“That’s the emotion box”explains Emmy, pointing to a box containing piles of objects. “The red bottle is anger. Black is fear. The yellow the joy, the blue the sadness and the green the serenity., continues Maïwenn, at his side. Serenity ? “Well yes, it’s when you’re quiet”she replies surprised that we are wondering.
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The pupils of the Barbanègre kindergarten, in the 19e arrondissement of Paris, already know a lot about emotions. Their school is at the forefront in these new learnings, included in the school programs in 2015. Located in a priority area, the establishment has been carrying out, since 2018, an experiment as part of a think tank on well-being at the school.
“Here, there are no good or bad emotions”
While the students are doing activities, Marcel Junior approaches the famous box. “This space is an island where children can go when they need to calm down, explains Manon Samsoën, the teacher. Objects help them recognize their emotions and regulate them. » The boy takes a kaleidoscope, looks through it and laughs heartily. The two little girls continue the inventory: “Headphones for noisedetails Emmy, a ball…And those are magic wands”, she adds, showing tubes filled with glitter. There is also a stuffed animal, a box with tear-off paper or a picture book to illustrate the range of emotions: happy, embarrassed, surprised, worried, reassured, happy, disappointed, frightened, upset, proud, angry.
→ INVESTIGATION. Educating about emotions, the school’s new mission
“Here, we have the right to feel everything. There are no good or bad emotions as we once thoughtdevelops Manon Samsoën, very involved in the school project. There are also no stereotyped emotions. The time when girls shouldn’t get angry and boys shouldn’t cry seems over, in the eyes of the young school teacher.
A link between emotions and learning
Created in 2018, the concept of the emotion box ended up irrigating all the activities of the school. This year, it notably gave rise to the production of an individual book in which each child illustrated and mimed emotions. “We started from the observation that an emotional overflow prevented students from learningobserve Manon Samsoën. By helping them to welcome and name their emotions, we allow them to free themselves and be more available for learning. »
Pascale Haag, psychologist and lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), who accompanied the team for a year, confirms: « Many studies in psychology and in cognitive science have shown the link between emotions and learning. We know that joy, hope and pride promote the acquisition of knowledge, while boredom, anxiety, frustration and anger are linked to academic failure. »
No body without emotion
Neuroscience has also demonstrated the role of emotions in well-being and health. “The work of Antonio Damasio was fundamentalrecalls the psychiatrist Stéphanie Hahusseau, author of Let your emotions live (1). He attacked the old opposition between body and mind, which notably led to the theory of gendered emotions, according to which men are rational and women emotional. However, this separation does not exist. Emotions are physiological activations. There is no body without emotion, there are no emotions without a body, and there is no regulation of emotions without interoception, that is, the ability to feel them.she insists.
→ READ. Let’s listen to the emotions of the child
Recognizing one’s emotions, naming them and welcoming them without judging oneself, are the three mechanisms that make it possible to regulate them, according to the psychiatrist. In kindergarten, children already try to tame them. The objective is to teach them to identify them at home, but also at others to allow them to enter into a relationship and “cultivating empathy”underlines the teacher. “The experimentation is still ongoing, but everything has become more fluid”, she assures. However, the collaboration with Pascale Haag has been suspended due to the Covid. The researcher was unable to conduct her observations in class “to verify the possibility of a link between the use of the emotion box and the way teachers regulate their own affects”.
An injunction to express one’s emotions
Like the other teachers, the Barbanègre kindergarten team has not been trained in this new pedagogical approach. “We had to fund training ourselves, deplores Manon Samsoen, because this type of project is not easy for everyone. A colleague of mine told me that she would never have done it on her own because she was raised in a family that kept emotions at bay. »
The relationship to emotions is linked to personal history, but also to culture and social environment, observes anthropologist David Le Breton, author of a recent book on Smile (2). “They are part of a system of values that will be different according to social class, gender and age. We live permanently in a kind of ambient morality which means that our emotions will be linked to the interpretation that we operate on the world according to these values. »
→ MAINTENANCE. “The family plays a key role in learning emotions”
If in the past, it was rather necessary to repress them, since the 1990s and the rise of individualism, we are faced with the opposite injunction, notes the anthropologist. “Today, you have to express everything you feel, in reality shows and on social networks, adds Stéphanie Hahusseau. However, it is not because we accept to welcome our emotions that we must ventilate them on the others. In general, it annoys everyone and does not help to regulate them”, she decides. At their age, the 21 students of Manon Samsoën can still express all their emotions in class, while learning to recognize and regulate them.