Feeleez Teams up with Brain Science to Empower Leaders to Support Children's Emotional Health

What if community leaders were empowered with education, training and tools that allowed them to better support children's emotional health?

Photo of Natalie Christensen
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

We started Feeleez as a way to support children in the emergence of empathy. As we saw it, this was the most effective way to positively change the world, as most conflict, both local and global, seems to stem from a lack of empathy toward others. But as we dug deeper and pressed ourselves to really understand our field, we realized that there was so much more to it. As we found out, children that receive sustained emotional support do indeed develop a strong sense of empathy, but that's not all. According to the latest brain science, emotional support is not a beneficial side note that inspires bonus results, but an absolutely crucial part of healthy development overall. ONLY when children receive sustained support from caregivers are they capable of developing a strong sense of empathy, as well other central-to-success faculties such as problem-solving, logic, compassion, and more. ONLY when children receive emotional support can they develop meaningful relationships and a true sense of their significance and belonging. In other words, emotional support is KEY to academic, fiscal, and social success. It is THE most important work we can do on behalf of children. When we realized the "plain truth" of this, we redeveloped our entire solution to include and emphasize the brain science every caregiver MUST know in order for children to thrive. This vital bit of knowledge has the power to radically change the quality of children's lives by providing a lasting sense of wellbeing.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Self-identify race, ethnicity, or origin


www.feeleez.com http://www.centerforemotionaleducation.com/

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Montana

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Montana

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

We sell directly to customers via our website and thus impact schools and daycares across the nation. Our top states for this year are: Montana, Washington, California, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New York, South Carolina, Vermont, and Maine. We also sell wholesale to three companies that directly serve teachers and counselors. We don't know where their sales are concentrated: Fun and Function, Western Psychological Services, and Child Therapy Toys

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In December of 2006, then Senator Barak Obama in a speech at a gala for the organization K.I.D.S. described a national empathy deficit in America (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4md_A059JRc). Empathy is a natural faculty of the human brain, but its robust emergence and development are experience dependent, and currently we don't as a matter of course provide enough experience for children in this arena. Furthermore, as research has shown, children under emotional duress are neurally blocked from being able to learn, remember, perform, or manage themselves. Educational facilities that don't provide emotional safety are thwarting their own success. In order to cultivate our children's empathy and intelligence (cognitive and emotional), we need to incorporate instruction, modeling, and the maintenance of emotionally safe space in all institutions and programs that serve children.

The Feeleez solution is part of the Center for Emotional Education's mission to empower key leaders in children's wellbeing - via training, support, and effective tools - to create emotionally safe space. Only when children feel emotionally safe can they truly thrive. When adults are educated, trained, and supported in incorporating emotional processing into their pre-existing class schedules, programs, outreach, and families, children receive the help they need to become fully-realized, successful, happy people. In order for classrooms, aftercare programs, and all other approaches designed to support children, to be successful, every adult involved must be empowered with adequate knowledge of how the young brain works with regard to emotion. Our model and methodology applies to any individual or organization working with children.

We start with TRAINING via a presentation on Building Emotionally Safe Space.

In our presentation, caregivers will learn about emotional anatomy:

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•We are all good people - we don't earn this title, we are simply born this way.

•We all have needs. Human beings share the same set of basic needs.

•We all have feelings. Unmet needs result in uncomfortable feelings, met needs result in pleasant feelings.

•Feelings result in action. Positive feelings yield positive actions. Negative feelings yield negative actions.

As caregivers we can better inspire positive actions by meeting a child's needs, instead of spinning our wheels mowing down disruptive behavior. The most primary human need is to belong, when this need is met there is a profound ripple effect throughout the whole system. This webinar details ways in which caregivers can provide a strong sense of belonging.

Participants will learn about the emotional spectrum:

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Emotions exist on a spectrum. Human nature is to attempt to move UP the spectrum to better feeling emotions. When children are experiencing emotions on the lower end, and do not receive support, their brain will compel them to take action in order to inch up the ladder - pushing another child, for instance, because retaliation feels better than powerlessness. With the support of a caregiver, children can move up the ladder quickly and easily, feeling, (and thus acting), better just by receiving empathy. Empathy is the most profound and simple tool available to a caregiver in moving children up the emotional spectrum. Only when out of the red zone is a child capable of taking in information, thinking clearly, following instructions, creative problem-solving, and all the other tasks associated with learning and performing effectively in school and life.

