0 to 2 "PEEK-A-BOO!" by Alice Sterling Honig, PhD
Tessa, at 7 months, had figured out how to raise her blanket up in front of her face and then lower the blanket. As she did so, her teacher said, "Peek-a-boo!" as a lively, supportive response. Tessa grinned from ear to ear at her teacher's loving words. She may not have understood each word, but the warm praise brought forth a radiant, animated facial response from the baby.
Babies respond to loving, drawn-out syllables and raised tones that convey admiration, love, and adult joy. This "parentese" talk is a sure way to bring happiness to a baby who has just shown a developmental advance. This could be as simple as a 6-month-old saying "dada" or transferring a toy expertly from one hand to another. Encouraging tones and words confirm for babies that they are competent. The baby is a doer! She can make important things happen!
Be Ready to Notice
In order to catch these precious moments, teachers need to become acutely attuned "noticers" of developmental achievements. When a teacher recognizes that a baby is performing a new developmental task, this is the time to confirm the baby's happy feeling of accomplishment. Describe the baby's action in simple words and with joyful tones.
Offer Soothing Strokes
Loving touches on the skin are a sure way to help babies relax and feel happy. A baby's skin is sensitive. When stroked softly and lovingly, babies wriggle with joy! If you add loving, cooing words, they may well thrust up their tummies and vigorously kick their legs to express contentment and joy at your loving touch. Take time to caress babies!
Drape as You Rock
Babies love to be draped. If you are gently rocking in the rocking chair, drape the baby over your lap. Babies will enjoy the kinesthetic stimulation from your gentle rocking motions. Rub the baby's back gently as you rock.
Provide Lap Time
Toddlers are trying fiercely to become independent. Often, they will gallop about, running to choose a toy and not giving a teacher a glance. But when they're tired or a bit scared, or just needing human contact to "rev up" their energy and spirit, they will revel in being held lovingly in your arms or on your lap. Watch contentment come back to a toddler's face as you snuggle him on your lap when he needs that extra "refueling" that a loving hug provides.
Babies and toddlers feel happy when they can trust grown-ups to meet their needs. Be sure to feed each baby when he or she signals a need for it. Allow older babies to feed themselves when they want to try; give them a spoon. Validate a toddler's growing desire to "do it myself" by providing unobtrusive help when needed. Let a toddler try new skills to confirm his growth urges. He feels understood. He feels you trust him to try.
As you help babies feel that their bodily needs are being met - that their bodies are lovable, that you love caring for them and admire them as they attain new skills - they will feel happy. Your attunement to and support of each individual child is the not-so-secret ingredient for each baby's happiness!
What You Can Do
Understand developmental norms. The more you observe a baby's accomplishments, the more likely you will see when a truly innovative or new task has been tried or accomplished.
Use non-allergenic oils and provide a baby massage for 5 or 10 minutes daily. Babies will smile deeply and relax with happiness at this special intimate daily pleasure.
Let toddlers try new skills even when you think they may not succeed. Encourage attempts! Admire their efforts. They will feel happy that they have worked so hard at a new skill even when things did not turn out so well.
3 to 4 "I LOVE IT!" by Susan A. Miller, EdD
Wearing a wide grin, 3-year-old Ava bounces into the center. She gleefully announces, "Mommy is picking me up for lunch! We are going to have my favorite - 'BLTs,' just us! Then, we are going to the library to get some 'cuddle-up' books." Ava continues to smile as her teacher encourages her at the manipulatives table. Ava claps her hands excitedly after they complete a challenging puzzle together.
Ava's joyful expressions (smiles, bouncy steps, and hand clapping) indicate her happiness with her life this day. Like Ava, most 3-year-olds are delighted when their parents, especially Mommy, or teachers set aside a special time to be with just them. Threes are thrilled by surprises, such as an early pick-up or favorite treat. They are so happy when the adored adults in their lives concentrate on them by cuddling up with books, playing games, or sharing favorite foods. When Ava received encouragement and positive feedback from her teacher, she was overjoyed. These wonderful moments help preschoolers feel connected to various significant people in their lives, which in turn builds positive feelings of trust, security, and self-confidence-all feelings necessary for a young child's happiness.
Developing Social Relationships
Four-year-old Aiden can't wait to share his brand new dinosaur book with his best buddy, Jesse. Jesse calls Aiden "The Dinosaur Master" because he knows everything about these unique creatures. Together they talk exuberantly about the pictures, ask each other dinosaur questions with great relish, and then decide enthusiastically to draw their own book. Their final page contains a silly looking dino, which initiates a giggle-fit as they shout out goofy names for their creature.
Whereas 3-year-olds are delighted to connect with their parents and teachers, fours are happy playing with a friend and developing their social relationships. Their self-esteem is raised when they feel valued by their peers and enjoy special recognition from their buddies, such as when Aiden is revered as "The Dinosaur Master." Fours seem happiest when asking a lot of "whys" about things and gathering information. They thoroughly enjoy focusing passionately on something they love, such as Aiden and Jesse's fascination with dinosaurs, a favorite 4-year-old topic. But they could just as easily be happily engaged developing specific physical skills, like those required for playing soccer. As 4-year-olds practice special skills and master the various activities they find engaging, they grow increasingly happy and satisfied with their success.
Feeling Happy as Helpers
Preschoolers love to be helpers. It makes them feel happy when they please their parents and teachers. They enjoy doing such things as setting the table or getting needed items. They like to help their friends find something. It makes them feel upbeat when they accomplish something. They feel a growing sense of independence and happy satisfaction when they make contributions to their family, friends, and the community.
