Educational Toys And Books For Character Education
Bibliotherapy for social-emotional learning experience. Or in other words, reaching your child‘s inner-world by joining him for the ride with stories, toys and games. By Educational Toys And Books For Character Education.
By Sarah Itzhaki, PhD, and Steven Tobias, PsyD
An iceberg floating piecefully in the ocean or a majestic tree - what magnificent sights! But we know that’s not it! The submerged part of the iceberg and the roots of the tree may reach distances deeper than and far beyond our grasp. If the iceberg or tree had eyes, it would not be able to see its dimension or roots hidden below the surface. Would the iceberg or tree be aware of the unseen parts of its existence?
Looking at other people, we see their faces and expressions, their bodies, movements, and behavior. But we know that’s not it! We can’t see the deeper, subtler parts of their being. How do we reach out to those essential areas? Should we try? Why?
“… kids were playing in the playground. They were running, jumping, tossing a ball. Jack* was playing a little harder than the others. He was snatching the ball and pushing kids around. Some cried.”
Why? What are the roots of Jack’s aggressive behavior? You might feel antagonized by it and bring him to order. Will this help? You can show empathy and ask, “Jack, why are you behaving this way?” Will this help? The answer is no. The hidden roots that hold the answers are beyond Jack’s and your reach.
The combined experience of an enticing story and a relevant toy hold the key to the hidden parts of the child, because they touch his imagination and involve more of his senses.
We all encounter hardships or problems at different points in our lives. Some of these difficulties be transient, such as moving to a new town, or even the normal stages of children’s development, while some last a long time, or even remain permanent such as school based challenges or familial changes (divorce, loss of loved ones, abuse). (1-5) We must always remember the inner factors: some of us are simply more sensitive than others and blink harder with each blow.
All these situations affect the inner, invisible parts of ourselves. Sometimes, the feelings hurt too much, are too confusing or are too frightening. Children, to greater extent than adults, neither possess the capabilities to process and digest their feelings by themselves, nor the communications skills to convey them to others. (6)
“Jack, who acts in an aggressive manner, comes from a strict household governed by a controlling, dominant mother. When he is at home, he is well-behaved and obedient. He unloads his energies and aggressiveness only on his peers, outdoors. Jim grew up in the same sort of environment, however his outdoor behavior is subtle and timid. In fact, he is the type of kid that Jack loves to pick on.”
Untreated emotions may erupt in the form of acts of violence, anxiety, learning or concentration difficulties, hyperactivity, obsession, fear, sleeping problems, nightmares, eating disorders or a constant state of misery. (6) How it leaks out differs from one child to the next.
Just talking to children about their feelings and problems does not necessarily change their perceptions of themselves or situations.
While adults (hopefully) think about their feelings and problems in a rational manner, children most often do not. Their perceptions of themselves and the world are not necessarily based on fact and reality. It is also a world of egocentrism and intense, unregulated emotion.
Children also have a limited vocabulary for differentiating and expressing their emotions. Phrases and words like “I’m bored,” “It’s not fair” or “No,” or simply screaming and tossing stuff everywhere, may be expressions of a wide array of emotions and triggers. A child’s connection between his or her inner world and outer expression is not solid; thus, the frustration when adults don’t understand. (6) It would be so much easier if the adult could just tell the child how to feel and think. But since this does not work, the question is how to reach children.
“Mom asked me how school was. “OK,” I replied. It didn’t sound OK at all. “What happened?” asked Mom. “Nothing,” was the reply. “Did someone …?” “Mom, I’m OK!” That was that. How can I begin to tell her what I feel? I don’t understand it myself. I don’t understand why I feel like such an outsider everywhere. She’ll probably just say “You’re wrong” or “You are so amazing! How can you think such a thing?” Which only makes me feel worse, ungrateful. Anyway, she’s not objective. She’s my mom. She’s supposed to think that way.”
Margot Sunderland demonstrates the main theme beautifully in her book that daily language is not the natural language of feelings for kids. (6) Kids live in a world of metaphors and imagery, of fantasy and magic. Daily vocabulary and normal symbols of feelings are too dry, dead and flat to even begin to describe their senses. Words like “sad” and “scared” mean nothing to them, because they lack the pure intensity of their emotions. Those words can not capture the imagnative world of colors, images, actions and brightness or darkness that make their world. Adults may be unaware of this; thus, children may not receive the help they desperatly need.
“Sam feared nighttime. She dreaded each time the sun set, as darkness swept over and took the light and clarity of day away. She was not afraid of monsters. She wished she were. Monsters are a legitimate fright. There are even books about it. But Sam was afraid of something else. It was as though a giant pitch-black hand were creeping around her throat, aiming to strangle her with each breath she took. She was so ashamed of her deep fear, which she could not even explain. Something was very wrong with her, she was sure. Who had heard of such a fear. She paid a dear price for it, as she never went on overnight camping trips with her friends in the Scouts.”
