Happiness is a real factor when it comes to learning. It’s important to a child’s identity formation and how they relate to their environment (see study below).
But can you teach happiness? There’s a push for social-emotional learning (SEL) which leads some to think that happiness can be taught. But SEL is not what it seems.
Happiness is often dependent on the life a child has at home. But schools can and should foster happiness for children. Children happy at school like to learn.
It’s especially important for poor children, or kids who have problems at home. School might be a refuge—the one place where they find joy.
For years, no one involved in school reform has cared about a child’s happiness. They over-tested students and stripped their schools of art, music, recess, and anything that remotely brought pleasure into a child’s life.
They created “no excuses” charter schools. These schools are found in poor neighborhoods. Can you imagine telling a child who lives in poverty that they have no excuses for having difficulty learning?
The only learning corporate reformers care about is making children fit into their workforce of the future and making a profit on schools.
The Problem with Social-Emotional Learning
Now we are supposed to trust their ideas for social-emotional learning.
SEL is trendy. Teachers in classrooms across the country are quick to address programs to supposedly help children feel good. Teachers often have good ideas on how to make cheerful classrooms, and they care about how children feel. They might think SEL involves their version of helping children to be happy learners.
What’s troubling with SEL is the underlying meaning. The real SEL is more about collecting online data on children, a lot of it creepy, and creating a false sense of caring so children will act better in school.
Collecting lots of online data on a child’s behavior is similar to academic data overload. One can find some good ideas in the midst of SEL activity planning, but mostly SEL makes money for publishers who devise scales and assessments to measure how children act. It is an extension of Common Core State Standards.
Realize too, that there’s much talk about self-regulatory behavior—getting students to be capable of working long periods on their computers without teachers.
That’s not creating schools that help children be happy learners. In general, our schools still pay little attention to real happiness when it comes to children.
Curiosity and Happiness
Children engaged in learning, who feel good about themselves, will seek to learn more. A nurturing school helps create student enthusiasm. No data is needed for this.
Children can’t wait to learn new things, do new things, find out what’s in books and explore their universe! Schools should be an extension of this good kind of curiosity and excitement.
But teachers cannot teach well when they are hamstrung to corporate reform far removed from the kind of curriculum they know is best.
Children unhappy in school won’t learn well.
Ways to Help Children Find Happiness in School
Here is an interesting article shared with me When Teachers are Better at Raising Test Scores Their Students are Less Happy.
Here are ways to help children find happiness in school. I will continue to add to this. There is no special order. Feel free to join in and add to the list.
- Minimal testing.
- Parent involvement.
- Supported teachers.
- Health screenings.
- Being well-fed.
- Smaller class sizes.
- Recognition of strengths.
- Help with difficulties.
- Movies from children’s books.
- Access to many books.
- Being read stories aloud.
- Opportunities to make friends.
- Several recess breaks each day.
- Play kitchens (kindergarten).
- Blocks and building tools.
- Opportunities for play.
- Acting in plays.
- Getting to tell stories.
- Journals for free writing.
- Helpful guidance.
- Time to read and look at books.
- Chances to read independently.
- Kind teachers.
- Audio books (Learning Ally).
- Good school libraries.
- Real librarians.
- A well-resourced classroom.
- Nature walks,
- Simple chores in school.
- A principal who knows your name.
- Gardens to watch things grow.
- Positive parent-teacher relationships.
- A teacher you’re proud of.
- A teacher who gets time to plan.
- A friendly school support staff.
- A trusted counselor.
- Some tech. Some!
- A school nurse.
- A clean safe school building.
- Pretty school grounds.
- A welcoming school.
- Breaks for socializing.
- Exposure to music.
- Lots of art.
- Interesting field trips.
- Support from the community.
- Extracurricular activities.
- Physical Education.
- Career-technical programs (high school).
Here are lovely additions readers provided on Facebook. Thank you to all who contributed. I will continue to add your suggestions. I have not finished. So please be patient.
