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Smile, frown or sleepy face? Mural helps identify feelings

Mural is giant mood meter

Wyoming — Faces of Oriole Park Elementary School students and teachers on a new mural express many feelings: patience, interest, hope, joy, sadness, confusion, worry.

Created by students in teacher Laura Sluys’ special education classroom, the mural hangs near the entrance to the playground. Students can take a moment to think about their emotions, categorized in red, yellow, blue and green zones, on their way out to play or coming back inside for class.

“The reason we put it in the hall is so people can see how they feel,” said third-grader Jayce Verhaar.

Second-grader Jayla’h Smith joyfully expressed how she felt making the mural: “I love it! I’m happy!”

‘Happy!’ second-grader Jayla’h Smith shouts as she talks about her emotions

The mural, made with paint, paper, tape and photos, ties in with RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Used district-wide, RULER stands for the five tools of emotional intelligence: recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating. Students learn to identify and be aware of their emotions, therefore learning to better express their needs.

RULER uses a tool called Mood Meter, a color-coded graphic on which students indicate how they are feeling. The mural is a giant Mood Meter. 

“We’ve learned how to recognize our feelings; we’ve learned how to understand what we are feeling ,” Sluys said. “We’ve learned to label it — that’s what the Mood Meter helps us do — and then we can express and regulate our feelings.”

Each year, Sluys’ students work with teaching artists from Artists Creating Together on a collaborative project that impacts the whole school. The Grand Rapids-based nonprofit empowers individuals with disabilities to learn, grow and celebrate through the arts.

“This year we wanted to do a program about emotions,” she said.

With artist-in-residence Jill Dover, they also made paper plate masks depicting feelings, painted watercolors and made clay emoji faces. 

“We talked about how our bodies and eyes show emotions, and… you can check in with your body to see how you feel,” Sluys said.

Sluys uses RULER in her classroom every day. In a “feeling circle,” students indicate the color of their emotions on a Mood Meter, sometimes explaining why they feel like they do. They often also indicate what they want or need as a result of their emotions, such as alone time or a break.

“I am feeling at peace, I’m in the green,” Sluys told the students about her feelings on a recent Tuesday morning. “I am glad to be here at school, but I don’t have a lot of energy. I’m kind of tired.”

Read more from Wyoming: 
Scholarship winner has her eyes on the stars
Safety & security team expands with retired police officers

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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