After I received my Masters in Education from Bank Street one of the first jobs I took was a teaching position at a public elementary school in South Bronx, NY. At 24 years old I was naive to what I was getting myself into. While my school would have liked me to ignore my student’s hunger pains and physical signs of abuse and move forward with the daily math and reading curriculums put into place by the city I knew better. Before I could begin to focus on the intellectual development of my students I needed to nurture and build up their emotional and social well being.
There are two concepts I put into place that transformed my classroom. The first was a feelings chart. Unlike the punitive behavioral modification charts that have sadly become so popular these days, this chart was aimed to give children a voice. So often powerless in their lives the feelings chart was a safe place to tell our class how you were feeling in that moment. All feelings were accepted and honored.
The second concept I used is The Hug Jar. It is something I also implemented in my own home when Quinn was two and my twin daughters were born. 2.5 years later we continue to use it everyday.
WHAT IS THE HUG JAR?
The Hug Jar is simple. It is a jar filled with hearts. When a child (or a parent/caregiver) feels like a hug s/he takes a heart out of the jar and gives it to the person s/he wants a hug from.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE THE HUG JAR
large mouth jar- this jar would work well
HOW TO MAKE THE HUG JAR
I made my hearts from felt that I hand sewed and filled with stuffing, but you can also use thick pieces of paper. I labeled the outside of a small plastic jar “hug jar”. We leave the jar in the same place everyday so that my children (and sometimes me!) can use it when we want.
WHY IS THE HUG JAR IMPORTANT?
Often times children need a hug or emotional support but do not know how to ask for it. The Hug Jar breaks down that barrier. The Hug Jar signals to children you matter, your feelings are important, I am here for you. The Hug Jar also helps me and my kids restart after a grumpy moment or moment of conflict.
When I was in the weeds of parenting, caring for a toddler and twin newborns, it was hard to give everyone what they needed. I taught my son (then 2 years old) how to give me a heart when he felt like he needed me and was not receiving the attention he deserved. From day one he loved this! I will never forget how one day I was at the sink cleaning dishes and felt a tug on my pant leg. I turned around to find Quinn looking up at me with big eyes holding a heart. I melted, sweeping my little guy into my arms and hugging him. We both felt great in that moment. The Hug Jar continues to be part of our family culture. I love when I witness my children unprompted give hug hearts to each other. All children deserve to feel wanted and loved.