Bringing ‘Curriculum of Feelings' to COS in the Classroom

Sydney-based psychologist Robyn Dolby uses the Circle of Security in the Classroom (COS-C) to bring safety and predictability into the lives of preschool children. A question she is often asked by classroom teachers is, “How do I meet all of the children’s needs at the same time?” Below is Robyn’s response.



“This is really difficult and there is no magical solution. In an ordinary day at childcare, Joan could be comforting Sara who is distressed because she has just said goodbye to her mum when two families come to her with their children to do the goodbye ritual, at the same time a girl comes in to ask for help to resolve a dispute and George who is sitting on the other side of Joan is asking her to look at his block construction. Joan may feel, ‘I am full to the brim, I wish I had a practical task at this very minute like helping the children put on their sunscreen!’

The best you can do is to make yourself as predictable as you can.  Naming your own actions helps. ‘George I haven’t forgotten you, I am comforting Sara because she is missing her mum. And then I’ll be back to look at your construction’. When you return your attention to George you can say, ‘Now I am back. Let me see what you have done with these blocks’. If Sara is still not settled, you might say to her, ‘I’m going to play with some blocks with George. Why don’t you stay right here with me till you’re ready to play because it is hard to have mum go. You can stay with me, and when you’re ready you can join me’. When you name your own actions you make it easier for the children to follow you and they also experience being held in mind. And when you make a guess about how a child is feeling and put some words to this, then the child learns that ‘my feelings are not unspeakable, that they are not something I have to be afraid of or that I have to hide or try to push away’.

 A tricky situation is when children are on different sides of the Circle. Two children may be sitting next to each other and having a totally different experience. George is eager for Joan to see what he has hidden inside the box he has constructed, ‘Come on, open it, open it!’ Beside him, Sara, is crying because her mum has just left. How do you meet each of their needs? If you treat them like they are both at the same point on the Circle one of them is going to lose out.

Joan first invites Sara to look with her to find what George had hidden inside his box. Sara drops her shoulders and leans away. Joan reflects: ‘As soon as I said that to Sara I knew that was not where she was at. I was trying to pull her up to the top of the Circle. ‘Joan says to Sara, ‘When I asked you to look at the blocks, I think I was hurrying you. You’re still missing mummy. You can sit here with me till you feel better. I’ll give you a cuddle if you’d like.’

Sara leans into Joan and George looks across at her with a brief look of concern. Joan now speaks with him about how Sara is feeling. ‘Sara’s sad because her mum left. Does that ever happen to you? I noticed today when your mum left you gave her that big hug and then you seemed like you were ready to play.’ This will help George to understand that ‘we all have different feelings at different times’ and Sara will learn that ‘it’s OK for me to be having these feelings.’ To this, Glen Cooper, co-originator of Circle of Security, responds, “Part of the ‘curriculum of feelings’ is that when you have a child who is displaying any kind of feeling you help the other children around you to make sense of it.” 

Joan does join in George’s fun and finds the different things he has hidden inside his box, one, two, three, four, five times. On the sixth time, Sara looks into the box, and back to Joan: ‘I think you want to join in looking too Sara.’ Joan’s tone conveys, ‘I’ll be interested in what you see.’ George looks up at Sara and holds the box closer to her to look.  Now they are both on the top of the Circle. Sara has got there herself with Joan’s support of staying with her when she is upset and supporting her exploration when she is ready.”

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