My son Thomas is teaching in Korea this year and just sent me this photo of him. I was struck by what the window said behind him – juggle for happy life. I think in most places, that window would read – ‘juggling classes’ or ‘learn how to juggle’ – not juggle for happy life.
As an educator, I have noticed how so many of us are fine with programs that are simply for ‘happiness’ or joy when it is for our pre-school children. When it comes to our older children, however, we tend to look for skills-based programs, or at least skills that can easily be quantified.
I see countless ads for creative movement for young children, but as soon as the child is 5 or 6, they are often no longer offered. They then can sign up for a program only to learn skills and ‘get better’ at dance, or for that matter, anything.
For me, this way of thinking feels very mixed up and counterintuitive to what I have witnessed. Creating spaces for play and exploration can increase happiness in our lives. I have taught children dance for many years. I know for a fact that countless teens enjoy creative movement. They love having a place to explore their ideas and experiences as well as the freedom to discover their unique creativity and ‘play’.
Creative Play to Last a Lifetime
This does not stop at age 5. In fact if anything, I see children’s love of this increasing. I feel it is important to carve out a space for this discovery. I remember hearing one child saying to another, “Do you take real dance classes”? This is actually quite a common statement for children now. Real dance classes in the context of how our world works right now means to most children that you learn steps. That you have to get good at it. Real art classes means that you learn to draw ‘better’.
It’s not that skills-based programs are bad for children. I don’t think that at all. My children took soccer and other activities that taught them specific skill sets. I do think, however, that in wanting to have our children flourish, we sometimes place more importance on quantified skill-based programs. We hope these activities will make them really good at something, so they can excel and be successful.
When I reflect back on the activities my two older children (now 22 and 24) were involved with, I can see they did grow and gain self confidence from being pushed at some of these skill-based activities and learning how to do well at them. But where I feel they gained the most, however, were the other activities they embarked on. Activities that simply brought them joy. Open- ended activities, like travelling with Children’s International Summer Villages or art lessons to simply express themselves.
My son, who was so inspired by travelling to Guatemala with C.I.S.V. as a 13 year old, is now travelling the world. He is full of joy as he connects with other cultures and perspectives and is eagerly learning about educational systems that promote peace and equity. My daughter, who loved visual art as a child, never studied it in university or took it professionally, but still to this day, she draws and paints as a way to relax and center herself.
These Programs Empower Emotional Growth
In these programs they didn’t learn hard skills you could easily quantify. They would have said at the time it was just fun, they were just playing. But having fun, being happy is actually so much more important than we think. It’s the learning that is key. The emotional health we gain from connecting to what gives us happiness is a critical skill. The importance we place on this as educators and parents tells our children what WE THINK is important.
As I was working on this post, I received an e-mail from the Neufeld Institute, advertising one of its upcoming summer intensive workshops. The week long workshop on PLAY and EMOTION caught my eye immediately. I was thrilled and signed up, alongside our other Dandelion staff. We are enthusiastically planning to attend this course together next summer on Vancouver Island.
At Dandelion we understand the deep value of play. To take a course that will broaden our understanding of the neuroscience and deep connections between emotion and play is so exciting for us as we further our work. I see a strong correlation between what we do at Dandelion and ‘play’. Offering open-ended spaces where young people can create, explore and make-believe is so needed, especially in these times of busyness and skills-based activities. The course description looks so exciting for us as educators and facilitators, who help children discover more of who they are and build empathy through arts creation.
Let’s remember that it’s OK to sign up a 9 year old, a 12 year, a 17 year old, or ourselves for classes that simply bring joy. Even if we do not sign up for anything, we can just play in our homes, our backyards and with each other. Learning to have joy and happiness in life is important. It’s a ‘skill’ you can keep with you forever.
So juggle for happy life, dance for a happy life, sing, canoe, or do whatever it is that brings you happiness. Let’s allow our kids to do the same.
Watch our one minute video of our teens dancing and connecting and being happy. Be inspired by happiness!