Emotions and the “Hard Parts” in the Early Childhood Classroom

Emotion is something that drives the early childhood classroom.  Unlike other grades, pre-kindergarten is a time when young children are just learning about the world about them, their own feelings/ beliefs, and values.  Emotions drive young children in everything that they do.  A young child is consumed in their own world.  During this time a child has little understanding of others around them. For this reason, teachers in the pre-k classroom must create a curriculum that is driven through the child’s interest. 


A child’s emotion directly effects how children learn in the sense that depending on a child’s emotion at that moment in time can determine their interest level, and motivation for an activity.  Emotions can really impact how a young child reacts to a situation.  A young child can react completely differently in the same exact situation.


The role that emotion plays on a young child’s motivation is different from child to child.  According to Demetriou and Wilson, “From early on our emotional development is inextricably intertwined with our acquisition of knowledge” (Demetriou & Wilson, 2008. P. 938).  Meaning that what a child learns and retains is directly correlated to the emotions they were experiencing at that time. 

There are so many emotions that individuals experience at any given time, (happy, sad, mad, angry, frustrated, irritated, sleepy, excited, etc…).  Each one of these emotions effect learning differently in the sense of how a child processes information and retains it.  If a child is happy or excited, they are more likely to participate in learning and create an understanding of the concept or idea.  However, if a child is mad or frustrated, their attention is limited causing them to be less likely to retain and understand new information.  Learning cannot be forced on anyone.  Rather learning is a process in which an individual must apply themselves and make an effort. 

Emotion effects everything we do, despite what age we are.  It is through emotion that we go through the motions of life.  Our emotions are what guide us to the decisions we make.  Unfortunately, emotions can affect our learning and decision making unconsciously.  This is something that can be troublesome for some individuals.  There are times in life when you just can’t put aside your emotions, thus having an effect on all aspects of your life.  This issue is even more severe for a young child.  For a child they are just trying to understand the world they live in and themselves.  They are often unable to set aside their own emotions at any given time.  Through a child driven curriculum children are encouraged to participate in learning due to the high interest of the activity.  However, nothing can change a child’s feelings or emotions.

In my classroom emotions fill the classroom.  Many of my children wear their emotions on their sleeves (which is how I always was!).  Having a class of 16 it can be difficult to spend quality time with every single child daily.  However, as the teacher I make it my job to make sure I visit a few particular students daily.  These students are the ones whose emotions change daily.  Often my lessons are altered due to one of the student’s emotions or behaviors.  For my students that are having a difficult day (sad, mad, angry, frustrated…) I develop quite activities where they can have space while being in engaged in an activity of high interest.  Working with three and four year olds I have some ability to help the child to gain enjoyment and want to participate in new activities.  A huge part of my philosophy as an early childhood teacher is that you must always be willing to change or adjust learning activities and curriculum at any given time, due to the child’s interest and needs.

For me I personally am a learner that wants to know how such skills will apply to my field.  I can remember as an undergraduate in general courses feeling frustrated because I could not understand how such knowledge will apply to my field.  I would often say to my dad, I want to teach young kids, how algebra, or biology, or even history will help me with this.  This frustration followed me through my entire associates degree since most of my classes seemed to be on anything but the early childhood field.  Once I began my bachelor’s degree I began to feel like my classes held a higher meaning.  The majority of the classes needed applied to the early childhood field in one way or another.  I can speak from experience though that I spent a lot more time and effort on the classes that directly related to my field of study.  I found myself actually excited about the learning and wanting to apply it to the classroom. 

I truly believe that learning is driven by emotion, desires, wants, and needs.  When learning is forced upon you, you are less likely to take it seriously or apply yourself to the same extend.  This is an issue with many students in grammar, middle, and high school.  Learning is forced upon the students, allowing the students to have little control of their own learning experiences.  Once learning gains a negative connotation for a student, it is very difficult to alter.  This is why it is so critical during pre-k to create the most inviting and exciting learning experience possible to help encourage young children to love learning, and exploring new concepts.  If a love for learning can be developed during the early years, it can have a direct impact on a students learning throughout graduate school. 