Course participants will also learn about the systems within the brain:

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Our brains are divided into three overlapping systems. The reflexive system provides for basic survival. The social system involves our emotions and determines where to shift processing depending on the emotional safety of the situation. The reflective systems governs empathy, creative thinking, problem-solving and other higher brain functions. When a child feels intense emotions, and does not receive emotional support, processing shifts to the lower (reflexive) brain and the higher (reflective) brain shuts down completely. With emotional assistance, the child's brain is able to process the emotional content and return to higher brain functionality. With routine support from a caregiver, a child will spend more and more time with full-brain function, their brains will develop beneficial synaptic habits with regard to emotional processing, and eventually they will be able to process emotions in a healthy way all on their own - setting them up for greater emotional resilience, and lifelong wellbeing and success.

The Building Emotionally Safe Space presentation also covers in detail:

  • What empathy looks like in practice, and how it can be used effectively as a first response in the classroom when time is in short supply and emotions run high.
  • The benefits of empathy for the child(ren) and the caregiver.
  • How to communicate emotional safety through language and other subtle cues
  • How to manage emotionally safe interventions
  • How to grow emotional intelligence
  • How to normalize emotional processing
  • How to activate emotional education

We then provide caregivers with TOOLS to be used within the classroom/facility that make emotional safety and processing, easy and fun. Including:

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The Feeleez Matching Game. The game includes 25 matching pairs of vibrant Feeleez cards in a sturdy reusable tin. Kids enjoy sorting feelings by type, acting out scenarios, picking favorites, constructing “feeling walls”, and playing a matching game, but while they are playing, they are also learning about each other, sharing stories of their joys and sorrows, learning valuable emotional language, offering and receiving empathy, and building a community that supports emotional safety.

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The Feeleez Poster. An easy way to work emotional processing into the classroom and facilitate an atmosphere of emotional safety is to hang a Feeleez poster in the classroom. The poster illustrates 25 different emotions and can be used for conflict resolution, to share painful stories, to do daily emotional check-ins, and to help find positive solutions to classroom struggles. It can be used in any language, at any grade level, and with children on the spectrum.

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The Feeleez ABC eBook. Over sixty pages of Feeleez characters. Every letter of the alphabet is represented by one, or more, emotion. In addition to being read aloud, this book can be used as a screensaver on a desktop or laptop allowing emotional learning to unfold in a casual but meaningful way, and/or it can be loaded onto a device and used as way to emotionally connect with children during trying times on the go. 

And caregivers will also receive SUPPORT to keep their dedication to emotional safety active and effective. This includes:

Faculty support with Feeleez founders Natalie Christensen and Nathan M McTague. During routine support consultations, teachers/caregivers/leaders have the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm solutions to particular situations they come up against in terms of promoting emotional safety with the children they serve. There is always a way to honor a child's emotional makeup while providing the required guidance and structure necessary in a school/institutional/therapeutic setting.

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The Feeleez Learning Guide. Often the school day is jam-packed and emotional processing can only happen in quick bursts throughout the day, but when time permits teachers can use our mini-curriculum for teaching lessons about feelings. This guide includes over twenty activities designed for kids of all ages, is appropriate for a school, after-school, or home setting, and is helpful for children on the spectrum.

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And all three charts used in the Building Emotionally Safe Space course material. Teachers/caregivers/practitioners can hang these on their wall, both to share this information with any children they serve who might be curious, but also to remind themselves of the elements at work when children are experiencing intense emotion.

Our goal with this solution (training, tools, and support) is to facilitate all caregivers, teachers, therapists, parents, and leaders in supporting the emotional health and safety of the children they impact. The object is not to memorize behavioral modification strategies and enact them to make children behave in socially and academically preferable ways, but to change the way we think about children entirely, especially how we connect emotional needs to learning and development. And with this new understanding we can approach children during their moments of upset in ways that help them experience their own emotional safety, re-connect with the people in their community, become and remain available for advanced and focused learning, build a continuing sense of significance and belonging, and develop the capacity for deep empathy and compassion for others.  As we work to maintain emotionally safe environments for children in a dedicated, systemic, and prolonged manner, we empower them with the strong neural habits for emotional processing that lay the foundations for greater emotional resilience, and a lifetime of wellbeing and success. 


