An Ancient Approach to Emotional Literacy

In our work in the South African rural town of Philippolis we realised early on that emotional literacy was as important as digital and English literacy. In any community, you cannot expect to facilitate real positive change without breaking negative patterns of social behavior, which, in many cases, have become the norm.

How can effective learning take place when a child is not happy? As an educator, how can you talk about self-development when many of the children you are communicating with have a very limited view on the possibilities of the world and how they can contribute to it?

Lulani Vermeulen with a young learner outside the Philippolis Digital Learning Centre.

Lulani Vermeulen with a young learner outside the Philippolis Digital Learning Centre.

According to Lulani Vermeulen, who as well as being the Philippolis Digital Learning Centre Project Coordinator, is a spiritual leader in the Philippolis community, there are a couple of key points:

1.     Children will not feel the need to open up, if they don’t know there is something wrong.

You cannot help the fact that negative undercurrents exist in most communities. Goal number one is helping children to understand when something is negative. Children must be empowered to understand the difference between right and wrong.

2.     To establish trust and open communication, you have to get creative.

Children often have difficulty expressing themselves in paradigms that come naturally to adults. Role-play or “play” often improves engagement, and helps children to communicate not just through words, but also through body language and action.

In Philippolis we have been running a weekly values programme for primary school children. The programme focuses on trustworthiness, love, responsibility, fairness, respect and citizenship.

As an example of how we engage our learners, we recently had the “Puppet Theatre” visit Philippolis from Bloemfontein. The show includes a number of fun performances, but there was also a sequence that focuses on love (one of our core values), specifically love for our own bodies.

How do we love and respect our own bodies? What are examples of how we harm our own bodies, but also, what are examples of how other people can harm our bodies.

A crowd of Philippolis youngsters crowds around the Puppet Theatre.

A crowd of Philippolis youngsters crowds around the Puppet Theatre.

A Philippolis audience at its best!

A Philippolis audience at its best!

Lulani was amazed at the response. “A teacher in a classroom very often offers a one-dimensional approach to “values” education. Puppetry is like attending a soccer match. It’s human nature to become involved. To shout from the side-line. To listen to why an umpire has made a decision and to try and understand that decision. To boo when something is wrong. To cheer when something is right. The puppets stimulated our learners to share their ideas and reveal their misconceptions. Without fear of judgment, they shared their views and feelings.”

What values would you add to our programme? Do you have thoughts and ideas on emotional literacy? We would love your feedback.

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