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Little kids feel big feelings. Parents and teachers of preschoolers know all too well that children at these young ages feel their emotions deeply. It’s normal and healthy.
Unfortunately, sometimes the feelings outpace a child’s ability to communicate, self-regulate, and interact with others.
This is why social-emotional development is so essential for preschool-aged children.
Children soak up lessons from their surroundings, learning through play, observation and exploration, so even without doing anything, your child is already learning valuable skills.
However, emotional well-being is vital for a child’s physical and mental health. In order to increase their development, I’ve compiled a list of fantastic social-emotional activities for preschoolers.
#1 “Today I Feel” Emotions Mats
This preschool teacher hit it out of the park with this activity. A blank face mat allows kids to fill in the facial expression on their person.
You can create a mat just like this for your own child (and any family member!) and laminate to increase the durability.
Encourage your child to think about a feeling and what that might look like on someone’s face. Then, preschoolers can use play-dough, pipe cleaners, or a myriad of other manipulatives.
Take turns with your preschooler, asking them to make a feeling on a face, and then see if you can guess it, and vice versa.
Not only will this activity help to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills, but it will also cause them to think deeply about feelings and how those feelings may be expressed without words.
#2 Feelings Match-Up
Kids love to play memory and matching games, especially when they’re at those preschool ages.
Bring your child’s social-emotional awareness into the fold by playing the Monster Feelings Match game.
Just like your standard memory game, you place the cards face down, taking turns to flip them over and search for a match. However, instead of matching the color or the shape on the card, players need to match the face’s expression.
This is a great way to highlight what different feelings can look like, as well as increase your child’s emotional vocabulary.
#3 Feelings Gauge
Using a feelings gauge every day is the perfect activity to help your child better understand their own emotions.
This template is divided into three sections: green, yellow, and red. Just like stop lights (which all kids love!) the colors have meaning.
Green means that your feelings are great; you’re good to go, ready to be around people, learn, and help. Yellow means that something is bothering you, you can’t focus, and things just aren’t quite right. Red indicates that you are upset, frustrated, or angry, feelings that can stop you from making good choices.
I love this idea, especially for beginners, because while it doesn’t ask kids to put labels on their feelings or explain them, it is a fantastic tool to help them acknowledge how their emotions affect their actions and abilities.
Eventually, as kids become adept at the gauge, they will recognize when others are in a “red” zone, thus building empathy and understanding.
#4 Paper Plate Emotion Masks
Simple and inexpensive, paper plate emotion masks are a fun way to get kids thinking about feelings, increase their emotional vocabulary, and better recognize others’ feelings through visual cues.
These half masks are constructed out of paper plates and are meant to only cover someone’s mouth with an expression.
Kids will enjoy making the masks, as well as having others identify their feelings.
As they get familiar with the activity, encourage kids to see if they can make their eyes match their mouth. Looking at different parts of a person’s face will call a child’s attention to clues about how that person might be feeling.
#5 Sensory Bottles
Sensory bottles are trendy for both kids and adults. The general idea is that you shake the bottle up, creating a storm of its contents, and then slowly watch it settle down.
The parallel between feelings and the bottle is easy for even a preschooler to understand. All of your feelings are like the swirling contents of the bottle. Sometimes they get shaken up and go everywhere, but they do eventually calm down.
In addition to the example, shaking a sensory bottle relieves a child of frustration and extra energy, and watching it settle helps bring peace to both mind and body. Create your own bottle following the instructions on the page, or buy one for a more straightforward solution.
Always, always, one of the best ways to help a child understand anything about herself or others is reading a story.
Stories introduce children to situations that are similar to the ones they see in everyday life. They also allow kids a safe place to discuss and learn about feelings, social situations, and other people, without the high stakes of actually dealing with someone’s real feelings.
There are many more options than on the list, but these 50 are a great place to start!
From babies to big kids, bubbles are a big hit and preschoolers absolutely love them. But did you know bubbles can also teach kids a variety of things?
When you blow a bubble too hard, it will pop. In order to blow a great bubble, kids have to regulate their breathing (step one in calming their feelings and minds) and then slowly blow out, controlling their body.
When you blow bubbles with your kids, talk about how you use self-control, and identify how taking deep breaths can calm you down. You can use those same words later, when your child is upset, asking them to take a deep bubble breath and blow the grumpies out slowly.
Much like sensory bottles and bubbles, yoga helps kids feel connected to their bodies. It helps increase mindfulness and teaches strength and control of both mind and body, even to preschool-aged kids.
