• Suzanne Axelsson

The joy of play and learning


Often I feel that there is status in happiness. That success is measured in happiness - and that as parents and educators we should be striving towards making happy children...

I have shifted from the word happy somewhat... mostly because how do you REALLY know if a child is happy... and that many children learn to fake to be happy for the sake of the adult... so I am not looking for happy children as a sign that my classroom/setting is of high quality instead -what I look for is... are the children safe enough to express all their emotions? Are the children learning how to self-regulate so that their emotions are not taking over their play and learning? I have met children over the years that have meltdowns that totally get in the way of their social interactions, and even their own personal play - these children have seldom been "unhappy", the meltdown has been a reaction to being overwhelmed (and that can include too much excitement) - but it is hardly functional for them to be disrupted in this way (and it can lead to the child being depressed if they see themselves reflected in their peers reactions to them).

I also look for... are all children participating? Is the participation on their own terms? Are children willing to take risks and maybe get things wrong... or is the drive to be right too strong?... ie they do not dare to be wrong...

so that brings me back to... are the children safe to test out ideas... Creating a safe environment for each child to be themselves and to value others...this means the children are active in making it safe for everyone. This creates a sense of collaboration and community and also creates an atmosphere of joy... I see joy as different from happy... for me, joy comes from a safe place... while happy is something you can be in any circumstance - you can have fun and laugh even in the hardest of situations, for instance, during periods of depression I have been able laugh and be happy on the outside but that within there is a sadness or heaviness despite the laughter. Joy, for me is from deep within, while happy is more surface...

Joy, for me, is connected to well-being and a sense of inner peace and acceptance of who you are, while happiness is externally triggered by other people, things and places etc.. of course these are my interpretations of the words... I have read, some time ago, that psychologists are meeting more and more young people who have had "happy childhoods" that are feeling disconnect and depression... because they have had adults focus on them being happy, and fix for them to be in a state of happiness - that this is the right state to be in, a successful state (for the teacher and for the parents)...

If we, as adults, are ensuring the children's state of happiness as proof of our success as parents and educators, then the children will not have been able to experience a full range of emotions and know how to deal with them... so the first sign of sadness, apathy, anger, feeling out of sorts... then the newly fledged adult, without their mood-controller teacher/parent by their side, lacks the skills to deal with the emotion on their own... hence they are more likely to feel worse than they need to...

As parents, and educators, we need to provide safe spaces and time for children to experience all their emotions... not just happy. They need to feel that sense of joy that comes from feeling safe, and knowing that even if they get angry, or sad that they are still loved and cared for, and that sometimes a good cry and a hug is all that is needed to move on... regardless of gender... we all need to be free to experience our emotions, and feel safe to express them and to have the guidance to learn how to deal with them. learning and play happens when children feel safe... not happy...

Joy is an essential element of Original Learning... to find joy in learning and play... to find joy with peers and others...

And yes, I have been one of those people that has struggled with anxiety and depression, and it is from these states that I want to share the difference between joy and happy. Anxiety comes from a place of not feeling safe, and too much anxiety leads to bouts of depression. Anxiety can also come from happy places, not just negative ones, and this is why I really want to share the importance of not seeing "happy children" as a symbol of a successful classroom. For me, a successful classroom is a place where all feel safe to participate as themselves without the fear of being judged, belittled or ridiculed, and that everyone participates to the best of their ability and are able to reach their full potential. If we create such a space we will create a sense of joy.

#riskyplay #equality #OriginalLearning #play

Interaction Imagination

© 2017 Suzanne Axelsson. Interaction Imagination. Stockholm, Sweden.
suzanne@interactionimagination.com 

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