- Mrs. Puglisi’s 100 National Standards
- creative writing
- a mentor
- science labs
- outdoor schools (part-time)
- good science labs
- camping trips
- community helpers
- middle and high school recess
- coloring (even for older students)
- language translation services
- dual language programs
- language acquisition support
- qualified teachers
- trauma support experts
- before and after school programs
- language classes
- language classes for adults
- food banks.
- health clinics.
- dental care.
- Department of Social and Health Services.
- wraparound services.
- Play Dough.
Chorro, Estefanía Gomis; Fernández, María Ángela Morales; Corbí, Raquel Gilar. “Happiness and Values in the Formation of Personal Identity in Students of the Fifth and Sixth Grade at Primary School.” Universal Journal of Educational Research, v5 n5 p881-890 2017. 10 pp.
Karen Bracken says
Thanks Nancy. One thing I love about your articles is they are short and fact filled. You wrap up in short order what so many take pages to explain. My national group is working to repeal ESSA (ESEA) and restore FERPA. Love for you to join us. I have posted some of your articles on SEL on our website. I hope that is ok. http://www.childabuseintheclassroom.com
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Karen. I appreciate it. I think I signed up for the FERPA page on FB. I will check and make sure.
Sheila Resseger says
If you have never seen this documentary about an elementary classroom in Japan, I urge you to spend the time to watch it. It exemplifies the point Nancy has made here so eloquently.
Nancy Bailey says
This is quite a moving documentary involving how loss and life experiences are interwoven into the class. I especially liked how they use journal writing to express their feelings and interact on serious issues.
I noticed that the class is large–35. And students seem to be working at the same level.
Thanks for sharing, Sheila.
I was an Early Childhood for special needs and at risk children for 35 years. One of my main goals was to help my students love school and the love of learning along with social interactions. Most of the aspects of this article resonant in my philosophy of happiness and learning.
I would add to the list at the end that transitions from certain programs or classes to another grade level need to be addressed better. I saw too many children struggle due to little or no support. The joy of learning and school would fade and become a behavior issue. We, as a staff, could never seem to make much progress in getting this transition as a staple of the program!
Nancy Bailey says
I agree that transition is important. Looping, where children get the same teacher two grades in a row can be useful too. Excellent point to add. Thank you, Martha.
Amanda Hand says
Teach children lots of songs, rhymes, and chants, and they will never be bored again! Singing games, clapping games, folk dances, interpretive movement – all of these things will enhance a child’s life immediately and for eternity.
Nancy Bailey says
Sounds great! Thanks, Amanda!
Jim Katakowski says
It seems pretty simple an old teacher once told me when I was a young teacher if you can get a student to like school or improve ones self concept he or she will always do better. Positivity
Nancy Bailey says
Yes. I certainly agree. Thanks, Jim!
Real social/emotional learning isn’t just about being happy. It’s about dealing with the messy stuff. How to work through conflicts with peers. How to persevere through a challenge (and how to know when to call it quits if something isn’t worth pursuing), how to deal with the baggage that gets brought into school like family, friend and neighborhood situations.
Yes, schools should be safe havens, especially for poor and troubled kids, and yes, the more students enjoy school and learning the more engaged they’ll be and the more they will learn. But as bad as it is to use SEL as a pretext to gather data, it’s just as bad to use SEL as a pretext to tell kids, especially poor and troubled kids, that they should be happy, happy, happy all the time.
Nancy Bailey says
No one should tell children to be happy.
The point of this post was to present what might really make children enjoy school so they are interested in showing up. Helping them to find happiness is important.
Certainly schools and teachers and counselors should help children work through what you say.
But I don’t believe today’s SEL is really about that. I think it is about preparing children to work independently on digital devices without the help of a teacher…and to collect data.
Like so many school issues…time will tell. I for one will be HAPPY if I am wrong, but unfortunately I don’t think that will be the case.
Very moving. I couldn’t help noticing how much appropriately caring touching there was.
Children are missing this in the US in this day and age of litigation.