Preschool RULER: Promoting Emotional Intelligence In Early Childhood

Preschool RULER: Promoting Emotional Intelligence In Early Childhood

Preschool RULER was created by a partnership between the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Childcare Learning Centers (CLC) in Stamford, CT. Supported by funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, the Preschool RULER team worked closely with CLC educators to develop an evidence-based program to promote emotional intelligence in preschoolers and the adults in their lives.

As with RULER for the later grades, Preschool RULER provides strategies that help educators create emotionally supportive environments. Through professional development workshops and coaching, educators learn not only how to model and teach emotional intelligence, but also ways to embed emotional intelligence in curricula. Learning can take place throughout the school day in both formal and informal ways, including during small or large group time, read-alouds, music and movement, snack and meal times, and transitions between activities.

Educators report that Preschool RULER professional development workshops are fun, informative, and engaging. Here’s what some are saying:

  • “It is a great topic for early childhood teachers. We need this!”
  • “I found the workshop extremely relevant and useful to my teaching and am very excited to bring it back to the classroom.
  • “I enjoyed learning about RULER. I can use this, not only at school, but at home with my kids.”

A pilot test of Preschool RULER conducted at CLC found that, regardless of race, gender, age, and language, children could learn to effectively recognize and label their own feelings using the signature RULER tool, the Mood Meter. At a center in its second year of Preschool RULER implementation, children made significant gains in emotional intelligence above and beyond those in a control school. Educators involved in the pilot study report that Preschool RULER leads to a better classroom emotional climate and better teacher-child and peer interactions:

  • “I feel overall the classroom is calmer!”
  • “Children are better able to express their feelings to teachers and peers.”
  • “When a child is angry, the other children remind them how to calm down and think of a solution.”

When reflecting upon the effects of RULER on their own emotional intelligence, educators report:

  • “I think more about my feelings and how my feelings affect others.”
  • “I now recognize how to control my feelings in the classroom and relate them to children.
  • “I understand and respect more the people around me.”
  • “I am able to see my best self.”

Watch Preschool RULER in action at CLC!


Spotlight on a Preschool RULER school

At Friends Center for Children in New Haven, CT, RULER is woven into the fabric of the school’s culture and community. When arriving at Friends Center, teachers, children, family members, and guests are welcomed by the Mood Meter, the signature RULER Anchor Tool, which guides children and adults through a check-in to identify how they are currently feeling. This exercise promotes emotion recognition and labeling skills. The Mood Meter is also an integral part of classroom routines, including circle time, read-alouds, drop-off and pick-up times, and transitions from one activity to another.

Also at the school entrance is the Center Charter, an agreement created by the staff outlining the emotions they would like to feel at school each day. The Charter details what staff will do to promote these feelings in one another and how they propose to manage uncomfortable feelings or conflict. Friends Center educators report that the Center Charter fosters an emotionally safe and supportive school climate and reflects the school’s values.

Educators at Friends Center have also developed creative ways to highlight the emotions included in their Center Charter. Teachers even post RULER-inspired classroom artwork and calming imagery in staff restrooms. These pleasant reminders promote personal emotion recognition and emotion regulation skills, as well as foster a sense of community.

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Preschool RULER current and future directions

At the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the Preschool RULER team works closely with the RULER K-8 team, High School RULER team, and the RULER for Families team to establish continuity of the RULER Approach from preschool through high school, as well as to strengthen the connection between home and school. The Preschool RULER team also works closely with the Center’s assessment team to measure program efficacy, fidelity of implementation, and outcomes related to RULER, including child and adult emotional intelligence as well as a range of social and academic outcomes. Collecting these data will help the Center to refine educator professional development, coaching, and classroom implementation in preparation for a large-scale efficacy trial.

As of this writing, Preschool RULER is being implemented in early childhood programs in Stamford, West Hartford, and New Haven, Connecticut, as well as in Seattle, Washington. Together, early childhood centers implementing Preschool RULER around the country are creating a steadily growing network of educators, children, and families who recognize the critical importance of emotional intelligence for social and academic success.


Shauna_Tominey 30x30 Shauna Tominey, Ph.D., Associate Research Scientist

Bailey-Craig-30x30 Craig Bailey, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate 

Center staff headshots Svea Olsen, Research Assistant

Sneeden, Caitlin30x30 Caitlin Sneeden, Postgraduate Research Associate