Category: Social Emotional

April 25, 2023 by admin 0 Comments

Big Heart Books for National Library Week

Social and emotional learning is essential for children’s overall well-being and success in life. One of the best ways to foster these skills is through reading.

This week, in honor of National Library Week, we’re suggesting a list of children’s books that can help parents, caregivers, and educators grow kids’ big hearts — helping them understand feelings; identity and belonging; friendship; empathy; and more. 

10 Big Hearted Books to Grow Big Hearted Kids

1. “The Feelings Book” by Todd Parr

This book is a great introduction to emotions for young children. It covers a range of feelings, from happy and sad to mad and scared, and helps children understand that it’s okay to have different emotions. The book also includes tips for dealing with feelings and encourages children to talk to trusted adults about their emotions.

2. “All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

“All Are Welcome” is a picture book that celebrates diversity and inclusivity. It encourages children to embrace differences and shows how everyone is welcome in a community. This book is great for developing a sense of belonging and understanding that everyone is different and unique in their own way.

3. “The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig

“The Invisible Boy” is a story about a boy who feels invisible at school. He’s overlooked by his peers and teachers, but he makes a friend who sees him and includes him in their activities. This book is excellent for teaching children empathy and the importance of inclusivity and kindness.

4. “The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi

“The Name Jar” is a story about a young girl who moves to America and is embarrassed by her Korean name. She decides to choose a new name but changes her mind when her classmates help her understand the importance of her name and identity. This book is excellent for teaching children about identity and acceptance of themselves and others.

5. “I Walk With Vanessa” by Kerascoët 

“I Walk with Vanessa” is a wordless picture book about a young girl who helps a new student who is being bullied. The book shows the power of kindness and empathy and how one person can make a difference. This book is great for teaching children about empathy and standing up for what’s right.

6. “I Am Enough” by Grace Byers

“I Am Enough” is a beautiful book that celebrates self-love and self-acceptance. It encourages children to love and accept themselves just the way they are, and it teaches them that they are enough, no matter what. This book is great for teaching children about self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance.

7. “The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld

“The Rabbit Listened” is a heartwarming book about a young boy who is upset and doesn’t know what to do. Different animals try to help him, but it’s the rabbit who listens quietly and understands what he needs. This book is great for teaching children about empathy, active listening, and the importance of being there for others. It shows how sometimes the best thing we can do is to listen and be present for those who are struggling.

8. “My Mouth is a Volcano!” by Julia Cook

“My Mouth is a Volcano!” is a fun and engaging book that teaches children about self-control and managing their emotions. It shows how sometimes we need to wait for the right time to speak, and it provides strategies for controlling impulses and calming down. This book is great for teaching children about self-regulation and emotional management.

9. “Strictly No Elephants” by Lisa Mantchev

“Strictly No Elephants” is a heartwarming story about a boy and his pet elephant who are excluded from a pet club because of their differences. It’s a great book for teaching children about inclusivity, empathy, and the importance of celebrating differences. It shows how friendships can form despite differences and how everyone can be included in a community.

10. “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst

“The Invisible String” is a beautiful book that teaches children about the power of love and connection. It shows how we are all connected by an invisible string that binds us together, even when we are far apart. This book is great for teaching children about empathy, compassion, and the importance of building strong, positive relationships.

Visit Your Local Library This Week!

When you read the words, notice the pictures, and discuss the ideas with your child, you will help them to learn about the many skills that make up social and emotional learning. 

Visit your local library this week — in honor of National Library Week — and throughout the year to find your family’s next favorite big hearted book! 

March 16, 2023 by Winnie Cheung 0 Comments

Parenting with a Big Heart: Starting Small to Think Big

I Am a 'Detective' to Answer My Kids' Big Questions

When my kiddo turned three years old, his world opened up. He would ask questions like “Where are the dinosaurs?” … “Will I grow taller than the trees?” … “Who is Grandpa’s Grandpa?” 

The world provides a deluge of information and children’s brains are soaking up every single drop. The best part is being by his side to discover answers together. I like to prompt him with questions or challenges in response to his questions, such as: “Have you heard of an asteroid?” or “Let’s go outside and see how tall trees are” or “You’ll need to talk to grandpa about that.” 

