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We live our lives in the company of our feelings and emotions. And yet it can be very hard to talk about them.
Beloved by teachers, counsellors, parents and human service workers of every discipline, The Bears is a simple yet powerful resource for identifying, talking about and reflecting on feelings. Originally conceived as a ‘family sculpting’ tool, it have proved to be one of our most enduring and versatile card sets.
The Bears is able to speak directly to our feelings and emotions at a very deep level. They cross language, literacy, cultural, racial, age and gender boundaries. They have been used with great success by three-year-olds and 93-year-olds. The Bears have been used in preschools, in adult male prisons in New Zealand, with patients suffering dementia, in schools and universities, in management and service evaluation, in training hotel staff in Romania, by environmental educators in Fiji, by nurses in Japan, and with communities in Papua New Guinea.
This edition of The Bears, published in 2010, consists of 48 full colour cards with illustrations by Ben Wood and a booklet of suggestions for use. This iconic resource now has even more charm and covers an expanded range of emotions.
Perfect for social workers, psychologists, counsellors, teachers and chaplains, The Bears positively begs to be used creatively. The absence of text makes the cards ideal for use across myriad settings and contexts. If you haven’t used The Bears before, get ready to discover the beauty and simplicity of this classic resource. And remember, stickers are also available to give you even more options and creative ideas!
The Bears cards.
The Bears App for Apple or Android platforms.
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Stories and Reviews
‘I’ve been working as a child protection trainer in Darkhan, Mongolia, a small city in the north of the country. We ran a pilot mental health education program with high school students, and I found The Bears to be fantastic in encouraging the students to explore their emotions at the start of each session, as well as helping me to understand which students were not in particularly positive frames of mind. The Bears is a resource that allows those of us working in countries where language barriers exist to still connect with our fellow human beings on a deeper level, allowing social work to actually work. I think I’ll be leaving my pack here with my colleagues in Mongolia so they can continue to use them after I’ve left.’
Kate Miller, Australia (see Kate’s fully story published in SOON Issue 80.)
‘I used The Bears to help the children discuss their feelings and realise they were not alone. I believe this activity helped to normalise the children’s feelings and experiences, and to achieve a sense of belonging within the group. Our first workshop was a huge success with the kids and their parents. Many parents have reported that their children are much more open with their feelings, experiences and questions about their place in the family. In this way, I hope we have also helped the children to think about what belonging to a family with a disabled or ill sibling means to them.
I believe The Bears firmly belong in my toolkit and I will use them without hesitation in my new career as a case manager for disadvantaged children and families. I also hope to continue using these cards to help siblings of brother or sisters with a disability or illness achieve a sense of belonging in the group, their families and the wider community.’
Jessica Flakemore, Counsellor (Tasmania)
‘I work with adults and children who are experiencing stress and difficulties in life, both individually and in workshop settings. I never cease to be amazed at the power of The Bears cards.
There is something magical about the bear illustrations that immediately brings about relaxation—and engagement with the process—for people of all ages. The cards seem to take the focus off the individual and onto ‘the bears’, freeing people up to express their feelings, thoughts and ideas openly and honestly—nobody is judging the bears they choose! In so doing, adults, teenagers and younger children alike come to discover simple, practical possibilities and ideas for managing their feelings or difficult situations—and these responses emerge from within themselves without suggestions being imposed by others.
Reflection, awareness, acknowledgement, deep thinking, listening, respect, understanding, honesty—all of these qualities can emerge as a result. These are vital skills for a life of happiness, wellbeing and satisfaction. I am often thanked for my help. However, I think it’s all down to The Bears, not me!!’
Patrice Thomas, Mindful Connections NSW (July 2013)
‘I was introduced to The Bears cards during my training. One of my trainers put them out at the beginning of class and asked us to pick up to three cards that represented how we were feeling. Initially I thought it was silly, but after that first class I came to love The Bears. They’re useful for getting people to start talking about how they’re feeling ‘right now’. A very direct way into someone’s experience. I can highly recommend them as a therapeutic tool.’
Paul Cullen, Real People Counselling in Melbourne (July 2011)
‘Recently I have been using The Bears with a group of 7-year-olds to explore feelings. To begin with, I space all the cards out on a table so they are ready when the children come in. They are encouraged to pick a card to illustrate how they could be feeling today. I pick one too. We then sit in a circle with our bears facing outwards so everyone can see them. We start with one child (let’s call her Sally) and I ask the group ‘Who thinks they know what Sally’s bear is feeling?’ There are usually quite a few suggestions. Then I ask Sally ‘Is that what your bear is feeling?’ and let the child say yes or no. I give team points (girls vs boys) for each feeling that the children suggest. If no one can guess after a few suggestions, I ask the child ‘Would you like to tell us what your bear is feeling?’
They really love to play this game and it helps them to learn how to recognise and name different feelings. I’m looking forward to trialing more of your resources in the future!’