Yoga uses controlled breathing and poses to help children focus their minds, be patient, and move their bodies in a controlled way. Its calming effects are numerous, and recently, many schools have incorporated yoga practices into their P.E. classes to aid in physical and social-emotional development.
#9 Role Play
Playing pretend is perfect for encouraging a child’s creativity and letting their imagination run wild. However, it’s also a great way to practice social-emotional skills.
Using costumes, puppets, action figures, or just imagination, you can create scenarios (or use ones you may have read in a book) that your child may encounter, or struggle with.
Next, assign roles, and discuss what feelings each character might be having. How would that look? What might they say?
Then get to acting. Let your child get into it (and you should too!) and act feelings out in a big and over the top manner. Afterwards, discuss what would have happened if someone hadn’t raised their voice, or if their friend had remembered to say “Thank you.” You can even act out the alternative scenario.
Like reading, this is all about practicing your social-emotional awareness and building skills in a safe situation.
#10 Board Games
Kids are spending more time with technology and less time playing the old-fashioned board games that so many of their parents grew up with. And that’s a shame because board games teach you a lot.
In addition to learning about math and counting, board games teach children how to take turns, be patient, and be a good sport.
While the games on the link are all about social-emotional skills and are extremely helpful, a kiddo will learn a lot just by sitting down and playing Uno with a parent, sibling, or friend. So many feelings happen during games that it’s the perfect situation to practice identifying both your own and others’ emotions.
#11 Gratitude Journal
Being thankful isn’t just something to talk about at Thanksgiving. In fact, regularly expressing gratitude and thinking about things in life they are grateful for is a top-notch activity for preschoolers.
A gratitude journal can be as simple as a little notebook for your child to draw in, or as fancy as a specially designed option, but both will provide the same positive effects.
Kids who use gratitude journals tend to be happier and more aware of their feelings and emotions, as well as those of others. Simply drawing a picture or writing a sentence once a week about something they are thankful for will help them adjust their attitudes and recognize the positives in their life.
#12 Would you Rather?
“Would you rather?” is a game that can be played anywhere, with as many people as you want, from the classroom to the car. We’ve even had a rousing game or two in the waiting room at the doctor’s office!
This game gives children two situations and directs them to make a choice between the two. For example, “Would you rather have smelly feet or bad breath?” While it seems silly (and it is!), it also gives kids practice thinking about their choices and the consequences.
The example questions can be conversation starters. Ask your child why they made a choice, and let them talk through what that might look like. This will prepare them to make choices later on.
#13 Emotions Sorting Game
The movie Inside Out was a huge hit when it came out, and its creation has helped children of all ages better visualize the emotions and thoughts in their mind.
With this game, you use the movie characters to sort emotion words, putting the correct feeling or interjection with the right character. For example, “Yay!” would go under Joy, and “Heartbroken” would go under Sadness.
Even if you’re not familiar with the movie characters, the simple emojis work on their own and your child will learn a lot by sorting the words.
#14 A Penny For Your Thoughts
This “survival kit” has everything kids and parents need to foster communication and develop deeper social and emotional connections.
The kit includes cards that identify feelings, places, and actions. Kids roll a die to choose an emotion card. Next, they select a location card and an action card to describe a situation where they had that feeling.
This is perfect for preschoolers, since the cards have both words and pictures, and will help them explain their emotions, even if their vocabulary isn’t all the way there yet.
The game works as a starting point for conversations and will allow children of all ages to share situations with their parents that they may not have spoken about before.
#15 Character Videos
Many of the activities on this list are very parent-involved, which makes sense for preschoolers, but sometimes, it’s nice to have an activity that doesn’t necessarily need a parent sitting right there! Enter these character videos.
PBS gets it right once again, with a video for all different types of feelings and situations. The clips range in length from about a minute up to 15.
I love that you can pull these up on your phone or computer quickly, choose one that applies to a situation your child is facing, or just pick a favorite to give them something new to think about.
It’s Ok to Have Feelings
There’s a wide variety of activities out there that will help your child develop social-emotional skills, but they all have one thing in common: permission.
Kids need to be told that it’s ok to feel their feelings, share them, and understand them. Parents often hide their feelings from their kids, wanting to protect them, but that means that children don’t always know that it’s ok to be sad, frustrated, or deal with those emotions healthily.
Feelings are less overwhelming, even for kids, when they have the right words to express them and talk about them with someone else. Hopefully, some of these activities will help your child understand and share their feelings.