We are like detectives, solving all the questions the world has to offer. 

COVID Made Me Question This Approach

When the world shut down because of COVID-19 and some people mistakenly blamed Asian Americans as the cause of the pandemic, I felt our world get smaller.

My instincts were to shield my children from this rhetoric. We made careful choices on where we should go as a family. Even so, on a walk in a nearby park, people shied away from our family. 

My “detective” status felt revoked as I struggled to begin thinking about how to communicate the issues of bias and racism to my kids.

I Researched to Think About How to Respond

With a researcher’s mindset, I dug into reading research, articles, webinars and books (anything!)  I could find on how to talk to kids about race and racism. 

From what I read and heard, I knew that I should talk about racism early because research shows that even three year olds in the U.S. associate racial groups with negative traits. 

I knew that I should affirm their identity and make them proud to be third generation Chinese-Americans. I knew that it would involve life-long conversations. I knew all of these things — and yet, I had no idea where to start. I was nervous to do it wrong.

My Child Led the Way

While reading a book one night, my three-year-old said to me, “That person’s skin is different than mine, but that’s OK!” 

I was surprised because previous attempts to discuss skin color were met with more neutral responses. But there he was, starting the conversation. I picked up where he left off and we discussed other ways people are both similar and different. 

It felt like a win! 

We’ve since had more conversations and “solved” more questions like “What is melanin?” “Who are some Asian Americans who fought for civil rights?” and learning our own history, finally figuring out who “Grandpa’s grandpa” is and being proud of our own roots. 

There are so many questions ahead of us. 

For us, the concepts are small but the ideas are big. I hope that for parents who want to start the conversation on big topics like race or racism, they can start small, like appreciating each other for what makes us different and the same. 

Visit our interactive guide for parents and caregivers to use with children (about aged 2-6) to discuss identity, similarities and differences, race and racism. It’s here:

March 10, 2023 by admin 0 Comments

Social and Emotional Learning is a Super Power

Happy SEL Day!

SEL Day — a special annual celebration of social and emotional learning — is today! It’s a day for parents, caregivers, educators, and policymakers to promote the importance of helping little kids grow big hearts: What we do here EVERY day at Big Heart World.

To celebrate, we turned to a big-hearted friend — Darryl McDaniels, the legendary American rapper — to learn how SEL is a super power. He knows from his own lived experience the importance of social and emotional learning, and he has written a children’s book, “Darryl’s Dream,” to inspire today’s kids to embrace who they are and follow their dreams. 

4 Reasons SEL is a Super Power, According to Darryl "DMC" McDaniels
1. It's Education.

When CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) was founded nearly three decades ago, it coined the phrase “social and emotional learning” and asked the big question: What if education supported the social, emotional, and academic development of all children?

Since then, the movement has grown, with parents and educators across the country (and around the world) now recognizing that SEL is an integral part of children’s education. 

Here at Big Heart World, we define SEL as: 

  • Learning About Me — Awareness of self: identity & belonging, feelings and self-regulation
  • Learning About You — Awareness of others: empathy, appreciation of diversity
  • Learning About Us — Relationships with others: interpersonal strategies
2. It's Communication.

SEL starts the day a baby is born, when he or she is held by a trusted parent or caregiver. This back-and-forth between parent and child grows over time as children learn about who they are (their identity), how they fit into the world (belonging), and how to identify and describe all of the feelings that come with being human. These are the fundamental building blocks of SEL, which enable people to understand themselves and start to communicate with others. 

3. It's Participation.

SEL equips us to work with others. It’s not just about understanding and managing our own feelings. It’s about empathy — thinking about the experiences and feelings of other people — and listening to them so that we are able to truly collaborate with them. SEL gets kids ready to work together on projects, play together on teams, invent and discover. We can’t do it alone, we can only do it together — which is possible because of SEL. 

4. It's Elevation!

Through SEL, people learn how to dream BIG and work actively and collaboratively to make the world a better place — to stand up for others and to become global citizens. Only when we empathize with others, and celebrate the differences that surround us can we look across borders, identify critical challenges, and collaborate with others to solve problems. 

