Romancing Children into Delight: Promoting Children's Happiness in the Early Primary Grades
Hughes, Scott Frederick
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Happiness should be a fundamental aim of education. This philosophical assertion raises the practical question of how teachers generate happiness in their classroom programs while operating under the current paradigm of educational accountability. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the perspectives of early primary teachers, students, and parents on what makes a happy classroom. Data were collected through interviews of 12 teachers from public, independent, Waldorf, Froebel, and Montessori schools; over 72 hours of observation in eight early primary classrooms; interviews with 23 students (ages 3 to 8), drawing and photography with 64 students (ages 3 to 8); 66 parent surveys, and eight teacher exit interviews. Four cycles of analysis, including descriptive and conceptual approaches, resulted in the identification of five core conditions of happy classrooms: (a) relational pedagogy, (b) embodied learning, (c) pedagogical thoughtfulness (d) an ethos of happiness, and (e) an ethos of possibility. These five conditions were supported by 17 facets, which describe practical and conceptual ways to support pedagogical thinking and decision-making about children’s happiness in the complex worlds of busy classrooms. Five of the facets are spotlighted: (a) kids need to play, (b) stepping in stepping out, (c) sounds shape feelings and experience, (d) rhythms and routines, and (e) romancing children into delight. In addition, student and parent participants identified that play, positive friendships, time outdoors, experiences involving the arts, and experiences of positive feelings make children happy at school and when they are learning. The discussion centers on the role of teachers in establishing the tone of happy classrooms, considers the notion of strong pedagogy, discusses the generation of happiness in early primary classrooms in the form of lessons to be learned from different pedagogical traditions, and argues that, above all, children’s interests, needs, and development should be a teacher’s first point of consideration for all decisions about instruction and learning in the classroom. The discussion concludes with implications for teaching professionals and offers suggestions for future research.