mix

Friendship Fruit Salad

Friendship Games

Games are another fun way for children to learn important skills like sharing, empathy, making friends, kindness, differences, and more.  What child doesn’t like games? 

Engage children in these fun games that include a version of I Spy with monsters, bean bag activities played in a group while in a line or a circle, tossing of a yarn ball to say why someone makes a good friend, and activity ideas in a cooperation blog post that includes elements of friendship.

What Makes a Friend? Monster Game

Core Strengthening Friendship Activity

Friendship Yarn Game

Cooperation: 12 Group Activities for Kids

Friendship Crafts

Friendship activities such as those that support the development of social emotional skills through crafts are always a hit. In occupational therapy, crafts are a creative way for children develop motor skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation, but they are also a fantastic way for kids to express themselves, share and create with others, and develop their skills.

These friendship crafts incorporate all of these elements while focusing on friendship to include spreading kindness, sharing, turn taking, and giving.

Empathy Activity– Use beads and a children’s book to explore empathy.

Super Friend Capes made with tee shirts.

Friendship Rocks Fingerprint Hearts made with rocks and fingerprints.

Friendship Flowers made with construction paper.

Foam Heart Friendship Necklaces made with foam hearts, beads, and yarn.

Beaded Friendship Bracelets made with beads and stretchy cords.

Friendship High Fives made with handprints and construction paper.

Secret Friendship Messages made with white crayons and revealed with watercolor paints.

Friendship Printables

In the classroom, therapy room, and hallway are great places to display friendship posters that show the importance of friendship and help create a positive classroom and school community. They show how to be a good friend and how not to be a good friend as well as help children to gain an understanding of good friendship qualities.

Friendship Posters

How to Be a Friend Posters

Friends Play Dough Printable

Friendship social stories

Social stories, or printable, hand-held stories that describe situations can give kids a concrete plan for everyday tasks. Using social stories to explain social situations is a great way to help kids with abstract concepts.

There are many nice templates out there that cover aspects of friendship, but for the most part, a social story should be individualized for each child.

This article on Autism and Friendship Skills includes important research on this topic to explore, but when it comes to using online social stories, they may not always be appropriate. Writing a social story for your child will be far more effective when you use the images, vocabulary, and terms that make sense to YOUR child or client, and the specific situations that are appropriate to your individual child or client.

Friendship Activities with Books

Mentioned briefly above, using books to help kids explore friendship is an incredibly rewarding way to pair friendship activities with the world of books.

Parents can cozy up with a child under a cozy blanket, for a calming and regulating experience of reading books togeter. Then, there is the oppourtunity to communicate about the characters, their friendships, and their conflicts, and their social situations that they had to navigate.

Through books, families can look at the pictures and come back to specific concepts again and again. And, adding hands-on, multi-sensory play experiences brings those concepts home.

In the resource, Exploring Books Through Play, you’ll do just that.

This digital, E-BOOK is an amazing resource for anyone helping kids learn about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and friendship. In Exploring Books through Play, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books. Each book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. Help kids understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play.

Click here to get your copy of Exploring Books Through Play.

social emotional activities for kids
Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Fun Baseball Matching Game

baseball matching game

This Baseball matching game is another free slide deck to use in digital or face to face therapy sessions while working on a variety of occupational therapy skill areas. It’s a fun way to foster visual perceptual skills and social emotional learning through a baseball theme!

Baseball matching game.

Today we have another social emotional resource for teaching emotions and showing children how to match facial expressions to meaning of emotions this baseball emotions game uses the spot it matching strategies to work on social emotional development as well as visual perceptual skills kids can.

This is a free therapy slide deck, so it can be used in teletherapy services or virtual sessions. However, now that more schools are moving to a face to face setting in the fall, this resource is still a great way to outline therapy sessions. Use the slides as activities with a baseball theme in therapy.

Kids can work on social emotional development skills that they need for communication playing with others and social participation by using the game as a tool for social emotional learning skills such as naming facial expressions.

Baseball matching Game

This baseball matching activity is great for a baseball theme or for kids that love all things sports and baseball.

On the slides kids will notice baseball gloves and baseball mitts that have different facial expressions.

When they play the game they can begin with the first slides that ask them to name and label emotions.

Kids can type right into the slide deck and name the emotions on different baseballs.

Then, the slide deck includes a matching component. Users can look at each circle on the slide and look for one matching pair. When they find the match, they can move the baseball bat to cover the matching baseballs.

Use this game to work on visual perceptual skills such as:

  • Visual discrimination
  • Form constancy
  • Visual attention
  • Visual memory
  • Visual scanning skills

These visual perceptual and visual motor skills are needed for hand writing and copying materials from a written source such as the chalkboard or dry race board.