Learn More about SEL from DMC

Earlier this year, Big Heart World collaborated with The 74 to produce a special event about SEL, also featuring Darryl McDaniels. To learn more from him — and a panel of experts — about the power of SEL, please watch the full event, available online

September 1, 2022 by admin 0 Comments

Build a Kinder World With Your Child!

This month, Big Heart World is joining Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation’s #BeKind21 — a movement that asks all of us to do something kind for the first 21 days in September to flex our kindness muscles and build a culture of kindness and compassion.

Everyone — big and small — can be kind. And kindness matters! Being kind helps others and the Earth — and it helps YOU. Research shows when you do kind things for others, you get happier and healthier! 

Here’s a calendar with ideas to inspire you and your family to spread kindness this month:

Download the calendar and print it out for your family!

This is our second year being part of this important kindness campaign.

We hope our calendar inspires you and your little one, and we can’t wait to hear how you make the world a kinder, braver place together this month!

Please share with the hashtag #BeKind21 with us on Facebook or Instagram!

And please sign up and take the the #BeKind21 pledge yourself:

Born This Way Foundation launched #BeKind21 in 2018 to invite participants to practice an act of kindness for themselves and others each day from September 1st to September 21st to build kinder, connected communities that foster mental wellness. 

July 1, 2022 by Julia Levy 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: Big Heart Summer

Some families give balloons on the last day of school; in my family, we give binders. Starting a few years ago, on the last day of school, we started a family tradition of giving our kids a binder on the last day of school, full of summer challenges — activities that will motivate them to exercise their brains, hearts, and bodies through the hot summer months. 

From the beginning, my kids’ summer challenges included social and emotional challenges — fun activities that grow their hearts. Their heart activities included:  

  • Write 3 letters to friends or family
  • Make 3 new friends
  • Do 5 little things and 1 big thing to help other people and the planet
  • FaceTime or Zoom with 5 friends who are far away
  • Cook & taste foods from 5 different countries
  • Write 3 poems or songs expressing your feelings and ideas 

Working through a binder full of challenges might not be every kid’s cup of tea — but my kids love paging through their binders and looking for a new adventure, experiment, or project. They love checking things off the list that they’ve accomplished. And as a parent, I love it when they’re learning, trying new things, and growing their whole selves. 

What If Summer '22 Was a Big Heart Summer?

As we jumped into the summer of 2022, I started to wonder: What if we made this a Big Heart Summer for ALL of us and our little ones? Most parents today say that their top concern is making sure children are developing social and emotional skills — understanding themselves and others, being able to manage emotions, interacting with others, making friends, etc. What if our “summer challenges” this year were focused on heart: finding creative ways to grow big hearted kids and practice those all important skills that set us up for success in the world? 

This was how Big Heart Summer was born. It’s a creative workbook that families or caregivers can use with children this summer to spark fun, summertime learning, an exploration with our hearts that will help us use this time to understand ourselves and others just a little bit better. 

If you want, you can print this out and go through, page by page. More likely, you’ll want to pick the pages that speak to you — or adapt the ideas to your child’s needs and passions. Remember: Big Heart Summer should be fun, creative, and inspiring; it’s not homework!

In my family, this booklet is an instant hit. My youngest already made a postcard for his grandma — we just need to take it to the post office. My oldest is planning out a series of lemonade stands to raise money to help a friend who is sick. 

I hope that this can help you to grow YOUR littles’ big hearts this summer. Please share your experiences — or other great ideas you have to inspire families. 

May 20, 2022 by Divya Chhabra 0 Comments

How Social and Emotional Learning Can Promote Children’s Health and Wellbeing

Last year, I worked with a six-year-old child struggling to pay attention in school and having difficulty making friends. Like many kids across the United States and the world, he had been in and out of school and had only inconsistently interacted with peers because of the pandemic. The inconsistency of his life and school experience was making him feel sad, lonely, and insecure. One bit of consistency in this child’s chaos was our weekly in person (masked!) visit. Each week in therapy, we played, wrote stories, and drew pictures together.

This is a small story, but it is important: Through our regular visits, this child learned how to express himself in healthy ways, how to ask for help, and how to cope with challenging situations. This very child who was having extreme difficulty interacting with others recently showed me a picture of him smiling next to his group of friends. 

