Developing Children’s Emotional Intelligence

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Project summary:

Action research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelian perspective in an early earning and childcare community


We are a rural nursery with spaces for 56 3-5yr old children. I have recently been promoted from Early Years Practitioner to Team Leader within the Nursery.  Starting this Leadership Inquiry, encouraged me to reflect on my current knowledge and understanding regarding leadership  and this has helped to develop my awareness of different leadership styles.     

 As part of my Professional Development, I have had the opportunity to be lead Practitioner in developing various areas of practice including the outdoor area and adapting the Vision, Values and Aims.  As part of my Master’s in Educational Studies, I had the opportunity to participate in various Leadership modules.  These modules focused on  more traditional models of leadership including transactional, transformational, and authoritative leadership.  However, this Froebel Leadership course created an atmosphere where I began to consider my leadership style in the context of Froebel’s principles.    

 As a setting, we observed that there was a growing group of children showing an increased lack of understanding regarding feelings, both their own and that of others, with this impacting on the children’s relationships with their peers. Relationships are seen by Froebel “are of central importance in a child’s life” (Tovey, 2020).  At  Team Meetings, staff shared their observations and discussed possible ways to support development of children’s emotional intelligence. McNair and Cerdan (Froebel Trust, 2022) discussed nurturing self-regulation, sharing that “inner knowledge, thoughts and feelings are expressed outwardly through behaviours” (p11). 

 During these meetings two practitioners offered to take the lead in developing this project.  As Team Leader, I would be there to offer support and advise.   Froebel supported children being involved in their own learning and the importance of knowledgeable practitioners   (Tovey, 2020).  The lead practitioners investigated current good practice to act as a catalyst for this project. It is important to empower staff to investigate and drive their own and other’s learning. 

Once the lead practitioners had carried out this research, they presented their findings to the team.    It was agreed that “The Colour Monster” would be the main starting catalyst for introducing  emotions intelligence to the children. The lead practitioners devised a plan of introducing the book to children in small groups then assessing the possibility of developing this into other areas of the nursery.  

 “The Colour Monster “story was introduced to the children to allowing for discussion regarding their feelings.  Throughout the development of this project,  both practitioners shared how these sessions developed. Allowing practitioners the ability to lead and develop this project together allowed them to develop their own leadership skills and the development of this project.  As Team Leader, I was always available to help, discuss and support the development of the project, and observe the implementation.  

 The lead practitioners shared good practice for other settings which include emotion boards, and different ways in which children can share their emotion on arrival at nursery and how these change through the day. The lead practitioners and I discussed various ways in which we could implement an emotional check-in system.  The lead practitioners shared a couple of ideas and decided to introduce a “How are you feeling?” check-in.  The system was explained to all practitioners and then to the children.  Individual sticks with the child’s picture were produced and a sheet with each of the different colour monsters on, so that the children could place their picture there each morning. This gave the parents/carers the ability to discuss with their children their emotions.  The sticks were then put in the corresponding ‘emotion cup’, and the child could move these throughout the day depending on how they were feeling.  

 The views of the children, parents and staff were important to gauge the impact and  further developments of the project.  As a team we observed the children’s involvement and interest in “The Colour Monster” story, which had been developed to include props, learning Makaton signs for emotions, playing with Colour Monster toys and creating images. Together We Can and We Will (South Lanarkshire Council, 2019,  p16) shares that play can “open up new possibilities” and “help to develop the emotional intelligence that makes their feelings manageable”.   As a setting we record children’s learning and thoughts in our Floorbooks.  These books are always accessible to the children, and the children have ownership of these books.  Through  these books the lead practitioners were able to assess the children’s interest and feed this back to the rest of the team. The project was discussed as being a good medium for developing children’s ability to discuss their own feelings.   

 Sharing this learning with parents is key to shared understanding and support. Froebel shares that relationships matter and are of important in children’s lives.  Informing parents about our focus and development of children’s understanding of their emotions can help provide discussion and support from home. The lead practitioners shared the learning via the Nursery Learning Journals. They shared the concept of “The Colour Monster” story, the way in which their child was introduced to and encouraged to share their emotions.  An emotional check-in area was developed at morning drop off, with parents encouraged to discuss their child’s emotions with them. Parents were able to comment on their views of the learning.  These include: 

“L  has really enjoyed telling us all about the colour monster and how he has been feeling that day – thank you!  

 “This whole learning topic about the colour monsters and sharing and expressing her feelings has really impacted on M.  She has come home and showed us all the Makaton symbols for the various feelings and has used them to explain to us how she was feeling (the one for angry, when she didn’t get another chocolate!) But it was great because we could then discuss it and it was a very direct way for her to communicate and for her to recognise how she was feeling in that moment. It’s nice to ask them to think of how they are feeling each morning when they arrive and say hello. Brilliant activity to do with them, thank you! 

E  was teaching us all about this last night bless. We learnt some of the signs for our emotions and she talked through some different emotions with us”. 

Receiving feedback from parents in this way is important to the practitioners who have led the introduction of this project.  Positive feedback can validate the process that individuals have gone through to develop learning. This inspires practitioners to continue to improve opportunities and learning within the setting.  The lead practitioners were able to develop this project by demonstrating their skills.  As a leader allowing others to develop their skills and interest is important and allows others to develop their own leadership abilities.  

This project regarding emotions within the nursery will be ongoing and will be regularly discussed by the lead practitioners and the team.  Some comments from staff include the positive way in which children can be encouraged to discuss their feelings when they are upset but visiting the “Emotion Station” to look at how they were feeling, how they are feeling now, and what we can do to make them feel better.  It has also been shared that children will go to practitioners and, using the Makaton signs, are able to share how they are feeling.  Education Scotland’s document “Realising the Ambition” (2020) discusses attachment and mind-mindedness and how “managing emotions and promoting positive, nurturing relationships” (p32)  is important for young children.  As practitioners, recognising the importance of relationships is key to helping developing children’s emotional intelligence.  

 Recently, the lead practitioners and I met to discuss how we felt the development and leadership of the project progressed.  One practitioner shared that she enjoyed being able to lead and develop this project and appreciated the support available.  Both practitioners shared that they felt the timescale on developing the project was good, but they felt some pressure from themselves to ensure quick implementation and success of the project.   

 For myself, I felt that I gave the practitioners an appropriate level of support,  and also allowed them to be able to develop the ideas as they felt appropriate.   As I am relatively new Team Leader, I feel I am beginning to understand and gain confidence regarding my leadership style.  Revisiting Froebel’s principles has reminded me that he believed in unity and connectedness, which we look at regarding children, but we should also consider this when looking at our own leadership style.  Understanding that all our actions and leading of learning is interconnected and will impact on the way in which I develop my leadership style in the future. I hope I will encourage and support others in their own leadership development. 

 When initially beginning this project, I was unsure of what my leadership style was, I would like to think I am a democratic leader – making my decisions based on input of others.  However, as myself and my team have developed our project, I now realise I show a range of leadership styles, depending on the situation.  I know believe that I am a situational leader, making decisions and leading as situations develop and vary.  Perhaps as I develop into my new role, and as I grow with confidence and experience this may change once again. 


Education Scotland (2020)  Realising the ambition: Being Me.  Education Scotland: Livingston. 

 McNair, L & Cerdon, C (2022), Nurturing self-regulation, Froebel Trust, Available at–-A-Froebelian-approach.pdf (Accessed 4th February). 

 South Lanarkshire Council (2019) Together We Can, and We Will. South Lanarkshire Council: Hamilton. 

 Tovey, H  (2020), Froebelian Principles, Froebel Trust, Available at (Accessed 20th January 2024). 




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