The “hard parts” is a difficult part of the brain function during learning.  It can be one of the most dreaded parts of the learning process for many.  Creating an environment and curriculum that enriches the importance of understanding of individual “hard parts”.  It is known that the “hard parts” will most likely always be a bit more challenging.  However if the teacher prepares and is conscious of the areas in which individual students may need extra support, leaning such information for the learners will become smoother.

Perkins (2009) insists that it is essential to deconstruct them first to make sure they are correct before participating in deliberate practice. When reconstructing any issue areas, it’s important that attention is paid to details and students know the real world application of the hard parts (Perkins, 2009)

In order to develop the knowledge and skills needed to learn the “hard parts”, teachers of all age children and adults should promote active learning within their curriculum and typical activities within the classroom and homework assignments. If counselors are a resource available within the school or institution they can be responsible for guiding by example and allowing students to participate in learning opportunities rather than just having students listen to lecture and have no hands on experience (Active learning, 2012). Through this particular teaching method, students are able to discover their own unique problem areas on their own.  For a teacher to follow through in this learning style appropriately, teaching must occur in several different ways to help each type of learner blossom and learn.

Perkins mentions in his book about the fact that each individual student has multiple “hard parts” to be conscious of and work with. An issue for many students is that they may avoid the “hard parts” due to lack of interest, empowerment, understanding, frustration, or fear.  Teacher’s role within the classroom branches out further then just creating a curriculum and implementing it during the school day.  Rather the teacher can hold the enthusiasm and encouragement for students to become motivated learns, becoming interested on “working on the “hard parts” and enriching their understanding and learning experience.  As a teacher it is critical to provide the students with the whole picture of the learning concept.  Through first being introduced to the whole picture and developing an understanding for its importance, a student is able to gain meaning and drive to develop a deeper understanding of the smaller pieces (Perkins, 2009). When the whole picture is first introduced to the student, it becomes easier for the teacher to then tie the hard parts” to the interests of each individual student.


Being in the early childhood field and a pre-kindergarten teacher brings the importance of helping the children gain a further understanding of their learning and concurring the further learning of the “hard parts”.  In the classroom hands on experiences are enriched in every activity developed.  Open-ended experience creates an opportunity for children to explore their learning understanding and further develop the concepts of the “hard parts”. 


In the pre-k classroom I am so incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with each child, and further develop an understanding of their individual learning style.  Daily each child participates in a small group activity.  During this time children are given the opportunity to explore a learning concept with the support of the teacher.  This means that it is a perfect opportunity to help a child develop a further understanding of the “hard parts”.  Something that I hope to become stronger in is my small group time.  The High Scope approach is all new to me.  Prior to this school year I had never been introduced to this learning experience.   Today I still feel a little unsure of this learning activity of our day.  My goal is to enrich this experience through helping each student individually to further encourage and provide excitement of exploring and furthering the knowledge of concepts.


Demetriou, H., & Wilson, E. (2008). A return to the use of emotion and reflection. Psychologist21(11), 938-940.

 Perkins, D. N. (2009). Making learning whole, how seven principles of teaching can transform education. Jossey-Bass.

Thagard, P. (2005). Mind, introduction to cognitive science. (2nd ed.). The MIT Press.

Thoms, K.J. (2001). They’re not just big kids: Motivating adult learners. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED463720.pdf



Other Resources to Learn More About Emotions and the “Hard Parts” of Learning:


Affect- Emotions and Motivation    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8SKrjZSlXY

How Can Learning Affect a Child’s Emotions? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwIlNyYmeMU


Changing Brains: Emotions and Learning http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8OziK-6IQI

Role of Social and Emotional Learning in the Early Childhood Classroom  http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/social_emotional_learning_what_it_how_can_we_use_it_help_our_children


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