What is social and emotional learning and how is it related to mental health?

The months of playing, writing, and drawing with this little boy as a child psychiatrist were addressing a mental health challenge, but our work together was rooted in the principles of social and emotional learning (SEL). SEL is a longstanding educational concept aimed at teaching children skills such as understanding perspectives, coping with stress, identifying and expressing feelings, and resolving conflicts with other people. 

The goal of social and emotional learning is  preparing our children to live fulfilling lives, maintain strong relationships with others, thrive academically and personally, and contribute to the world around them. 

Incorporating social and emotional learning into children’s early and elementary years can help  kids who may already have mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and trauma, or prevent these challenges from developing them down the line. These skills are the building blocks for children to learn to successfully navigate difficult situations that they often inevitably face, no matter how much we try to protect our children, in the context of a complicated world. (Some children will experience challenges and need mental health support, even if they’re learning social and emotional skills; if you ever have a concern about your child’s mental wellness, please consult with your pediatrician.)

Through decades of research, we know that SEL works: One large-scale study that analyzed more than 200 studies in schools across the nation found that SEL interventions improved students’ attitudes around helping others, helped decrease conflicts in school (including violence), increased students’ ability to identify emotions, and even improved academic achievement. Another study of a program called RULER in over 60 schools found that the SEL program caused students to have less anxiety and depression, better social skills, leadership skills, academic performance, and attention, and even led to less bullying. Another study looking at almost twenty schools in Baltimore followed kids for more than 15 years and found that an SEL program lowered the risk of developing suicidal thoughts by age 19. 

Overall, the research shows that social and emotional learning, starting at a young age when the brain is most malleable, can set children up for success years later, as teenagers and  beyond.

Developing social and emotional skills is always important, but it is especially vital today, as children and caretakers across the country are reporting increased feelings of unhappiness and highlighting the negative impacts of the pandemic on mental health and wellbeing. Several child mental health organizations declared a national mental health emergency for children in 2021. With mental health challenges on the rise for American kids, children need to develop the skills that will help them to adapt and deal with changing and stressful situations. 

Three ways to help children develop strong social and emotional skills

During especially trying and unpredictable times, it can feel scary and daunting to prepare children for problems and challenges that even adults can’t understand or predict. Incorporating social and emotional learning into children’s daily lives can help them develop skills that will support their long-term mental health. Here are three strategies that I have found to be both easily to implement and also effective with young children:

  1. Modeling and practicing identifying feelings: This is one of my favorites! Young ones are still learning to understand what emotions are, what they mean, and how to recognize emotions in themselves and others, and how to cope with different feelings. I recently worked with a young girl to create cards for each of the feelings; we used the cards to practice identifying and responding to different emotions. This body chart worksheet is great to help a child understand how they may experience feelings in their body — such as a tummy ache or clammy hands. You can also model for your child when you have a certain emotion. When YOU talk about your feelings, this helps your child understand that  all emotions are acceptable: feeling bad doesn’t mean you are bad. Say something like “When I watched that part of the movie, I felt a little sad and my throat felt tight.”
  2. Practicing problem solving: One evening, I got locked out of my office! I used the time with the child I was working with to “solve” the mystery. This empowered him while  helping me to solve the problem of the locked office door. We thought of simple but different ways to get inside the office, such as asking someone for help, looking in my purse for the key, or seeing if we could find another office to borrow. This was an untraditional therapy session, but it showed the child that problems and mistakes are normal, and that even at a young age, he had so much to offer in helping solve the problem! The same goes for solving the problems that come up between people and thinking through how to resolve interpersonal conflicts. You can incorporate problem-solving spontaneously and turn situations that may cause a change in plans as a learning opportunity. 
  3. Building empathy: Children today are growing up during times of conflict and disagreement. Research tells us that the ability to understand and take on others’ perspectives actually helps people to build resilience and can prevent mental health challenges down the line. I often let children lead the way in our play and build in opportunities to grow empathy. For example, when a child I worked with expressed frustration with her baby sister, we practiced role-playing (I was the baby and then she played the baby) and played a guessing game of what the other person was feeling. Using stuffed animals and puppets can often help young children to role-play and can help young kids express themselves more openly. Reading stories or listening to podcasts related to empathy are also helpful in modeling empathy for young children. I love the Little Kids, Big Hearts empathy episode, What is Empathy?, as well as the book lists from Big Heart World related to empathy

