This guest post was written by Jasmine Nault, an early childhood educator and mother of 2 children in Northern Manitoba. She is the owner and operator of Little Adventures Daycare.
Self Esteem and Emotional Intelligence at Forest and Nature School
Forest and Nature School educators strive to support the whole child in all aspects of healthy development. An important part of which is the healthy development of a child’s self esteem and Emotional Intelligence- these competencies are essential life skills.
“In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.”
-John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child
The role of Forest and Nature School educators is to understand the link between emotional intelligence and self esteem. Self esteem is built by favorable social experience and social competence; emotional intelligence is pivotal in fostering social experiences conducive to positive self esteem. Therefore, emotional intelligence is a strong determinant of self esteem.
Self esteem is based not only on how a child feels about themselves and their ability to achieve their goals but also on the child’s perception of how they are viewed by significant people in their lives.
Self esteem is predominately nurtured in the home environment, and as a child matures and spends more time in the care of other adults outside the family, such as in childcare or school, the educator’s role to build and protect self esteem in a child becomes increasingly significant.
In order for children to build self worth they need to be able to make real choices and decisions, they need to feel a sense of personal competence and pride. A sense of mastery or flow evolves from children having successful outcomes in solving problems independently. A Forest and Nature School setting is uniquely suited to promote self esteem as FNS is by definition a child lead, inquiry based, emergent and experiential program.
An educator needs to form a bond with a child to establish a trusting relationship.
“Forest and Nature School educators are people who love natural spaces, and they share this love with children by bringing them to those places to play and learn” FNS Canada
Children learn through play. By playing with children, giving eye contact, showing interest and enthusiasm, caring for their needs, an educator communicates to them that they are valued and accepted. These are important components of self worth.
One spring day while out with my daycare the children noticed and commented on the new appearance of several dozen dragonflies in our area, and immediately inquired about the insects origins. Over the course of the following month we all became dragonfly experts. We borrowed books about dragonflies and learned about their life cycle and history.
We learned that a dragonfly is one of the most well adapted insects on earth, that they are even prehistoric and live on all continents. These sky hunters are incredible fliers and predators.
They can live for years but spend their whole life except about a month in the water, once they emerge they are no longer aquatic and take dragonfly form. They go through a huge metamorphosis: first they are eggs, then they live the majority of their lives as nymphs, creatures that look like aliens. Only when the water reaches a certain temperature do they emerge through the water and transform, which explained why we didn’t see them before that day. The children wanted to go see if we could find the left behind nymph skins in the small marshy area near our house as the books had described we might. Not only did we find several nymph skins but we also found nymphs themselves and tadpoles and snails, which launched us on many more exploratory discoveries for weeks to come.
One of the children’s mothers later told me that she had observed her son’s self confidence increase dramatically through his experiences and acquiring of knowledge. Children instinctively want to understand the world around them and feel more powerful and sure of themselves when they do.
According to Daniel Goleman’s theory, there are four components to emotional intelligence:
1) Emotional self awareness -knowing what one feels
2) Emotional self management – the ability to regulate distressing affects like anxiety and anger and to inhibit emotional impulsivity
3) Social awareness – encompasses the competency of empathy
4) Relationship management- the ability to attune ourselves to or influence the emotions of another person.
Children with strong emotional intelligence (EQ) are able to identify, express and manage their own feelings and empathize and understand the emotions of others.
A good way for an educator to help children with their EQ is to model it: showing empathy, using expressive language, making responsible decisions, sharing stories, solving problems, keeping cool in difficult situations.
One way I have done this is by making up stories with my kids using puppets or stuffed animals. Our stories are often loosely based on actual problems my children encounter. This is a recent story:
A long long time ago, there was a busy squirrel named Lucy and a speedy hare named Violet. Both animals had lots to do to prepare for winter. The problem was they would run into each other all the time! This made both animals very upset so they would say “This is my forest, go somewhere else!” “No! This is my forest, I was here first!”
This made both friends feel very sad and angry at the same time. They started fighting over everything, even about who was better friends with the birds.
Late that day when the sun was starting to set, they were so busy fighting that they didn’t see their friend Owl watching them. “Hoot hoot”, said the owl, “why are you two fighting?”
“Violet always bumps into me and makes me drop all my pine cones and mushrooms, I worked really hard to collect them!” chipped Lucy the squirrel.
“Well, I need to eat twigs and run away fast from the foxes, I can’t run up the trees like you can, so you need to go somewhere else if you can’t get out of my way!” cried Violet the hare.
“Hoot Hoot” said the owl. “A long time ago I had a similar problem before with the eagles and the hawks. We were all after the same food and we would bump into each other in the air all the time, bumping while flying can be very dangerous you know! It was so frustrating and stressful, it didn’t feel fair! Maybe you both feel that way too. But! I thought of a clever way we could all share the forest. I became Nocturnal, now I sleep most of the day and catch my food at nighttime. That way we can all share the forest and the air by taking turns!”
“What a great idea!” squeaked Violet the hare. “Can I be nocturnal too? If I was nocturnal I wouldn’t have to run away from the foxes all the time or bump into Lucy and make her drop all her pine cones! I eat all my veggies so I have good eyes to see in the dark.”
“I would love some company during the night” hooted the owl. “Can we still play together at sunset?” asked Lucy.
“That sounds like a great idea!” cheered Violet the hare.
This became our story of how the Snowshoe Hare became nocturnal. The characters in the story solved their problem, and together the children used this example as a way to solve their problem, too.