If you were looking for baseball themed activities for therapy this slide deck is a great resource.

Access this slide deck in by entering your email into the form below and you can receive a free printable PDF which will lead you to the slide deck. This is a great activity for teletherapy or for using to facilitate face-to-face therapy sessions with children who love all things baseball or sports.

Free Baseball Matching Game Slide Deck

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    Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

    Emotions Game (Frog Theme Slide Deck)

    emotions game frog theme spot it activity

    Teaching emotions is an important part of social emotional development. That’s why this emotions game (with a cute frog theme) is so much fun, but also a great way to help kids learn to identify emotions, match up emotions by facial expression, and label different feelings. It’s just one of the many free slides here on the site, and one you’ll want to add to your toolbox.

    Emotions game with a frog theme. This free therapy slide deck is a fun social emotional learning game for kids.

    Emotions Game

    This emotions game is modeled after several other similar emotions games we have here on the site. You can use all of these in sequence or to fit with different themes in therapy or in the classroom or home. Each emotions game includes a “spot it” type of matching game that allows kids to feel challenged, but also builds essential skills.

    These other emotions games might fit with some of your themes you have planned:

    The emotions games in these activities and in the one shown below, children can label different facial expressions and give a name to the visual emotions. The important thing here is to note that there is no right answer. Some children might have different names for emotions or the feelings that they experience.

    In the frog theme slide deck, there are different facial expressions for each frog’s face. Kids can type right into the slide deck and add a label for those expressions. You can extend this activity in several ways:

    1. Ask kids to mimic the visual facial expression that they see on each frog’s face.
    2. Ask the user to identify a time that they have experienced that particular emotion.
    3. Ask the user to tell about a time that they have seen other’s experiencing that emotion. You can talk about what might lead up to another person experiencing a particular feeling or emotion. This task helps to build empathy for others.
    4. Ask the child to identify ways to reach out to others when they might be feeling particular emotions. How can they help others who are feeling sad or angry? How would they like others to reach out to them when they themselves are feeling a particular feeling?
    5. Ask the child to specify ways that they respond to particular emotions. What do they do when they feel upset, silly, or frustrated?

    The next part of the slide deck includes matching activities in a “spot it” type of emotions game. The slide decks are interactive, meaning that kids can move the lily pads to cover the matching emotion on each slide.

    Each slide has only one matching facial expression, and the player can look at each image and try to find the matching expression.

    Social Emotional Learning Game

    The frog theme activity is a social emotional learning game that kids can use to build awareness and strategies, too.

    After playing the emotions matching on the slide, then focus more on building awareness of emotions and social development. After the child finds the match, they can identify the expression that is depicted on that frog’s face. T

    hen, go back to what was covered in the beginning with some of the same questions: how do they think that frog feels? When did they experience that expression? If they felt angry (or frustrated, silly, sad, etc.) in school when they need to complete an assignment? How would they feel if they were playing a game and experienced feelings of frustration?

    All of these questions allow the child to think in situational experiences so they can be ready to function. Situational awareness, empathy of others, and social emotional development are all learned skills, and having experience, the words to use, and tools in their back pocket will allow them to function in future tasks or situations.

    After you are done playing, just go to the slide deck edit history and click “reset slides” to revert them to their original set-up. You can then play again…just click the lily pads and drag them to cover each matching frog face, and work on labelling emotions again and again!

    Free emotions game slide deck

    This free emotions game slide deck goes perfectly with this frog writing activity, and our cute frog crafts. Use all together for frog activities that develop skills.

    To add this free emotions game to your therapy toolbox, enter your email address into the form below. You’ll receive a printable that you can use in therapy, the home, or the classroom.

    NOTE- Email addresses on a school or work server may block the email delivering your file. Consider using a personal email address for better deliverability.

    Free Emotions Game (Frog Theme) Slide Deck

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      Add the Frogs and Toads Motor Skills Mini-Pack to this activity and build stronger, more refined motor skills in children. The mini pack includes:

      • Fine Motor Mazes
      • Fine motor paths
      • A-Z frog letters for word building
      • “Froggy Says” gross motor game
      • 1-20 Number Building Mats
      • Play Dough Mat
      • Handwriting Pages
      • I Spy page
      • Gross motor directionality sheets

      Done for you motor skills activities and FUN frog and toad themes combine in the Frogs and Toads Motor Skills Mini-Pack. Work on grasp, hand strength, eye-hand coordination, handwriting, scissor skills, heavy work, gross motor skills, coordination, and all things fine and gross motor skills in this 43 page printable packet.

      frog and toad activities motor skills packet

      Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to