At the end of the day, we all want our kids to experience the beauty in the world, to bask in the joys of exploration, to stand back up when they fall, and to follow their big hearts. And in order to do that, we must nurture both their physical and emotional wellbeing. As a child psychiatrist and former teacher, I have seen SEL change the lives of children from all walks of life, in the clinic, at school, or in the home. 

March 23, 2022 by admin 0 Comments

Growing Big Hearts with Noggin’s Big Heart Beats Album

Noggin’s Big Heart Beats Album is a lineup of catchy songs  — all available on the Big Heart World website — that are intended to help children (and grown-ups) grow big hearts. The songs, which deal with themes like identity, friendship, and helping others, can be played for fun or built into social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculums. 

“When we considered how best to introduce SEL concepts and themes to kids, we immediately gravitated toward music,” said Sean Farrell, who leads Noggin’s original content development. “We wanted to create music and songs that families would happily roll down the windows of their car and turn up their speakers or play in the family room and dance together.”

The Link Between Music and SEL

Music — singing and making music and moving to music — with children naturally supports the development of important social and emotional skills, including self-confidence; self-regulation; and interpersonal/social skills like sharing, turn taking, cooperating with others and solving problems together.

  • Newborns are able to identify rhythms and melodies heard in the womb
  • Music creates social connections between grown-ups and children
  • Children as young as 3 can notice emotions in songs. They can notice feelings in clips that are just 0.5 seconds long!
  • Music instruction has been shown to increase self-regulation skills

“There is powerful research from leading scholars on the value of music in creating a healthier and more flexible brain, and in laying the foundation for learning,” said Michael Levine, director of Learning and Impact at Noggin. “The use of music both recreationally and in educational settings helps create cognitive flexibility and enhances other multi-sensory literacies that are critical to help children compete and cooperate in a global community.”

Using Big Heart Beats Album to Grow Big Hearts

Julia Levy, the producer of the Big Heart World social and emotional learning initiative, joined with the team at Noggin on March 23, 2022 at the AFT / Share My Lesson virtual conference to share tips on how to use the Big Heart Beats Album and music and movement generally to support social and emotional learning.

“Music is a powerful tool that educators can use to engage children’s minds and bodies in new ways, introducing and reinforcing important ideas and growing kids’ big hearts,” Levy said.

Big Heart World released a learning guide that educators and parents can use to explore the Big Heart Beats album and use the songs to support children’s social and emotional learning.

Learn From the Artists: Music Grows SEL Skills
Artists behind Noggin’s Big Heart Beats Album — Chris Sernel (Oh, Hush!), Alex Geringas, and Wil Fuller — shared how music helps grown-ups and children develop social emotional skills. You can listen to their songs here.
“Music can absolutely help kids to process, comprehend, and feel their emotions,” said Sernel. Watch the whole interview here!
Learn from the Artists: What Does Growing Big Hearts Mean?

Alex Geringas and Wil Fuller; Flor de Toloache; and Chris Sernel (Oh, Hush!) discuss what growing “big hearts” means to them. Listen to their songs here.

Learn from the Artists: Creating "Real" Music With Toys
Chris Sernel (Oh, Hush!) explains how his 3- and 5-year-old daughters inspired him to create “How You Feel,” one of the songs in Noggin’s Big Heart Beats Album. He created the song using his children’s toy instruments! Hear him talk about his inspiration and demonstrate using toys to create something amazing.
Big Heart Beats Album Learning Guide
The Big Heart World team created a learning guide to help educators and parents learn from the songs and find some ways to incorporate them into playful social and emotional learning lessons. 

March 8, 2022 by admin 0 Comments

You’re Invited to an #SELday Dance Party!

SEL Day — March 11, 2022 — is a day dedicated to celebrating social and emotional education, a topic near and dear to our heart here at Big Heart World! We’re partnering with our friends at SEL4Us to give our friends a chance to show their support for growing big hearts through dance. 

