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Daniele Della Gala is a teacher leader with the California Physical Education and Health Project.
Hello, my name is Daniele Della Gala, and I will be sharing some ideas that will help you to support elementary age students in the area of mental, emotional, and social health. I am a teacher leader with the California Physical Education Health Project, and I work in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I teach in an elementary school.
Today, I would like to share a way to support students’ mental health in the elementary school classroom. I will share specific actions that will support you as an elementary school teacher.
Let’s get started!
When thinking about overall health and well-being, mental health is an important part. Mental health is strengthened by supportive relationships and environments.
Understanding feelings is one of the most important skills we learn as children. When students can identify emotions and share them by communicating clearly, calmly, and respectfully, they exhibit strong social skills.
Beginning in kindergarten, students learn how to identify a variety of emotions. By second grade, they learn to describe a variety of emotions.
It is important to facilitate learning experiences that help students to understand that we all have different feelings and feelings can change over the course of a day. When we talk about different times of the day, or scenarios when our feelings might change, students begin to understand that changes are common.
By engaging students in an activity that helps them demonstrate the ability to identify emotions, such as anger, sadness, and fear, and share what someone could do if they were experiencing a big emotion to get to a sense of calm, we help students to identify calming techniques that work for them.
You can start by asking students to gather in a circle, perhaps on a carpet.
Visual aids are extremely helpful when exploring feelings because they aid in comprehension. Visuals can help fine tune interpretation of facial expressions. For example: young children can learn to read the three big clues of a person’s face — the eyes, the eyebrows, and the mouth — in order to understand how someone is feeling.
When we, as teachers, help students read others facial expressions and body language, we help them to take the next step to matching those clues to a feeling. This is a big concept for young students because they need to internalize the idea that others may feel differently than they do in a particular situation. The clues help them figure it out.
Sharing photographs of children with different emotions can help students to discuss the clues they see in people close to their own age. Then asking students to show with their face and a body pose to express an emotion can help them to discuss the clues with more detail.
After having students show a few emotions such as anger, fear, or sadness, you can ask them to share a way they calm their own mind and body when they experience one of those big emotions.
It is important to remember that students may be comfortable sharing out in different ways. Some may prefer to draw pictures while others want to act out emotions or even scenarios when a person can have a big emotion. Be mindful of students’ preferences, yet consider how to motivate students to engage in different activities to express their level of understanding.
A handout to encourage students to record their understanding of calmness is included. Students have a space to record three things that make them feel calm, two places they can go to feel calm, and one person who can always calm them down. There is also a space for students to draw what calmness means to them. A word bank or sketches on a poster board or whiteboard can help students as they record their ideas on the handout.
When we, as teachers, review the concepts regularly so students become comfortable sharing about emotions and how to deal with what is felt in different situations, we help them build strategies to engage with others.
Though the activity was designed for K-2 students, it is easily adaptable through grade five.
Let’s review three big ideas for your work with a focus on mental, emotional, and social health:
1) When students can identify emotions and describe them by communicating clearly, calmly, and respectfully, they exhibit strong social skills;
2) When students are better able to “read” the emotions others are experiencing, they can have more positive and appropriate reactions to various situations; and
3) Giving students the opportunity and time to reflect on emotions is important and improves student success in their mental, emotional, and social health, as well as academic classes.
Remember: health education standards support students in every subject area and impact all aspects of their lives.
When you utilize routines and strategies related to identifying and describing emotions on a regular basis, students build stronger skills.
You can be most effective when you encourage student engagement and effort toward that engagement.
Thank you for taking the time to view this video. If you know of any educator who would benefit from content related to mental, emotional, and social health, check out our other videos for middle school and high school.
Accompanying Materials & Resources
- Mental health in the elementary classroom – Calmness Elementary Activity-CAPEHP (PDF)
- Mental health in the elementary classroom – Calmness Elementary Activity-Student Sample 01 (png)
- Mental health in the elementary classroom – Calmness Elementary Activity-Student Sample 02 (png)
- Mental health in the elementary classroom – K2 Health Activity Description (Google docs)