Shaping Emotions, Influencing Behavior

Movement With Sonja

In movement classes, the children are learning a movement-based approach to influencing and managing their emotions and behavior. They do movement explorations, somatic practices, and dynamic games that continue to build and develop throughout the year to create a somatic foundation for social-emotional growth and development.

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The children are learning how they can influence the shape and intensity of their actions. They discover how this affects their feelings and how they can influence their feelings and behavior by shifting their physical shape and modulating their intensity. “How can you apply this learning to how you relate to others, the group and yourself?”


This social-emotional movement approach is deeply informed by Formative Psychology® and adds a practical, somatic dimension to the Zones of Regulation® which is already a part of The Berkeley School curriculum.

Moving through Space, in Place and in Themselves

Building upon the curriculum from the Fall, for movement class this month, I taped three big shapes on the floor:

Red Shapes — Extreme Excitement & Form; Straight, Angular, & Pointy with Bursting Boundaries

Green Shapes — Medium Excitement & Form; Round, Full, & Circular with Contained Boundaries

Blue Shapes — Low Excitement & Form; Curvy, Fluid, & Soft with Collapsing Boundaries

The children trace the shapes on the floor, moving through space in straight and angular lines, in circles and in curvy lines. They make these shapes through space and in place as they explore how moving in these different ways affects how they feel.

They transition back and forth from one shape to another, exploring how shifting their shape influences their feelings and how their feelings influence how they shape themselves.

They freeze their shapes and then change how tightly they hold their shapes to discover how they can generate and influence their emotional intensity. “How does changing your intensity affect your feeling-shape? And does this change how you might move through the room? Interact with others?”

Red Shapes with Extreme Excitement & Form

Straight, Angular, and Pointy — Bursting or Breaking Boundaries

When the drum plays, the children outline the angular, straight, pointy shapes on the floor and then carve and slice them in the air. “What is this like?”

The drum plays as the children move to discover their own answers.

Here were some ways they responded:

IMG_2009 (1)“Jumpy!”






The drum plays and the children stay in place and make “jaggedy”, “crooked” and “ninja-like” shapes.

(Those words were from the children describing how they were shaping themselves).

“Hold your shape and change your intensity. What happens when you squeeze yourself — make your shape even more rigid or more dense? What is that like in you?

Some of the children’s responses:

“I feel hot like the sun”


“Really angry”

“Super stuck”

Shades of Red -- Degrees of Extreme Intensity

The children alter how tightly they hold their shape — from a intense, exploding, deep red to a gripping, jaggedy medium red, to a pointy sharp shade of light red. They move through space with each of these three distinct intensities.

“How does this affect how you feel?” One child said that he went from feeling “super duper red mad to very upset to just miffed”.  “And how does this affect how you act and might interact with others?” He went from pushing and yelling to stomping and demanding to firmly standing and strongly requesting. “When might these different behaviors be useful for you? In what situations?”

Another child went from super stuck to kind of stuck to just a little sticky; from feeling stubborn to open to possibilities, from stuck-in-a-rut to able to consider other perspectives. “How do these shifts in yourself change how you act and interact with others?”

Green Shapes with Medium Excitement & Form

Round, Circular, Full — Contained & Consistent Boundaries

I play a special rhythm and the children know that this rhythm means: “Come-back-to-the-Circle”

Between rounds of movement explorations, they come back to the green circle.

“How do you gather yourself together? How do you get ready?”

We spend several classes exploring how the children gather, expand, scatter and gather themselves back again. They do this through the room, in place and in themselves.

They practice getting “Five things ready”

  • Arms & legs gathered to their center
  • Ears open
  • Eyes focussed
  • Mouths closed and
  • Body oriented for action

The children practice coming back to “Five Things Ready”.  “When the drum plays, you have ten counts to go anywhere in the room and be back sitting on the green circle, gathered in “Five Things Ready”. Let’s see how you do this.” The children share their individual strategies with the group.

As a group, I continually have the children transitioning from gathering themselves into a group circle to moving through the room and back to the circle. One child exclaimed, “Oh I get it. We explore and play, and then come back to the green circle. We gather ourselves back to the green zone and get ready-to-go!”

Calm, cool, collected, quiet and contained

“What is it like to move through space in circular, round, full shapes with medium energy?”

  • “Like water flowing in the ocean”
  • “Like grass swaying in the wind”

They explore moving through space, in place and in themselves.

Shades of Green -- Degrees of Medium Intensity

Deep dark green — Ready and alert. The children sit up straight. They stand at attention. They run in circles with lots of focus and clear direction.

Medium green — Calm, cool, collected. Quiet and ready to go.

The children sit, walk and run while remaining calm, cool, and collected. “Who can run really fast without hurrying? Can you stay calm and centered while moving quickly? The children practice running while staying calm and collected.

Light green — Gathering together, getting ready

Blue Shapes with Low Excitement & Form

Curvy, Flowing, Soft — Collapsing, Fluid Boundaries

“How do you move through space in this blue, curvy, low energy, kind of way?”

When the drum plays, the children ripple and undulate through the room. When the drum stops, they hold their melting shapes. “What is this like?”

Some words from the children:


“Slow and soft”




“Too quiet”

The drum plays and the children melt and pause, melt and pause — dripping and drooping into deeper shades of blue as they flop, plop, limp, drag and roll themselves through the room. Finally, they are all lying like stagnant puddles all over the floor.

Some ways your children described how they felt:

“Droopy and goopy”



Shades of Blue -- Degrees of Low Intensity

From making dark blue — stagnant, heavy, limp shapes

to forming medium blue — floppy, cuddly, softly resting shapes,

the children slowly give themselves more form and energy until they make light blue shapes as they sit in soft slumps, stood quietly swaying in a daydream, or slowly flowing like a meandering stream through space.

Influencing the Shape and Intensity of your Actions and Interactions

Along a continuum from high to low, the children change their level of intensity, excitement and form. They modulate their intensity and shift their shape, transitioning between feeling states.

  • From shades of rigid red with extreme form, intensity and excitement
  • to shades of calm, contained green with medium amounts of form, intensity and excitement
  • to shades of curvy, collapsing blue with little form, intensity and excitement.

From holding themselves super tight and solid, to less tight, but firm; to mushy and soft, to fluid and flowing, to stagnant and limp.

What is it like to hold firm, to stand strong and hold your ground? How does this affect how you feel and how you interact with others? Do you feel stubborn? Determined? Confident?

What happens if you soften? What is it like to go with the flow? Do you feel easy going? Or indecisive? What is it like to be passive? To be active? To be interactive?

Let’s play Shape Tag!

In dynamic running games, children often get angry if they get caught. Sometimes they strike out and hit their friends. Sometimes they stomp off and stop playing even though they love to play. So I created a game to help them express and manage their frustration.

If you get tagged, you make a super angry red shape and freeze! To get unfrozen, a friend makes your same shape with you and then together you both hold your shape but shift intensity to a light red. One more shift from your light red to a green “ready to go” shape. And you are both free to run again.

  1. Super red!
  2. Light red
  3. Ready to Go, Green

Not only do they learn to disassemble their anger in steps, they are able to get back to running and playing quickly.

What the Children are Learning

In movement classes, the children are growing and developing their ability to recognize how changing their physical shape and intensity affects how they feel, how they can influence their feelings and behavior, and how this affects how they relate to others, to the group, and to themselves. They are learning how to directly modify and form their own behaviors through movement.

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