Music and movement supports children’s social and emotional development and this is a great moment for all of us to show our support for growing big hearted kids!
We hope that you — and the families you work with — will dance your way into this special day with us with a social media dance party. This is a party where everyone is invited. No special dance moves necessary. In fact, it’s best if you DO dance to your own beat! 
Dance With Us!
  1. Play “I Love Myself” from Noggin’s Big Heart Beats Album. (Here it is on Spotify or on the Big Heart World site.)
  2. Dance and record!
  3. Share a short video on your favorite social media site between now and 3/11/22 and tag #SELday and #BigHeartWorld.

If you need help making your video, just reach out and we’ll help you put it together!


We can’t wait to dance with you this week!

Do you want to learn more about social and emotional learning? We encourage you to check out our new SEL infographic

March 7, 2022 by Julia Levy 0 Comments

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

Two years into the pandemic, my second grader told me he’d like to plan a playdate with a friend from school. A minute later he asked, “But what do kids DO when they go over to each other’s apartments?” For us, pandemic life is now “normal” and the regular parts of growing up — from hugs to playdates — are not. And, as a parent, I join parents around the world wondering what the long-term impact of these years will be on my own children and how we can help kids bounce back from this time. 

During the pandemic, children missed out on many parts of “normal” life. For most parents, the top worry is their children’s exposure to a broad group of skills called “social and emotional development.” Skipping two years of play dates, for example, has ME worried about my child’s ability to relate to others, work together, and solve problems as a team. 

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, six in ten U.S. parents said their top concern for the coming school year is their child’s social and emotional wellness, about double the percentage of parents who voiced concerns about their children’s academic learning (source). 

So, what is social and emotional development? Why does it matter? And how can educators and parents prioritize it right now? Learn more in our new infographic about social and emotional learning. 

Big Heart SEL InfoGraphic (800 x 2800 px)

49th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Academic achievement isn’t the only mission: Americans overwhelmingly support investments in career preparation, personal skills. Kappan magazine supplement, PDK, September, 2017.

Clive Belfield, Brooks Bowden, Alli Klapp, Henry Levin, Robert Shand, Sabine Zander. The Economic Value of Social and Emotional LearningCenter for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education Teachers College, Columbia University, February, 2015.

Julie Cohen, Ngozi Onunaku, Steffanie Clothier, and Julie Poppe. Helping Young Children Succeed: Strategies to Promote Early Childhood Social and Emotional DevelopmentZero to Three, 2005.

Emma DornBryan HancockJimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Viruleg. COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning. McKinsey & Company, July 27, 2021. 

Joseph Drulak, Roger Weissberg, Allison B. Dymincki and Rebecca Taylor, and Kriston B. Schellinger. The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: An Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, January/February 2011.)

Susan D. Hillis et al. COVID-19-Associated Orphanhood and Caregiver Death in the United States. Pediatrics, December 1, 2021.

Damon E. JonesMark Greenberg, and Max Crowley. Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health, October, 2015.

Stephanie M. Jones, Emily J. Doolittle et al. The Future of Children. Social and Emotional Learning. Princeton, Brookings, Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 2017.

McGraw Hill 2021 SEL Survey. 2021 Social and Emotional Learning Report. McGraw Hill, 2021.

Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory: Protecting Youth Mental Health. December, 2021.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.  Establishing a Level Foundation for Life: Mental Health Begins in Early Childhood: Working Paper 6. Updated Edition, 2008/2012.

Paul Terefenko. Q&A With Paul Tough: Environment Matters for Student Success. EducationWeek, June 30, 2016.

Roger Weissberg. Promoting the Social and Emotional Learning of Millions of School Children. Perspectives on Psychological Science, January 18, 2019.

Roger Weissberg. Why Social and Emotional Learning is Essential for Students. Edutopia, Feb. 15, 2016.

February 9, 2022 by Jennifer Mañón 0 Comments

Five Authentic Ways To Celebrate Valentine’s Day With Young Children

How do we proclaim our love for one another? 

