Happiness and School

J Jordan
January 20, 2010

Happiness, they say, is the plaything of children. That may be true, whatever it means, but what is it, then, that makes children happy? You know, so it can be their plaything. Surely their parents, their toys, food and a special blankie or stuffed animal are part of what makes a child truly happy. Psychologists would say that guidelines, boundaries, challenges and unconditional love make a child happy. All of those things may be true, but I would wager that going to school also makes kids happy.

Perhaps you scoff at this notion or call to mind some variation of the "we walked to school uphill both ways in the snow" story, but when you think back to when you were in school, especially early on, you might start to recall being happy. Maybe you weren't happy in the sense that you could otherwise be outside playing instead of sitting at a desk, but there are lots of reasons that being at school can make someone happy.

First, and probably foremost, school is not parent territory. While mom and dad rule the roost at home, kids have a certain hold on the school. Sure, you could argue the teacher runs the schoolroom, but kids have an opportunity to be someone else at school other than who they think their parents want them to be. They can be whoever they want to be to their teachers and their peers. If they don't know who they want to be, school is the place to start figuring that out.

Second, school is where the knowledge is. And knowledge gives children several things. Knowledge fleshes out the world around children, who spend a good deal of their younger years wondering about, well, pretty much everything. it gives them access to worlds they never even knew they could imagine. It also provides them with a sense of where they are in the world, both literally and figuratively. Knowledge works toward helping them shape themselves into who they want to be, and helps them decide what they want out of life.

School is also a place where kids find the friends they'll have for a lifetime. You hear someone talk about a man or woman they've been friends with since they were in kindergarten. It happens, a lot. The peers around your children grow up right alongside them, know them, in some ways, better than their parents. Kids don't know whether the person sitting next to them will be a best friend forever, of course, but there is an excitement towards sharing a perspective on school, learning, teachers and life that will be shared over a cafeteria lunch, and perhaps twenty years later, too.

At school, kids can get excited about learning another language, dance, visual art, theater and many more things than they may have access to at home. And, if they have access to such things, they get to exercise or test that knowledge at school.They participate in music classes and attend science fairs where they demonstrate creativity. They take reading challenges and sample foods from around the world, as well as the cultures that come with them. Goodness, all this talk of school makes one nostalgic, huh?

Kids also learn some non-academic things at school. They learn how to listen, how to sit still, how to be polite. Dare I say it, they learn manners? Yes, they do. And these things may not inherently make a child happy, but when a child gets something he or she wants as a result of being listening, being polite and using good manners, that can create happiness.

Perhaps the single most important thing about school is what comes from all the above-mentioned things that make kids happy: independence. Kids crave it the same as adults. They need it but don't necessarily know how to get it. School teaches them how. At school, kids have to think for themselves, complete things by themselves, and, more and more, based on the knowledge they receive, make decisions for themselves. Independence leads to more learning and confidence to be that person they're figuring out how to be. 

So, while school may be the place they have to (proverbially) walk to uphill both ways in the snow, the place where they feel very much inside instead of outside playing, the place where there is a teacher who is eerily similar to their parents in the roost-ruling arena, I'd wager it's one also one of a young child's favorite places to be. Now, about happiness being the plaything of children? That I'm not so sure of. But, maybe your child could ask a teacher.

From the Parents

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