When my youngest son was in elementary school, the feelings teacher, a trained counselor, visited their classrooms regularly to talk to the children about feelings.
She was a popular visitor. Among other things, she taught them words to name their feelings and helped them understand the nature of them: they come and go and sometimes it’s easy to confuse actions (screaming) with feelings (sadness).
Chase’s memory of The Feelings Teacher now, as he begins his senior year of college, includes “a dolphin pillow, lots of pillows, a mousy bobbed woman whose voice probably sounded completely different at happy hour after work.”
In the last three years, I have had the joy of partnering with Mrs. Hogan, Director and teacher of Grace Preschool at the church I served near the beach. The school has grown to more than twice its size and soon its staff of 13 teachers will be welcoming back more than 80 children between the ages of 2 and 6. Many of these teachers have been teaching preschool for more than 20 years.
Last year, Mrs. Hogan and I often had a preschooler in our shared corner office because they just needed some time away from the stimulation that is preschool. They weren’t bad. They didn’t need a ‘time-out.’ They just needed time away.
One day, I took a walk with one little girl after I peeked in her classroom and noticed that Her Little Pony was about to be launched at a certain space-invading classmate. On our walk, we saw another class outside playing with bubbles and as we watched, she visibly calmed down and said to me: “I’m glad we are doing this. Sometimes I need to walk when I feel like I could become screamy.”
A volunteered four-year-old confession is a holy thing indeed. I told her I was proud of her for knowing this about herself, and that I feel like that sometimes too. We agreed that it is good to have a plan of what you might do if you need to. She held my hand after that.
This past summer, Mrs. Hogan and I made a space in the corner of her office for children who feel like they could become screamy. It has a soft aqua rug and a big navy pillow. There is a magic wand on a small table that a child can hold up to the light and watch as glitter slowly travels through clear oil down the length of the wand. It is bordered on one side by a white table that stands just two feet off the floor, the top of which contains colored geometric shapes that can be easily moved around to make different designs. The jewel-toned shapes light up when you touch them.
There are vintage sewing cards and wooden puzzles and stars above the space. Next to the space is a soft stuffed bear and an even softer stuffed husky that belonged to Mrs. Hogan’s daughter, Lauren, who has long since set aside her toys to help others feel less pain as a medical professional, and to plan for her upcoming wedding.
On the wall, is a stencil we put up together last fall; they are the words to a beloved children’s hymn.
We’ve named this area: A Place For All The Feels. She will call it A Place for short, as in, “Do you need to go to A Place for a few minutes?”
A Place will also have a couple books that Mrs. Hogan or a teacher might read to help the children learn to name some of the more challenging feelings: anger, worry, jealousy, fear. The books can sit on a shelf we’ve placed there that is just big enough for a book, and a cup of water and some Kleenex.
When A Place was almost finished, we sat down on the aqua rug, and immediately laid back, our heads resting on the long navy pillow. As we talked about our hopes for the future and my imminent departure for my next call, we found the space we had created did far more than help us name our feelings. It was A Place to remember and A Place to lament and A Place to say the things we needed to say before I could leave.
It seems to me that we plan for the things in life that are necessary but manageable: paying bills, remodeling kitchens, taking vacations. But when it comes to feelings, we all could use a bit more planning. Because vacations are optional, but feelings … not so much.
And even in the middle of life, unwelcome feelings show up. It is best to know their names and meet them with a plan.
UPDATE: February 8, 2018 — Mrs. Hogan reports that A Place is by far the MOST popular location on the entire Grace Preschool campus, for children … and adults.