Observing Joy


Every afternoon after working on content for Possibilities ECE, I take a break for some exercise. It is part of my self-care routine and lifts me up before starting a late day work session. Today’s workout was a run. The weather in the Rose City is cold at the moment, but very mild compared to the Central and Eastern United States that is experiencing a Polar Vortex. In Portland, we get a little snow, but that is unusual in the land of liquid sunshine.

During my run I noticed two adults and two children that were standing outside. The adults were talking and the children were waiting nearby. All of a sudden flakes of snow started gently falling from the sky. Quickly, the children noticed the flakes falling and big smiles encompassed their faces. The children looked at each other and started running on the sidewalk with their necks sticking out and tongues pointing toward the sky, trying to catch as many snowflakes as possible. The children were laughing, talking, and each time one of the children would catch a snowflake both would stop and high five each other in celebration of their achievement.

In our work with children, scenes like this replay themselves over an over. It may not be snow but the same enthusiasm is apparent in block play, painting, climbing, noticing a butterfly, or building with cardboard. It is the sheer joy of doing, being involved in life, and savoring the moment. We are fortunate to witness children at play and the joy it creates everyday; it is one of the benefits of our work.

In the Book, Play; Stuart Brown, shares four elements that create a playful experience. Play is deep inside us, is not formed by others, is connected to the outside world, and expresses the needs and desires of the player. 

The definition of joy, a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, is often the partner of children at play. Joy is the feeling that feeds the attributes that so often accompany a moment like the one I witnessed today. Attributes like focus, being active, attentive, supportive, excitement, and sheer happiness were all on display in a single moment during a gentle snow. 

These are important elements not only for children, but also for us as educators to embrace as we engage in a playful co-learning journey with children. We can become busy with the tasks of our work and forget that one of our roles is to be in the moment as much as possible and savor the gift we have of observing joy each day through the eyes of a child.