Working with Emotions

The 3 Bridges Model restores the inherent connections between emotions, literacy and arts learning in every activity.
Kindergartner admires the puppet head she made with a sad face and big eyelashes.

Emotions in the Artistic Process

  • A second grader focuses on tearing pieces of yellow construction paper. Her eyebrows are furrowed.
    Changing emotions are intrinsic to the Artistic Process

    An artist starts to discover their vision as they experiment, and like or don’t like what they see. Discoveries that are “wrong” or “failures” are inherent to the process. As an artist loves what they are making, or loses their vision, feelings come up. How to work through the emotional highs and lows is part of learning an artist’s work process.<

  • Student with a beaming smile holding her puppet faces and showing them to her friend at their table.
    Sources of Joy
    •  Getting a good new idea
    • Solving a technical challenge
    • Being in a flow; feeling engaged, absorbed in the work
    • Accessing one’s own imagination and inner world
    • Relaxing and being playful with materials
    • Making connections to life experiences
    • Having someone else notice what you did in detail on your terms

    Teaching for Joy

    Make space for the pathways to expression and learning that children have in them: joyful self-directed challenges emerge intertwined

    Healthy noise: What does joy sound like?

    ML children freely make their puppets talk and play, joyful opens the doors to learning and language.
  • A child examines a pink spiral that they have made out of torn contruction paper
    Sources of Frustration
    • An idea in mind an artist doesn’t know how to make
    • Challenging technical skills needed to translate ideas into the medium
    • Making a choice and finding it doesn’t match what they had in mind
    • Losing sight of their original vision
    • Comparing themselves unfavorably to others
    • Not knowing how to get started

Dealing with Frustration


    “What don’t you like about it?” (On frustration)

    Rooster offers tips like: Step back. Then, ask yourself:
    “What do I love about my art? What don’t I love about it?”

    Self-directed process to work with Frustration

    Notice, Describe & Ask helps students identify and move through frustration whenever it arises in school or the other parts of life.
    Accept and work with students’ sense of frustration

    Frustration is in the “bedrock of artmaking”,  Honor student’s artistic intentions and feeling that their work isn’t right yet,   instead of telling them you like it. Help them  to sit with the emotion, harness language with Notice Describe & Ask and start to communicate and problem-solve.

  • A group of students each exploring their own way to express the vocabulary word 'aggressive' with their body and faces.
    Prepare or Reflect with the Emotions Statues Game

    If you have worked with your students on the Emotions statues activity, you can use it to explore and give language to emotions that come up while working.  See Emotions activities in group below.


Emotionally Charged Content

When children feel empowered by an art medium to go deeper into their inner world and create what they want they might begin to process difficult experiences through their artmaking.

    Help students find a bridge into artmaking

    When children feel empowered by an art medium to go deeper into their inner world and create what they want, they might begin to process difficult experiences through their artmaking. Watch this video to see an example of how this happens in the classroom and how to support a student who is using art to process a big life experience.


    Hear from artist Donna Maria DeCreeft about watching a child process difficult experiences through drawing over the course of her residency.  By giving him the space to make what he wanted, he was able to work through his feelings through the language of drawing.


Activities: Character Emotions-My Emotions

How do character’s emotions shape a story? How does understanding emotion vocabulary in your own experience and body help you understand characters actions and other story concepts? Teach these activities individually or in sequence.

    What do these activities do?
    • Build vocabulary that expands, nuances and deepens the emotional content that can be expressed and discussed in your classroom.
    • Forge connections between students’ experience and character experience.
    • Build emotional literacy and story understanding simultaneously.
  • Student uses emotion mapping tool to get ideas for how to draw expressive puppet faces.

    Map Emotions Visually

    Use Emotion Mapping to visually compare & contrast advanced emotion words explored in The Statue Game.
    Check out Emotion Mapping

    Play Emotion Character Grab Bag

    Extend statue work to characters as students embody a character and an emotion you pull from the bag. Think “enraged robot”.
  • Contrasting expressive puppet faces made with 5 shapes. One winking with a crooked smile and one with large round eyes and a downturned mouth.

    Make 2 Face Puppets: Why do feelings change?

    Make 2 contrasting faces and consider why their emotions changed. Story building.
    Connected Activities
  • Violin teacher sits in a circle with her students in a classroom.

    Play How You Feel Warmup

    Create a warmup in your instrument or other medium that allows children to make artistic choices to show what a situation felt like.
    Try this Warm Up