On February 14, the pressure is on to figure that out — and for some people (young and old), this can be stressful. How do I put what I feel into words? How do I find the perfect gift to symbolize my complex feelings? What’s a meaningful way to show my feelings? 

As we consider how Valentine’s Day can feel for adults, many parents and educators wonder how we might recalibrate this holiday for young children. After all, love is an important feeling; we want to help our children identify love and show love to family and friends — but we want to teach about love in a way that can support children’s developing social and emotional skills. 

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, store shelves are lined with every possible pink and red heart-shaped candy, plus boxes of pre-made cards where parents can fill in each name from the class list. Leaving the very valid health concerns to a separate listicle, many parents and educators wonder: What’s the point and what’s the effect of the candy and canned message approach to Valentine’s Day? Most children certainly love to receive sweet treats, but do they actually show (and build) love and companionship? 

Valentine's Day
Love and Kindness Happens in the Every Day

As an early childhood teacher and mother, my focus has been capturing authentic expressions of love and recognizing the moments when these neural pathways are forging, rather than focusing on one day on the calendar when we’re supposed to celebrate love. 

It is often in the day-to-day that authentic expressions of love occur: When we’re reading together, helping our friends on the playground, sharing something we learned over lunch. 

So how do we highlight loving interactions and create more opportunities for them that foster social emotional growth in a meaningful way — on Valentine’s Day and on the other 364 days of the calendar? 

Five Authentic Ways to Celebrate Love that Teach Social and Emotional Skills to Young Children

Here are five ideas I’ve used as a mother and a teacher, which can be carried out by families as well as in a classroom setting:


Caring moments are around us all the time. The key is to notice them and say them aloud. Think of yourself as the narrator of a child’s loving moments and be on the lookout for everyday expressions of love. Verbalizing and reflecting back acts of love increases our awareness of them as they occur as well as how they feel. 

If you want to take your narration to the next level, you can create your own “love story” together. This can be a book very simply made by binding a few pieces of paper together by stapling or perhaps using a hole puncher and yarn. The title could be ‘I love you’ or whatever suits the author and recipient! Let’s imagine it is a book from a mother to her 3-year-old son: “Mommy loves you” (title page), “I love when you give me hugs” (page 1), “I love reading with you” (page 2), “I love holding your hand” (page 3). You can give this little book to a child and perhaps they would like to add some color to the pages with you! (This is totally optional; your child’s contributions should be natural and unforced.) They can have this book to read any time as a reminder of your love. In classrooms, teachers can help facilitate creating love stories! 

A simple question such as, “Who do you love?” can be just the right prompt to invite children to think about their love for parents, pets, siblings, trees, etc. Teachers can write students’ words onto the pages of the book and children can be invited to add their own illustrations.


Many children enjoy drawing and will often draw pictures saying “This is for Mama” or “This is for my Nanna.” Dedicate a table for these authentic love notes by setting out envelopes, paper (doily paper can be fun!), stamps, stickers, crayons, or anything else you might have on hand! Allowing materials to be varied as opposed to Valentine’s themed will allow richer artistic expression and more organic creations. A caregiver or teacher can sit with the children and offer language to go along with their work, such as “You are really thinking about mommy when drawing that picture. Mommy loves you so much!” or “I noticed you are using blue on your drawing for Papa, would you like to give it to him in an envelope?” or “You are putting so many stamps on Mama’s paper. You must love her so much!” 


Part of creating the neural pathways for social-emotional development is through thinking about and recognizing feelings. This cognitive-emotional wiring is fostered by thinking about feelings as they are happening as well as reflecting on them afterward. 

One way to “wire up” for social and emotional development is by creating a feelings board.  Use whatever materials you have on hand: a large piece of cardboard, felt, or fabric can be the backdrop. Create a simple face drawing of each emotion: happy, sad, angry, tired, frustrated/grumpy, surprised. Cut them out and place each one along the top of the board and draw columns for each one. Give each child a way to sign up for the emotion they are feeling at any given moment. Perhaps this is done by having a cutout of each child’s name or by using a small photo of them and then using tape or a magnet if it is a magnet board, or by using felt names that will stick to fabric/felt boards. As children engage with selecting their emotions, grown-ups can offer language. Perhaps Sandra receives a hug from a friend and then proceeds to sign up under the “happy” face. Sandra’s teacher can  increase her awareness by describing that event: “Sandra, when you got a hug from your friend, that made you feel happy.” Another example could be that Sandra’s block structure gets knocked down and then she goes and puts her name under the “angry” face. Her teacher can reflect back: “You are feeling angry about the block structure falling. I wonder what we could do about it to help you feel okay again?”