Engaging in Activities
When asked what really makes them feel happy, preschoolers eagerly respond, "Having fun playing." This encompasses many pleasurable ways of being involved with play, for example: through activities and crafts, such as painting with bright colors at the easel; through hands-on experiences, such as raking up leaves and jumping in the piles; and through interaction with friends. Preschoolers love lots of unstructured play with plenty of time for involvement. This allows them to happily use their imaginations and learn to become problem solvers through trial and error. Simply being engaged in active outdoor play with friends seems to be a favorite event that brings preschoolers great happiness.
Participating in all of these healthy types of experiences helps preschoolers learn about long-term happiness, rather than the short-term exhilaration they may feel when parents buy them an expensive computer game or other toys that they quickly become bored with. And fours in particular find great joy in playing for hours with their own personalized collections rather than a multitude of costly commercial toys that may not be developmentally appropriate.
Around age 3½, some preschoolers may appear stressed or seem to worry about everything. They may stammer and develop nervous eye tics. They don't seem very happy at times and may need extra attention from the adults in their lives to help reduce their anxiety until they outgrow this stage.
However, certain other preschoolers seem to be upbeat, with sunny personalities. They have optimistic temperaments and positive attitudes. They feel successful and competent, which gives rise to feelings of happiness. They are appreciative of those around them. For example, with his positive, "I can do it!" attitude, Aiden enthusiastically thanks his grandma for his new dinosaur book. Beaming, he conveys his gratitude by sharing his original, hand drawn book with her.
What You Can Do
Model sticking to a project. Demonstrate how to problem solve if an activity is not going well. Show children how you handle frustration and don't give up if something doesn't work right away. Be willing to laugh if you "mess up."
Discuss commercial messages. Talk about ads on TV or in magazines that imply that children need special clothes to be attractive or that they must buy and eat particular foods to be strong and happy.
Use puppets and props to share happy feelings. If children are having a difficult time using the right words to explain their feelings, design a puppet show or play to demonstrate how they are feeling. Add some happy music and jokes to lighten up your show. Try singing, "If You're Happy and You Know It."
5 to 6 "THIS IS MY FRIEND!" by Ellen Booth Church
Ms. Perline has gathered the kindergartners together for morning meeting. As children settle into the circle, she asks children to share their ideas for ways to finish the sentence, "Happiness is...". As children raise their hands, the teacher hurriedly writes their ideas on chart paper. "Happiness is being with my mom and dad." "Happiness is my big dog." "Happiness is sitting next to my friend!" "Happiness is climbing the monkey bars." "Happiness is learning to swim."
Want to know what makes kindergartners happy? Just ask them! Older kindergartners are very clear about what they think and how to say it.
One of the most exciting developmental changes that occurs during the kindergarten year is children's increased ability to express their own opinions and ideas. At this point in the year, their expressive language abilities have grown by leaps and bounds. This is partly due to their larger vocabulary and ease with communication, but also because they are more comfortable expressing themselves in a group. Children in the end of the kindergarten year have learned to think for themselves and value their own opinions. (See Teaching Techniques for ideas to help foster independent thinking.)
Friendships and Accomplishments
In reading children's "Happiness is..." statements above, you may notice that the two main ingredients to "happiness" in 5- and 6-year-olds are relationships and accomplishments. While children may love to get a new bike or toy, happiness that really lasts is based on the relationships children share with family, friends, and YOU! Having a friend and being a respected and loved member of a classroom or family is an important concern for fives and sixes. They are at a stage of development where interactions with others add enjoyment to everything they do. The ability to share a toy, activity, or thought with a trusted friend or family member brings children at this stage of development a sense of joy, comfort, and safety. Interestingly, research shows that it is the development of relationships in school (and home) and the added ability to communicate thoughts and feelings in these relationships that is a strong indicator of success in school. When children feel the safety of an accepting relationship with others they often feel comfortable enough to freely express themselves. This is why friendships are so important to nourish in the kindergarten year.
One way children look at friendships is through the lens of fairness. At this stage of development, children are heavily invested in a sense of justice. It is particularly important to them that others "play fair." In fact, a sense of fairness in friendships and activities is essential to kindergarten happiness! What is fairness to a 5- or 6-year-old child? It is primarily a belief that everyone should play by the same rules. You may have noticed that the young children in your classroom are very aware when things feel fair (or especially unfair) to them but not as a ware when others feel things are unfair. This is quite normal. Children in the early elementary years are very self-focused. Kindergartners still see the world in relationship to themselves and their needs, yet are quite capable of learning empathy for others and fair play.
Accomplishments are another factor in kindergarten children's feelings of happiness. The "I can do it" factor in any activity is high for most kindergartners. Previously in this column we explored how children experience a sense of accomplishment when they feel competent and capable. But from the perspective of "happiness," this sense of accomplishment goes to the root of feeling hike a contributing and accepted member of the classroom society. It is the happiness of being seen and appreciated that adds to the joy of life!
What You Can Do:
Ask children at morning meeting to talk about their ideas for finishing the sentence: "Happiness is...". You can also use this as a way to discuss the things they did together this year that made them happy.
As a class you can talk about fair play. You might ask, "What makes something fair or unfair?" Talk about following the rules and taking turns. You might ask, "What are the 'rules of the game' in our class? How do we play fair with our toys, games, and activities?" By doing so, you will be giving children a context for looking at the importance of fair play.
Celebrate accomplishments as the end of the year draws near. Children may enjoy listing on chart paper all the things they learned this year in kindergarten. Ask children to choose their favorite accomplishment to draw and write about for a class "Look What We Learned" book. Display the book for all to enjoy!