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Noticing our feelings

Emotional literacy and regulation are essential for tamariki social and academic success. Here's some daily emotion check-in ideas to support this.

Firstly, the science...

Research has shown that emotional regulation and literacy are critical skills for tamariki academic and social success. Studies have found that tamariki who are better able to regulate their emotions have improved attention, memory, and academic achievement (Blair & Raver, 2015; Diamond & Lee, 2011). Additionally, tamariki who have higher levels of emotional literacy are better able to understand and communicate with their peers, have more positive social interactions, and form stronger relationships with others (Denham, Warren-Khot, Bassett, Wyatt, & Perna, 2012; Lomas, 2018).

Teaching emotional literacy supports tamariki to understand and manage their emotions more effectively. This, in turn, can lead to improved wellbeing and mental health outcomes. Research shows that emotional literacy reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, increase self-esteem, and improve overall psychological functioning (Brackett, Reyes, Rivers, Elbertson, & Salovey, 2012; Greenberg, Weissberg, O'Brien, Zins, Fredericks, Resnik, & Elias, 2003). So you can see why we're big fans!

Why this activity?

Emotional literacy is an essential life skill that supports tamariki academic, social and emotional development. This activity practices tamariki building their emotional literacy skills improving their ability to understand and communicate how they’re feeling and manage better. Beyond this, this activity supports a supportive, empathetic and inclusive classroom environment amongst tamariki. 

You'll need

  • Print or recreate the tinana poster (can be printed A3)  

  • Print or recreate these big emotion bubbles

  • Print or recreate the small bubbles and add a picture of the name of each of your ākonga, or ask that they do this as part of the activity. 

  • Paint buckets - print or recreate as many as you need. These could be especially handy if you've established Zones of Regulation.

What to do

If your tamariki are new to an emotional check-in then a great place to start is by having a korero about each of the emotions. You could focus on 3 to 5 each day and use these pātai as guide:

  • Tell me about what it’s like to feel ….

  • Where might we feel this emotion in our tinana?

  • What colour might we associate with this emotion? - Sometimes it can be helpful to kōrero about emotions as colours - the heavy and hard ones (anger, disgusted) are often whero, the busier ones (uncomfortable, restless) karaka, and easy emotions (calm, focussed) kakariki. Tamariki might want to colour the bubbles in this way. Zones of Regulation uses this idea so that we can kōrero about emotions in this way “right now we all seem karaka, what can we do to come back to kakariki?”

  • What might this emotion be telling us? Or why do you think we have this emotion?


In this way tamariki become used to kōrero about emotions and begin to understand that there’s no such thing as a ‘wrong’ emotion. Each is exactly right for whatever has happened. 


Once you’ve explored the emotions use the bubbles and body for tamariki emotions check-in time - in the mornings and after kai break is a great time to do this. You might also use the bucket or just the emotion bubbles as a display - we've given the options, but we know you have hold the creativity to use these in a way that will best suit your tamariki.


Here's some ideas you might have emotion check-in's with your tamariki: 

  • Ask them to add their emotion bubble (with their name or picture) to or around an emotion they’re feeling or just near the colour/bucket that represents their feelings right now.

  • Explore where in their tinana they’re feeling an emotion and add it to the tinana poster

  • You may choose to kōrero through some of the emotions tamariki are feeling, but it’s okay to just just acknowledge the range of emotions tamariki are feeling.

  • You might prompt tamariki to see how their buddies are feeling right now too and check-in. 

  • Validate all the emotions in the room right now, they'e all okay

  • You might want to use puku breathing to restore some kakariki or calmness in the room if needed.

  • Continue with your lesson and check-in personally with any tamariki who are feeling some heavy emotions, or look like they could do with some of your time and empathy.

  • Explore other ways to support the heavy emotions and see what works - jump around, run or walk to the trees and back, puku breathing, 5 minutes of kōrero with a buddy, taking time for a bit more kai or wai, And in this way tamariki are learning strategies to support their emotions and regulate. Use our 20 Ways to Find Calm Again poster and try them out, and offer this for at home-use too. 

Kaiako card

To make things easier, refer to or print the kaiako card for this activity.

Whānau engagement

Offer the Remembering to Puku Breathe or Finding Calm Again activity sheets. These can be used for some calming colouring time too!

And to add to this...

Wildling Books How Do I Feel Cards. This is a set of 65 emotion cards providing loads of kōrero prompts! Anna from our team describes how useful these cards are in her review for the Mental Health Foundation here, and how you might use them. 

Another great activity we have on offer that works to increase emotional literacy is Emotional Kanikani

Curriculum Links

Health and PE Curriculum 

Personal Health and physical development: A1 - Personal growth and development

Personal Health and physical development: A4 Personal identity


Blair, C., & Raver, C. C. (2015). School readiness and self-regulation: A developmental psychobiological approach. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 711-731.

Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4 to 12 years old. Science, 333(6045), 959-964.

Denham, S. A., Warren-Khot, H. K., Bassett, H. H., Wyatt, T. M., & Perna, A. (2012). Factor structure of self-regulation in preschoolers: Testing models of a field-based assessment for predicting early school readiness. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 111(3), 386-404.

Lomas, J. (2018). Developing emotional literacy in early childhood settings: A case study of teacher perspectives. Early Child Development and Care, 188(11), 1582-1596.

Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Rivers, S. E., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2012). Enhancing academic performance and social and emotional competence with the RULER feeling words curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(2), 218-224.

Greenberg, M. T., Weissberg, R. P., O'Brien, M. U., Zins, J. E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., & Elias, M. J. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist, 58(6-7), 466-474.

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