Feeleez is the best tool I have ever used to help foster social and emotional development in the classroom. It works brilliantly and children love it! We pull out the Feeleez cards and poster whenever there are conflicts between two students, when an unhealthy dynamic is brewing (competition, unkindness, singling out kids, lack of tolerance, bullying), and for explicit lessons to teach communication, empathy, and emotional vocabulary. My students show significant growth when I use Feelez consistently with them and many parents comment on how this helps at home.  As an educator, it is simple to use and there are lots of ways that you can gain support on the Feeleez website for your own learning. Thank you for creating such a powerful, practical and effective game! We all appreciate the greater happiness and harmony that results. - Kris Laroche, Second-grade teacher, Sussex Elementary, Missoula, Montana

I am a therapist for children in wraparound intensive services and have been using Feeleez in a therapeutic setting with children and parents for over six years. The bright colors and images attract both children and adults. Feeleez is an exceptional tool for helping children identify emotions they are processing in the moment or as a way to process challenging emotions they have experienced in the past. Feeleez can also be an interactive game for parents to use with their children at home to support the therapeutic process. Parents report they enjoy having a fun resource to begin conversations that might otherwise be difficult with their children. I look forward to using Feeleez products in the future and any possible Feeleez products to come. - Annie Elder, MA LMHCA Bellingham, Washington

The posters and the language that are used during trainings is the type that sticks with a person. - Jennifer Lucco, teacher, Missoula Community School, Missoula, Montana

Feeleez is wonderful! My two year old son loves to grab the Feelings Game and just look through it. We have no rules. We just look at the cards. He smiles, laughs and then picks one that he feels needs a hug. He then holds onto this card for a while and includes it in his play. It is helping us build vocabulary, empathy and compassion. I am a special education teacher and use it with my Kindergarten through 5th grade classes. Usually I ask my students to pick a card that shows how they feel or how they want to feel. Then we talk about it. They really enjoy it. And some of our conversations get deep and real. It is most excellent.  - Dave S. Miles, parent and Special-Ed teacher, Denver, CO

We recently hosted this class at Green Path Herb School in Missoula and we were very impressed. Taught by Nathan M McTague and Natalie Christensen, the class focused on empathy, and specifically how we can teach empathy to our children. They covered steps to create an emotionally safe home. Natalie and Nathan spoke about how when children feel emotionally safe they become capable of exercising empathy for others, learning at an accelerated rate, and are happy, optimistic people.They were both excellent teachers, providing clear and concise information with lots of examples and visuals to help explain their information. Our students enjoyed the class and I think we all benefited greatly from their information. - Elaine Sheff, Director, Green Path Herb School, Missoula, MT

As someone who has worked with Missoula County Public Schools and other Montana schools over the past 14 years I see the extreme value and significance of the workshop content and the benefits it will bring to students, teachers, and the school environment. ‘Building An Emotionally Safe Environment’ workshop goals of educating about the human brain and emotional health and empathy are vital components to creating a safe, welcoming, and inclusive school environment that will ensure the academic success for all students. Social and emotional learning supports increased student engagement in school, increased motivation and commitment to learn, and positive self-esteem and empathy for others. - Heidi Wallace, Director NCBI, Missoula, Montana

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Education
  • Mental Health
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Feeleez tools and training are used in day cares, pre-schools, and elementary classrooms.

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Olivia was considered a problem student. She often came to school "in a bad mood" which only got worse as the day progressed. She performed below average in most classes, disrupted other students, was given to angry outbursts, and did not have many friends. Then her teacher learned about creating emotionally safe space in the classroom. Instead of ignoring Olivia's feelings and trying to control her behavior, the teacher listened to and empathized with her, and helped her meet her immediate needs. Olivia off-loaded stored emotion, experienced her own significance and belonging, learned about empathizing, and then returned to an optimal neural state for learning, retaining, and integrating new information and skills. Now Olivia is thriving!

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Feeleez has been growing our outreach and impact for nine years. In that time we have developed a series of potent tools, a website, a robust social media presence, and a system of emotional support for caregivers by way of consulting and courses. We sell to accounts and customers throughout the U.S. and Canada. We have sold over five thousand matching games alone which are shared with innumerable children via parents, therapists, teachers, and social workers. We are moving further into supporting teachers, therapists, and leaders in children's wellbeing. Currently, we are looking to fund impact research; to continue working with more local and regional schools and institutions, as well as using virtual courses and meetings to reach schools/institutions outside our region; and to begin training other trainers. Testimonials of our impact are provided in the "Solution" section above.

