Guiding Principles


In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman argues that the most important thing we can do for young children is to help them become emotionally literate — able to recognize and understand their feelings and deal with them constructively.

Long before Goleman, Sylvia Ashton-Warner — a novelist and early childhood teacher — wrote that people come into the world like volcanoes whose only vent for feeling is violence. She believed that our best hope for a peaceful world lay in helping each child open many other “vents” — many ways for feelings to come out safely. At Children First, we help children tune in to themselves and express their feelings in safe and powerful ways.

One very obvious vent for feelings is words — speaking your feelings in conversations with teachers and with friends; telling stories that capture your feelings; and choosing reading words that give voice to your personal truth.

sp reading word

Another valuable vent for emotion is physical action — pounding clay, digging into wet sand, pounding a nail or heaving big rocks into the Eno River.


Still another important vent for emotion is expressive activity, like painting, drawing, music, and dance.


And for young children, perhaps the most important vent is pretend play — acting out feelings of rage when you supply the voice and actions for a “bad dinosaur,” or the desire to be powerful and competent when you swab down the water deck with real mops, or the need to be nurtured when you become the sick patient at the doctor’s office or the baby in the nursery.