The Second Stage of Maturity: The Feeling Years

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The second stage of growth in Education for Life covers the ages from 6-12, the “Feeling” or elementary years.

Here we find a very special window of opportunity when children are most able to learn about and through their feelings. While children under six lack the ability to step back and examine feelings, older students are inclined to identify with them in such a personal way that it makes it more difficult to see what works for them.

Feelings, of course, come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like kindness, honesty, and enthusiasm are a tremendous aid to growth. While others, like anger, jealousy, and boredom can paralyze a child’s development. In an Education for Life school we help children learn to distinguish between expansive and contractive feelings while gaining the tools for working constructively with all of the ups and downs that life brings.

For a beginning step, children are helped to notice different kinds of feelings and emotions and their varying effects on people. Even first graders can see that they are happier when their energy is calm.

In Narani’s class this year, she worked out a new way to talk to her kindergarten-first graders about their upset emotions. She used the image of a duck and the saying “like water off a duck’s back” to help the students learn that they felt better when they didn’t get so upset about little things.

“Will this still upset you at Christmas? Next week? Today after school? During recess?  No?  OK, maybe we can just let this roll off the duck’s back.”

She made a little needle-felted duck which she placed on a large plate. Next she filled a small bowl with little discs of blue glass representing drops of water. Every time a child let something roll off their back, they announced it to the class, picked up a drop of water and put it on the duck’s back to let it roll off. Read the full article.

Next, children can learn how much better kindness and cheerfulness feel as opposed to such disturbing energies as anger and jealousy.

In Rose & Punya’s 1st-2nd grade class Morning Circle consists of quiet time, prayer, a song, and a story. The stories are carefully chosen for their inspirational qualities, often highlighting a difficulty the class has been facing. If the children are having trouble including one another at recess, the story might be chosen with characters who find success in a similar situation.

With a story, true or fictitious, their young students can commiserate with the character, feel and imagine what it might be like to be in such a situation, and then see how this child works through the lesson. Examples have included a story about a girl who risks all to save her brother from the trolls, and a man who finds friendship on Valentines Day, not by receiving love, but by giving it.

Balarama, our third/fourth grade teacher, points out that students can also learn to see and detect feelings through drama. This year his class picked the story of Rama and Sita to perform for Family Entertainment Night.

Some of the characters were complex, and it was hard to get a grasp on what was motivating them. As a result students were having trouble learning their lines and bringing their characters to life. Instead of practicing more, they took a break from rehearsals and talked about the feelings and emotions of each character.

What was motivating their behavior in the play? Were they honorable? A coward? Focused on their own desires at the expense of others? The students learned to grasp and articulate each character’s basic quality.

Then they discussed how they might bring this feeling to life on the stage. Students supported each other by giving examples of how those feelings might be shown. Everyone gained confidence about what they were trying to express while at the same time deepening their awareness of the effects of different feelings.

As children’s sensitivity deepens, they become aware of the calm, centered state that lies within them and learn to use it as a source of inspiration and intuition. Kathy & John found in their 4th-5th-6th grade class that having the children write poetry, especially Haiku, was a very successful way to have students work with their calm, inner feelings.

Kathy states that, “The best part of this type of poetry is its simplicity. The 5-7-5 syllable count for each line makes the poem a fun and easy challenge. Recently we added the extra assignment of making sure the first line contained a noun, the second line a verb, and the last line a feeling. The classroom was quiet while everyone concentrated and created.  The results were fun, playful, peaceful, extremely observant and sensitive poems which they shared with each other.”

The hawk flying fast
The hawk soaring very high
I am free to soar

Trees so big and strong
The wind blows gently ’round them
I love to climb trees

These are a few examples of how we can stimulate children to work constructively with their feelings. For more examples see chapter 17 in the book, Education for Life.