May 21 2024

Exploring the Child's Play Series: First Feelings

Exploring the Child's Play Series: First Feelings
The discussions that can be prompted by each page and picture will develop a child’s understanding and ability to recognise, verbalise and cope when things take a surprising turn. It is a great way in which to develop empathy, understanding and resilience in our youngest learners.

Claire Tidy, Just Imagine Story Centre

In an increasingly volatile and uncertain world, in which traditionally accepted values, standards, and beliefs are shifting more quickly than ever before, the mental health of ourselves and others has come increasingly into the spotlight. According to Mental Health America, over 20% of Americans in 2019 – 2020 were experiencing a mental illness. The National Library of Medicine reports that, in 2016, almost 20% of children in the United States ages 2-8 years (17.4%) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.

How can we adequately equip children and infants to navigate a challenging and ever-changing world? What resources can we provide to foster empathy, resilience, and a healthy sense of self?

Just like every journey into a new book or series, the creation of First Feelings sparked a realization that much of our existing knowledge was built upon assumptions we had never thought to challenge.

We sent an unreasonably large list of inquiries to Dr. Kathryn Lester, Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of Sussex in the UK, such as: When do children start to feel emotions?  When do they start to be aware of them? When do emotions begin to differentiate from physical responses? When do feelings begin to move beyond ‘like/don’t like’? Why are some emotions twinned with particular colors? Are feelings gendered? When do children become aware of other people’s emotions?

With Dr. Lester's valuable insights and guidance, we navigated the creation process of this series. Drawing from her expertise, we developed six foundational texts that she kindly assisted in refining. Additionally, we had the pleasure of collaborating with the talented illustrator Paula Bowles, who brought to life six charming characters filled with charisma, expressiveness, and undeniable cuteness.

Our collaboration resulted in six simple books, each highlighting one of the primary emotions that young children commonly experience. We chose to illustrate each feeling using a group of cute gender-neutral monsters. Using these rather than human characters freed us from traditional associations between feelings and genders. We also chose to break traditional associations between emotions and color – our Angry monster is orange rather than red, and our Loved character is green.

Throughout this series, we have made a conscious effort to emphasize that our emotions are fleeting and do not define us. They stem from identifiable sources and can be managed when necessary. It is crucial to understand this concept, especially since not all emotions depicted in our series are positive. Children encounter a myriad of emotions daily, and it is beneficial for them to acknowledge, label, and ultimately embrace these feelings through open communication. If a particular emotion is causing distress or impacting those around them, we offer straightforward coping mechanisms for support.

There are very considerable limitations on what can be raised, explored, and discussed in a restricted text over only 12 pages, but we’ve attempted to cater to neurodiverse children in these books. In When I Feel Love, for example, we suggest that there are other ways to express or experience love than through hugging. In When I Feel Surprised, it’s clear that not all children welcome surprises of any kind.

While it's still early in this journey, the initial feedback from around the world has been overwhelmingly positive, emphasizing the necessity for resources like these for future generations. Excitingly, we are already in the process of developing a couple of follow-up series that are slated for release in 2025.


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Child's Play is more than just a publishing program, it is a philosophy. For over 40 years, Child's Play has been committed to publishing the material children need for their formative years.