IF CHILDREN ARE NOT APPROACHED PROPRELY, CAN THEY COPE WITH THEIR TROUBLED EMOTIONS?
Children may develop coping mechanisms that set them back in their attempts to problem-solve effectively (6, 7):
-Holding back annoying emotions. (Jim and Sam)
-Carelessness, concession, avoidance, apathy (Jack, Jim and Sam)
-Turning numb to push away the pain (Jack and Jim)
-Being bullied or abused and not conveying their feelings to others (Jim)
WHAT‘S THE RESULT?
Feelings of loneliness, rejection, shame, incompetence, frustration or anger. A vicious circle occurs: bad feelings generate rejection and more bad feelings.
IF THE DIRECT ROUTE IS JAMMED, WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO?
Make a detour and take the indirect route. It may take longer, but chances are you’ll get there if you make the right turn. How? The best indirect route to the concealed parts - our emotions - is the most scenic route of all: art.
WHAT IS ART?
Art is a form of expression to which you react emotionally.
Art can make you laugh, cry, think and feel joyous or sad. It reaches in and grabs you where you feel something, whether you are aware of your feelings or not. It touches the places that you can not see. Art lets you know that you are not alone, because you come to know that other people feel and react as you do. It caresses you and makes you feel that you are part of humankind. Storytelling, one of the most ancient art forms, was passed from generation to generation until the stories were captured on paper -thus, books.
WHY DO STORIES WORK WHERE SIMPLE WORDS CAN’T? (6,7)
The answer is through children’s natural interest in stories and play.
Children are more receptive to learning through stories than by talking directly. Ask any child if they would rather receive a lecture about their behavior or hear a story about someone else. It is through the stories that their minds are open to learning new ways of thinking about themselves and their world. Lectures about their behavior and problems tend to cause them to shut out the adults’ words.
A story is an explosion of metaphors and imagery that function as language.
Like a dream, a story conveys an array of emotions and expressions that are open to interpretation by children. A story provides a way to talk with children, using their language of fantasy and magic, thus enabling the adult to gain entry into the child’s inner world. This indirect route to the child’s psyche is further enhanced by the egocentrism of children, who relate everything to themselves and naturally identify with the characters. A good story deals empathically with the emotions that children experience by enhancing them and not nullifying or flattening them. It captures the minute elements of atmosphere, tension, intensity, vibration peaks and valleys. It tells children about “the known which you haven’t thought about.” (8)
BIBLIOTHERAPY – WHAT IS IT?
Literally, biblio-therapy is mental aid through literature.
Bibliotherapy is a technique for increasing understanding, development and personality growth. In this process, the therapist (teacher, psychologist, social worker, counselor or parent) uses a story, chosen because it is relevant to the child’s situation and needs, as a treatment aid for the child to understand himself and enable him to solve personal problems. This guided reading in a nurturing, secure environment ignites processes that lead to confrontation with problems. (9, 10)
The child identifies with the hero of the story: his journey, tribulations and courage to continue. The child is able to unload his conflicts, aggression and repressed emotions on the characters in the book without feeling guilt or shame; rather, he or she experiences a sense of release. The tale offers healthy solutions to the crisis that the hero endures—solutions that are planted like seeds in the child’s mind, to be used now or at an appropriate time in the future.
THIS IS THE TALE. WHAT ABOUT THE TOY?
It has been said that children’s work is to play.
Through play, they learn new things, develop critical thinking skills, engage in problem solving, and practice roles and behaviors. All while having fun! Through play we can teach children easily because it comes naturally to them.
Therefore, follow-up activities and additional features allow the child to actively incorporate what he or she has learned through the tale. Kids under age ten can best communicate their emotions and reach insights through simple means, such as papers and crayons for writing or drawing a scene based on the story. Appropriate toys, such as miniatures, dolls and objects, and activities such as role-playing, games, music, discussion and creative problem-solving, can be used to increase assimilation. These will always captivate the attention much more than just a story will. The more senses that are involved, the more the story stimulates the child’s development (6, 7); thus, the message sinks into the child’s mind more effectively.
While the child plays and has fun, a toy and a tale may be an important feature of effective therapy.
WHAT IS THE YOUNGEST AGE FOR A HEALING STORY?
About three. Younger children learn about the world they live in, but they are not ready for metaphors. But three-year-olds, or better, four-year-olds, begin to live in the world of their imagination. (6)
- Look for the products with the most attractive features and message.
- Make sure the story suits the age and level of development of the child.
-The story must answer the emotional issues that concern the child.
- The story must be relevant and concise, as well as imaginative, absurd and, at times, surreal or even foolish. The story could be built around an emotional state, or it could be about a child, true or imaginary, struggling with the problem that the child is familiar with.
- Listen to children’s preferences. They may not match yours, but the children are the ones who should enjoy the products.
- Also important to know:
1. While reading the story, keep pace with the child and let the message sink in.
2. Repetition: re-reading the story helps the child assimilate the message.
3. The story and the adult who tells it must not be judgemental.