Feelings Felt Board

The “golden rule” has evolved and now it is more powerful to treat others as they wish to be treated. That means we need to become more aware of other people’s preferences and what feels good to them. Most children are keen to hone this skill! They often make observations about their peers such as which belongings are theirs (shoes, jackets, water bottles, stuffies, etc.!), recognizing the parents and family members of friends, and noticing what classmates like and do not like. Teachers and parents can use “narration” to highlight when we see children make connections with peers.

For Example: Tanya hears Holly say she is thirsty. Tanya gets Holly’s water bottle (having observed which one is hers) and brings it to her.  Teacher says: “Tanya, you heard that Holly was thirsty and brought her water over to her! It looks like Holly is really drinking that water!”

For Example: A child trips and falls down. His sister comes over and begins to rub his back gently. The parent can highlight this by saying something like “Suzie, you noticed that Nigel fell. Did you come to check on him? I wonder if Nigel is OK? Suzie you are really taking care of Nigel and giving him a gentle rub on his back.” 

Parents and educators can prompt peers to interact with each other by creating opportunities for working together, share, and show their feelings. Here are two prompts to get you started — but many other activities would work, too:  

  • Valentine’s colors with Playdough. Make red colored playdough and offer it with red, pink, and white pipe cleaner, cut down to about half the length. Perhaps offer some small plates or cupcake liners for children to set their creations in. Children will often work with playdough and then offer it to someone (a caregiver or parent). Remind children that they can offer playdough creations to their peers as well. For example, a teacher or parent can say: “Luis, thank you so much for this yummy (playdough) cake. I wonder if Mica would like a piece. Shall we ask her?” This can spark connections between children and also show how we ask first what the other person would like.
  • “Taking care of others” idea-share. Sit with children and think about the feelings of others. Choose a question such as “What can we do when someone feels sad?” or “What makes someone feel happy?” Write children’s responses to these questions on a presentation board with sketches for visuals to go along with each idea. This is a helpful way to hear a range of ideas about what influences the emotions of our peers and offers children ideas about what they can do to interact. Keep the board handy for reference and to continue adding more ideas!

We all need to remember this one all year long, and especially around Valentine’s Day! Some might feel that this is a selfish idea, however, if we remember to take care of ourselves we will increase our capacity to care for others. How can we teach this idea starting at a young age? Much of it starts with noticing what our children respond to and how we can nurture their emotional wellbeing. Here are a few ideas for how to teach self love:

  • Nurture autonomy.Give children space to spend time independently playing and exploring without interruption. Valuing the importance of this solo time is a way of showing children that they can be their own loving companion! When children are very young, this time might be quite brief. Parents/teachers should be prepared to engage with them again when they are ready.
  • Create cozy places. Create a cozy place where children can go when they would like some solo space. This is a place for children to go of their own choosing! The Cozy Space can be designed to engage the senses in a calming way, which could include sensory bottles, squishies, scented items, visuals of nature and soft pillows to make it comfortable!
  • Day-to-day self-love. Describe how children are caring for themselves when they are eating healthy food. Bathrooming and bathing are also important ways we take care of ourselves which are pivotal at this time in children’s lives. We can cheer children on by saying things such as: “You are really taking care of your body by washing with soap!” Even nap time and night time sleep are ways they take care of their growing bodies, allowing themselves to rejuvenate for more play and learning later!

Valentine’s Day can certainly serve as a catapult to refresh and renew our intentions around love. As a teacher, I have noticed how children embrace the chance to show care for each other when creating these opportunities in the classroom. 

Children also help us to see love and remind us that it is all around us. When my daughter was 3 years old, one day she gently put her pointer finger right between my eyes on what can be referred to as the 3rd eye and said, “love lives here mommy” — love lives in our eyes, our voices and is in our hands to pass along!