Like many proud parents, I took a picture of my children every year on their first day of school (well, most days – I tried my best). When planning our son’s graduation party, I arranged the pictures in order; from the first day of preschool to his first day of his senior year. I noticed something startling as I stepped back to admire the photo array. In the first few pictures, his face is brimming with enthusiasm; his features betraying the excitement he can hardly contain about going to school. But, in the final few years of his academic journey, his face is filled with different emotions; behind his compulsory smile, you can tell he is disgusted by the fate that awaits him within the walls of school. It is like we schooled the joy of learning right out of him.

I know he isn’t the only one. Across the country, children enter their educational careers so excited about learning; everything is an adventure and they dive head first into every opportunity. Then there are the tests, and the facts, and the standards, and the rules, and the pressure, and the etc., etc., etc. And that initial joy slowly transforms into a deepening sense of powerlessness that can convert into despair.

We have converted the joy of childhood into the business of “getting kids ready for …”. I sometimes fear that we have decided as a society that childhood is a disease we need to cure as soon as possible. As explored in my book (Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behaviors), children use their behaviors as a form of communication. In some cases, it could be that they are communicating this sense of despair and powerlessness described above.

I believe that incorporating joy can be an anecdote to these challenging behaviors; especially in the early childhood classroom. What would our classrooms look like if we recommitted ourselves to joy? What if we were as intentional about planning for joy as we are when we plan for literacy learning? What if the teaching goal of inciting laughter was given as much weight (or even more) as reciting the days of the week? I posit that as teachers focus more on making their classrooms places of joy, two things will happen; challenging behaviors will lessen, and their jobs will be a lot more enjoyable.

Once you start focusing on joy, you will find lots of ways to create it in your classroom. Here are a few thoughts to inspire your thinking;

  • When I was a teacher, my clean-up song was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. In my classroom, clean-up time was so much fun as we danced our way around the classroom. I encourage you to pick your own song, but almost anything has to be more fun than, “clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere”. I can tell you that we had very few challenging behaviors during clean-up time (and the room always ended up pretty-much put in order) because we made the process fun instead of focusing on the end product of a clean room.
  • Incorporate joy into your transitions. Why must children walk in line with “bubbles in their mouths”. Why can’t they walk like silly elephants or deflating balloons? We often see transitions very business-like as we try to move children from one space or activity to the next one. But, we can make these easier on everyone if we build in fun.
  • Build in dance breaks. Do you remember the D.E.A.R. program (Drop Everything and Read)? I recommend having Drop Everything and Dance breaks – the acronym is not as much fun; but the activity is sure to incite joy.

Joy is a natural state of being for the young child – we don’t have to work very hard to surface the emotion. When we, as teachers, decide to enter into their sphere of joy; we will find lasting positive impacts on our classrooms and other aspects of our very adult lives.

What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:


Facebook: Teacher as Gardener

LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo

My book Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble

Consider bringing me in to speak for your next professional development event.

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