Nada Stadtlander, Auckland (NZ)
The Bears go to school
As Prep teachers, we had struck that time of the term when we were all somewhat over it! We were ready for a holiday and tempers were fraying.
I took the children into the drama room one morning, having laid out The Bears cards, and asked each child to choose a card that showed what they were feeling that morning. Everyone chose a card and we sat in a circle and I asked all the children to simply place their bear in front of them; looking out at us.
I then asked the children to sit quietly and simply look at everyone in the circle and look at their bear. No one was allowed to make comments at this stage. There were quiet little nods of recognition, some little smiles and quiet gazing. We all understood.
We talked briefly about how we are all different; that some of us wanted more quiet in our room; that some of us felt tired. Some of us didn’t want to share all the time; some of us wanted to be at home.
We talked briefly about what we thought each bear was feeling. I gave children the option of having their chosen bear on their table, to let others know if they needed some quiet. Some took up the offer.
Prep children love The Bears cards.
I’ve also used The Bears cards for communicating my own feelings to the Prep class. When quite frustrated with certain behaviours I choose a ‘very angry’ bear and a ‘frustrated’ bear. I sit the children in front of me and asked them to tell me how the bears look to them. The children have been varied yet accurate in their reading of The Bears.
I always go on to explain that this is how I’ve been feeling because …
Children have taken the information really well and usually have even modified their behaviours. At times I’ve followed it up with placing another bear on the board, so that the children can read my mood. Even though I’m quite an expressive person, the act of putting the image up on the board seems to register with all the children in quite a specific way.
If, for example, they are being too loud, I will give them the visual clue that the noise level is too much for my ears. It works like magic!
I’ll often put up a ‘happy’ bear to greet them at the start of the day, and later on in the day they will smile to see the happy bear still in place and continue on with their activities.
The Bears cards are a great visual tool for conveying emotional information.
Nicole Coppel, Primary Teacher
Bears in the family tree
Heather Bryant works for The James Family as a Social Worker in Schools* in Rotorua, Aotearoa/New Zealand. She finds that using The Bears cards when meeting with children for the first time is a fun way to get to know their family (Whakapapa/family tree). Children identify who is important to them, as well as a little more about their relationships, when discussing the reason for choosing the particular bear card they chose for family members.
Children often like to take copies of their family tree home (a digital camera is handy for this). This often generates conversations with family members when reflecting on the pictures together.
For one young boy, adding photos to The Bears cards allowed memories and storytelling to occur as he does not see significant family members due to living overseas and strained relationships.
Another young client who Heather had met for the first time was struggling with reintegrating with her family after living most of her life with relatives. After creating her family tree she wanted to take it home. She returned to the next session saying that her family ‘had changed already’. The family tree had been a non-threatening way of sharing her perceptions and feelings about relationships with family members.
*Social Workers in Schools is a joint early intervention initiative of The Department of Child Youth and Family and the Department of Education.
Caterina Mezzatesta, ‘The Bears in Africa’, SOON vol. 6 2005
After a long standing obsession with Africa, the opportunity finally came to do some volunteer teaching in Arusha, Tanzania at Edmund Rice Sinon Secondary School and the local Primary School & Kindergarten.
I came equipped with all my favourite resources, The Bears, Strength Cards for Kids, Inside Out, Angels with Attitude, Sometimes Magic and The Wrong Stone. I first brought The Bears into the classroom of the Special Form One Program (a single term taught exclusively by volunteers to help students improve their English), asking students to choose the Bear that represents them now and to choose the Bear that represents how they feel about school.
Some interesting responses came back. Lots were tired but happy ‘now’, and some were confused and angry about the bullying they encountered at school. Some were nervous and scared about what lay ahead and others very happy to have made new friends and be part of such a good environment.
Another day, I put them into smaller groups of 4 or 5. Gave them two bears and the following instructions:
- Give your Bears a name
- Describe how they are feeling
- Explain why they are feeling that way
- Create a conversation between the Bears
Interestingly, but hardly surprisingly, most sad or angry Bears were sad or angry because they were either hungry or failed their examinations. Likewise, if a Bear was happy or excited it was because his stomach was full or he passed his national exam.
Here in Tanzania 1,200 students sat the entrance exam to get into Edmund Rice, with only 200 places available. Only 20% of students will attend high school. When the time comes, should they fail the national exam, there is no second chance – no repeating the year. That is the end of their schooling. So it’s no wonder so much anxiety surrounds ‘the exam’.
Only the very dedicated and very lucky will make it all the way through to form six and on to University. I hope these kids with whom I am privileged to work, will see their dreams come true and live their aspirations of being doctors and lawyers, pilots, teachers and much more.
Working with children for the past seven years of my 15 year career in social work, I am continually challenged by and excited about finding new, creative and interesting-to-children ways of working. So with my numerous toolkits of St Luke’s resources up my sleeve, I developed a board game with The Bears cards. Similar to any other board game, there are spaces you land on where you pull a funny face or tell a joke, and then there are spaces you land on for which you then select a Bears card from the pack and talk about a time you felt like that feeling.