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Annual Budget

  • $1k - $10k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Feeleez is a for-profit company and thus we support our growth via sales. We offer the Feeleez support package to classrooms and districts at a wholesale rate in order to make it economically accessible for those that need it. If given the opportunity to use special funds we would invest them in a marketing strategy in order to extend our reach.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Instead of prescribing a series of steps to follow, or merely detailing learning activities, the Feeleez solution inspires a radical perspective shift that changes the culture of the learning or support environment, enhancing the effects of any associated program or curriculum. The information and tools we share combine to make difficult feelings a useful and connective avenue for everyone involved, rather than an obstacle to be avoided. Feeleez tools also have broader appeal with children, including children on the autism spectrum, than other materials in the SEL field.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

We get really excited when we see the educational field beginning to acknowledge the role emotional health plays, not only in learning, but also in the degree to which people enjoy success and happiness over the course of their lifetime. Making time for teaching social and emotional skills, in addition to math, reading, and writing skills, and providing for children's emotional safety are the best things we can do to advance children's wellbeing.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

a) We teach key leaders in schools, social programs, and therapy settings to create emotionally safe space for the children they serve. b) We offer training on site as well as virtually, provide tools to be used by the children, and follow up with continued support via further consultations as well as support materials in the form of charts and curriculum. c) The training is a one-time event (once a year), the support is ongoing. d) The services at this point are provided by the Center for Emotional Education founders Natalie Christensen and Nathan M McTague, eventually we'll train trainers

Community Leadership

Our training includes guiding an activity borrowed from Positive Discipline in which trainees problem-solve real-life situations as a group. The trainer is simply a facilitator, not an expert offering top-down advice. The group works together, role-playing and brainstorming, to find possible solutions based on our material. Folks within a community know it best and know best how to apply principles in ways that will best serve their children.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12

Spread Strategies

Our plan is to equip, educate, and train the leaders that spend the majority of their time in the service of children. We've focused on teachers, parents, and other care providers for children, but our trainings and tools would enhance nearly every program showcased in this initiative. And further, using our model, we'd like to encourage policy reform in all organizations now serving children to include the maintenance of emotionally safe space.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Emotional safety is a corner stone of wellbeing. When we support children's emotional process and development, we offer them tangible proof that they and their needs matter, that they belong in the community, and that they can be themselves. This safety not only empowers them to do their best (learning, behaving, and growing), but also to be the best possible version of themselves and to fully realize their own potential(s) -- to BE well!

Leadership Story

We started Feeleez - designed a game - to help our children develop their EQ and empathy, but our kids certainly aren't the only ones who need assistance with their emotional development. We struggled to learn manufacturing, business, and marketing in order to extend our reach to the wider world. But alas, placing good tools into the hands of well-meaning people isn't enough to make drastic social change. We needed to train parents, teachers, and leaders in brain science and empathy as well. We started with a commitment to our personal family and now are driven to help the larger human family.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Voted best natural toy of the year Mothering Magazine 2009 Runner Up: Activating Empathy Mattel Prize for Play

Organization's Twitter Handle

@iheartfeeleez Instagram: @iheartfeeleez

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

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Attachments (2)


Over sixty pages of Feeleez characters! Every letter of the alphabet is represented by one or more emotions. In addition to being read aloud, this book can be used as a screensaver on a desktop or laptop allowing emotional learning to unfold in a casual but meaningful way, and/or loaded onto a device and used as way to emotionally connect with children during trying times on the go. Feeleez ABC's is part of the Building Emotionally Safe Space Support Package.

FEELEEZ Learning guide.pdf

A Mini-curriculum for teaching feelings, developed by Natalie Christensen, Kris Laroche, and Nathan M McTague. This guide includes over twenty activities designed for kids of all ages and is appropriate for a school or home setting.The Feeleez Learning Guide is part of the Building Emotionally Safe Space Support Package


Join the conversation:

Photo of Cynthia Drayton

Hi Natalie,

Wonderful to see you and Feeleez understand the need of and importance for every child mastering empathy. I'd love to here more about the research you have done to create the Feeleez methodology and glad to know you will be embarking on an impact study. When will this begin? Has this already been designed? Also, would love to hear more about how Feeleez tools have broader appeal with children, including children on the autism spectrum, than other materials in the SEL field. 

Thanks, and best of luck!


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