Experiencing joy leads to a multitude of health and wellness benefits, including reduced chance of heart attack, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and a boosted immune system. Joy also positively impacts learning by enhancing children’s cognitive abilities and increasing their aptitude for making social connections.
Joy is a distinct, specific emotion that causes the release of two types of neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine and serotonin. These chemical messengers cause us to smile, laugh or even jump for joy. But the feeling is not limited to physical response. When children experience joy, information flows freely and they retain more of what they learned. Teaching and learning that induce joy and result in joyful classrooms are integral to helping students thrive and should be a goal. Research reveals that certain conditions lend to students feeling joy in the classroom. In one study documenting the emotions of first and second graders, students responded most positively to student-centered learning that allowed them to “shine as experts” by making their own choices.
With so many children and adolescents having suffered adverse effects to their social-emotional, mental and academic well-being due to the COVID-19 pandemic, infusing joy in learning feels more critical and valuable than ever. What produces joy may be personal, but there are many research-backed strategies that, when incorporated into classroom activities, can lead children to experience joy and begin to cultivate it within themselves.