I have found it to be incredibly non-threatening, and yet a wonderful way to engage children in a less intrusive manner. It opens up frank and sometimes serious conversations about the things that are going on in little peoples’ lives. I love using so many of your resources. I find it a blessing to reach into my ‘tool box’ and know that no matter the child or situation, there is something I can adapt and change with to fit with each and every child. Thanks heaps and heaps!
Jane Evans (Perth WA, Australia)
Lydia Atira Tan is the Nepalese founder and director of The Art2Healing Project which supports survivors of sex-trafficking in Asia. This inspirational Melbourne-based, not-for-profit organisation employs a diverse range of art therapies to assist the wellbeing and healing of women and children traumatised and exploited as a result of sex trafficking. In the article below, Lydia explains how The Bears have gently helped to heal…
In April 2010, The Art2Healing Project headed to Nepal to conduct two professional art therapy training programs in collaboration with the anti-trafficking NGO, Shakti Samuha. One of the programs involved six anti-trafficking organisations in Nepal, made up of social workers and counsellors who work closely with survivors of sex trafficking. The other program was with professional counsellors and psychologists from the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO) of Nepal.
The Bears, donated by Innovative Resources, were used for both programs as a tool to help people connect and express feelings. In Nepal, women and girls who have been severely traumatised and exploited by the sex trade can be disassociated from their emotions, and find it challenging identifying their feelings. The Bears cards have been very effective as a tool when working with sex trafficked survivors, giving them a doorway through which they can identify and express their emotions.
We gave away five packs of The Bears to the different organisations and shelter homes in Kathmandu, Sindulpalchok and Bara districts. The Bears are currently being used by counsellors and social workers, each of whom sees about twenty or more clients a month. They have reported that The Bears cards are very useful in their therapeutic work with clients. The cards are incredibly effective as a cross-cultural tool, and I have a sense that they will be utilized a lot here.
For a future project, we will be handing out The Bears cards to other anti-trafficking shelter homes, and also to TPO counsellors working with the refugee population in Nepal. We are certain that this step will greatly aid the healing of sexual abuse, trauma and displacement in both these target groups.
Christine Hogan (2003), Practical Facilitation: A Toolkit of Techniques, London: Kogan Page, p. 135
‘The Bears card pack … illustrates a wide range of feelings through pictures of bears. The cards have no written interpretation of the feelings, and are useful in cross-cultural groups. In my experience they elicit humorous responses, but enable many people to voice and discuss feelings, which for some may be difficult.’
‘I would like to share an idea for using three of Innovative Resources’ card sets in grief and loss situations. First, a giant collage is made representing ‘before’, ‘now’ and the ‘future’. The ‘now’ can be depicted as a river using appropriate materials. Cards from The Bears are chosen to help tell the story of what the family was like ‘before’. Strength Cards are used to show what inner resources each person has to cross the river; blank cards can also be filled in to represent the external supports the person/child/family has to help cross the river. The future can be shown using cards from Our Scrapbook of Strengths or by using collage or painting.’
Bears for PB, SOON 79, July 2015
‘I use The Bears all the time—they’re a real staple in my PB treasure box of top resources.
I used them today with 3-4 year olds to extend their vocabulary of ‘F-words’ and explore when they might experience different feelings. It was great fun and they were more than able to think on the hop. I began with a ‘sorting’ activity to pair them up randomly, then put a bear card face down in front of each pair of children. I explained that we would turn over the cards, choose a word to describe how that bear might be feeling, and then we could all make a face as if we felt like that too. To finish, each pair of children could tell a story about what happened to their bear.
The children engaged brilliantly. One little boy, who speaks English as a second language, had a bear who looked confused and despaired. He described its feeling as ‘Feeling happy and now all gone!’ Lovely!! The stories about the bears came quickly to the children. I would simply ask ‘What happened? What happened that the bear might be feeling like that?’ Their answers were really creative and often reflective of children’s experiences, such as ‘Someone took his toy’, ‘It’s her birthday!’ or ‘He wants his Mummy.’ The activity worked successfully as a way to practice PBs with under 5s. It also allowed me to make a really quick assessment of how much awareness the children have with regards to feelings and how situations can elicit different feelings for them (or for the bears, in this case).
The Bears are one of the most versatile resources I have and can be used all ages. Not long ago I used them with a very ‘cool’ and street-wise 9 year old, who seemed to enjoy them. I’ve also used The Bears to gather the ‘Voice of the Child’ for child protection documents and have developed an activity using The Bears for professionals and practitioners undertaking ‘Voice of the Child’ training sessions. These training sessions are accessed by people who work in schools, healthcare and social care.
With The Bears, children can share and express their thoughts because the cards enable children to talk about difficult experiences or relationships with adults in their life in a one-step removed way.
Judith Staff, Protective Behaviours and Safeguarding, Training and Consultancy (UK)