Years of working as a primary school teacher prepares you well for sniffing out the best authors, illustrators and most engaging books to read to classes of up to (and over) 30 young children. As a Children's Yoga specialist, I am now lucky enough to go into schools to teach regular weekly yoga sessions as part of the curriculum - and through open liaison with their class teacher... and the involvement of a very carefully chosen book, I am given the perfect opportunity to also promote children's personal, social, moral, spiritual and cultural growth and development.
The needs of the group of children will always slightly differ but I always intend to use a wide range of age-appropriate themed yoga postures and flows, breath, mindfulness or relaxation activities and techniques to adapt to each class or individual child I teach. The ability to pass on the foundations of early meditation and mindfulness is a true gift and witnessing the effects over time are profound. If this wellbeing 'toolkit' is embedded into their early learning - then there is no reason why they cannot be transferred through major life transitions; like starting school, adolescence and into adulthood.
How many adults can you think of that are able to identify the emotion they are feeling, fully detach from it, witness the overpowering thoughts and strong physical symptoms, but react in a controlled and calm manner, using their wellbeing 'toolkit' to override these negative thoughts and behaviour patterns? Wouldn't it be great if there were more people like this in the world?
The starting point for very young children to be able to understand and become emotionally literate, will always be first and foremost, the ability to identify the emotions; naming them (happy, sad, angry, worried) and then understanding the physical reactions of the body associated with each feeling. Children (and many adults) often confuse the basic needs; feeling tired, hungry, or thirsty with feelings of upset and anger. Many toddler tantrums can be understood as the lack of their basic needs being met and then a downward spiral of behaviour stemming from this point. As children get older, their feelings and emotions become more complex and they carry with them a plethora of both real and imagined ideas about themselves, which can transform both their emotional and behavioural development.
Through daily positive reinforcement and the promotion of healthy habits we as parents and caregivers can support the next generation into adolescence, adulthood and beyond. Most importantly, communication, a willingness to open up and talk about your thoughts and feelings, how they affect you, modelling healthy behaviours and apologising when your emotions get the better of you - are all ways we can encourage children to take responsibility and learn how to protect and nurture their mental health from an early age. So, without further ado, I thought I'd share just some of my favourite books which make wonderful additions to any family learning library, some specific books which address the emotions in a child-friendly way, and others that I have found to be great conversation starters over the years.
1. The Colour Monster - A Story About Emotions - By Anna Llenas
A sensitively written book encouraging young children to open up about how they feel, even when those thoughts are confusing...
2. I Can Do Hard Things - Mindful Affirmations for Kids (also: 'Listening With My Heart/ Listening To My Body' in the same series) - By Gabi Garcia
A great way to instil the power of speaking to oneself kindly at an early age, this book and series teaches self-confidence, perseverance and resilience skills through positive affirmation.
3. The Suitcase - by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
A powerful story about immigration, trust, and new beginnings, full of heart and humanity, for anyone who has ever felt unwelcome or out of place; perfect for big transitions like starting pre-school or YR.
4. The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright (along the same theme also: Be Brave Little Penguin by Giles Andreae & The Fearless Octopus by Charlotte Christie)
An inspiring story that shows us how to find our brave. "That day they BOTH learned that, no matter your size, We all have a mouse AND a lion inside."
A mouse feels small and insecure; he believes that if he learns how to roar like a lion he will feel better and the other animals will treat him better. In a hilarious turn of events, the lion is afraid of mice! The mouse comforts the lion, they become friends, and we learn that there's a lion and a mouse inside all of us; no matter how small we are...
5. How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear? - A Book to Help Children Manage and Overcome Anxiety, Anxious Thoughts, Stress and Fearful Situations by Jayneen Sanders
Little Bear is a worrier. He worries about everything! But with Mama Bear's help, he soon learns his worries are not so big after all. Through this engaging and beautifully illustrated story, children will learn that everyday worries and fears can be overcome. It just takes a willingness to share with a helpful listener, and an understanding that making mistakes is how we learn.
6. Kind - by Alison Green
In a world where you can be anything... Be kind. A heartwarming and visually diverse book to share with children, teaching them about the fundamental value of kindness and how we can all play our part. Nearly 40 different illustrators have collaborated to create this artistic treat and affirm the universal importance of kindness. From listening to offering a helping hand to simply giving someone a smile, it's easy for children to help make the world a better place.
7. My Strong Mind by Niels Van Hove
This illustrated book teaches children about aspects of developing resilience, confidence, and a growth mindset and how to bring a positive attitude to everyday challenges.Written by a 'Mental Toughness' coach and mentor, the author hopes this book opens a positive dialogue on the subject of resilience, growth mindset and positivity. He lives in Melbourne with his wife and two daughters, for whom he wrote the book.
8. Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees (see also: 'The Lion Who Wanted to Love' by the same author)
A touching tale of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. With crooked knees and thin legs, it's harder for a giraffe than you would think. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend. With light-footed rhymes and high-stepping illustrations, this tale is gentle inspiration for every child with dreams of greatness.
9. Monty the Manatee by Natalie Pritchard
Monty the Manatee is a charming, uplifting tale which explores themes of bullying and friendship and emphasises the importance of being kind. It is a firm favourite of both children and parents across the globe...
Meet Monty. He's a big creature with an even bigger heart. Monty's nervous because it's his first day at Sea School. He tries to make new friends but the other sea creatures think he's a bit slow and strange....so they're mean to him and call him names! When a dangerous predator invades the classroom and threatens to eat them all for his supper, Monty comes up with a plan.
Is he brave or clever enough to save them all? The other creatures don't think he is. This beautifully illustrated picture book is suitable for young readers aged from two to ten. It is perfect either as a bedtime read or as a story in the classroom to encourage discussions on friendships, bullying and being kind to others. It is reminiscent of 'Chu's First Day at School' by Neil Gaiman and 'The Pout Pout Fish Goes to School' by Deborah Diesen. Fans of 'Giraffes Can't Dance' by Giles Andreae and 'We're All Wonders' by R J Palacio will love this feel good rhyming story which promotes a positive message about the importance of being kind.
10. Today I feel 'An Alphabet of Feelings' by Madalena Moniz
Beautifully illustrated by Madalena Moniz’s subtle watercolors, the reader follows a child through a whole range of emotions, from adored to curious to strong. Gently expressive compositions represent 26 emotions or states of being in an alphabet book originally published in Portugal. Not all of the emotions are positive and not all of them are simple, but they are all honest and worthy of discussion with young children (2/3 years and up).