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Cambridge MP learns about key educational tool

Published: 15 November 2022 at 14:35

Tom Goldie of the Publishers Association, Daniel Zeichner MP, Alexey Manichenko of Skylark Learning, and Dr John Lambie of ARU

Anglia Ruskin psychologist and Cambridge publishers develop ‘My First Emotions’

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has visited Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) to hear about an important collaboration between psychologist Dr John Lambie and Cambridge-based educational publishers Skylark Learning.

Dr Lambie, Associate Professor of Psychology at ARU, and Skylark Learning have worked together to produce “My First Emotions”, a collection of toys and books specifically designed to teach parents and young children about emotional awareness.

Poor emotional awareness has been linked to poorer child mental health, with the World Health Organisation estimating in 2020 that as many as one in five children worldwide experience mental health disorders.

The visit was organised by the Publishers Association as part of a project to improve Parliamentarians’ understanding of the publishing industry. Mr Zeichner learnt about the research behind the partnership and the role My First Emotions can play in helping young children’s development, including those whose formative years might have been disrupted by the Covid pandemic.

The original research and the partnership – Dr Lambie authored the parenting guide and was consulting editor of the My First Emotions set – formed part of ARU’s submission to the 2021 national Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Dr Lambie was the first to demonstrate in an observational study that parents’ use of emotion validation, such as accurately recognising and acknowledging that their child is sad, angry, or scared, is linked to the child’s ability to be aware of their own emotions. Good emotional awareness in children has been linked to better mental health. 

During the research, which involved monitoring interactions between mothers and children, only around a third of mothers’ interactions with their child’s negative emotions were validating. Instead, by wanting to keep their child happy, many mothers were inadvertently trying to get rid of their child’s negative emotions, leading to invalidation.

Subsequent research into the benefits of using the My First Emotions books and toys found that parents nearly doubled their use of emotion validation and decreased their level of emotion invalidation, 85% of children increased their awareness of emotion, including talking more about emotions, and 39% of children could regulate their emotions better, including calming down more easily.

In Cambridgeshire, a study carried out in Wisbech found an increase in emotional awareness amongst children aged 2-5 after using My First Emotions for four weeks, while a small-scale study on atypically developing children in Cambridge found a reported increase in emotional awareness in children with Down’s syndrome and autism after using My First Emotions.

Meanwhile, survey data following the use of My First Emotions in four Cambridgeshire preschools confirmed that approximately 130 children benefitted in terms of increased emotional understanding and awareness over an eight-month period. 

Over 18,000 copies of My First Emotions have already been sold in 35 countries across 5 continents, with a sales revenue of £900,000.  In the UK, 600 sets of My First Emotions have been purchased by Somerset County Council and rolled out to all early years settings across the county. 

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner said:

“Children’s books and toys are a vital component in the development of a child.  It was very positive to hear about the work being done to promote emotional awareness in young children through these resources, which should help and serve these children throughout their lives.  I was happy to meet Dr Lambie and Mr Manichenko and see the strong collaboration between Skylark and Anglia Ruskin University and strongly support the work they are doing.”


Alexey Manichenko, the CEO of Skylark Learning, said:

“This is an exciting, on-going collaboration between ourselves, a Cambridge-based independent publisher, and Anglia Ruskin University, bringing the results of cutting-edge psychology research into practice for early years settings and families across the country.”


Dr Lambie, Associate Professor of Psychology at ARU, said:


“It is great that local publishers like Skylark are committed to research-informed products which can help spread the message that it is okay for children to have negative emotions. It has been a pleasure to discuss the products and my own research with Daniel Zeichner, and celebrate this Cambridge success story.”

Emotional awareness and child mental health

Dr John Lambie developed an influential model of emotional awareness showing that being aware of emotions is not straightforward, and that parenting is vitally important in teaching young children about their emotions. This research led to the development of the toy set My First Emotions.

Read more about John's research.