How can schools bring joy to the classroom, make learning fun, and increase self-confidence and well-being for students, families, and teachers alike? That is the precise question asked by educators in this summer’s edition of the Harvard Ed. Magazine: “A Space for Joy: Educators Talk About the Impact COVID Has Had on School Happiness.”

Teachers and school administrators across the U.S. are reporting increased levels of stress and anxiety amongst faculty and students. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new unimaginable challenges for schools and exposed old fault lines in our nation’s approach to education. The result is an “erosion of joy” that saps students of their ability to learn, to grow in confidence, and to take on new challenges with excitement and grit.

Neurologist Judy Willis explained the consequences of such chronic stress and worry: “when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.” In simple terms, when learning is fun and supportive and engaging, students just learn better! And teachers are happier too.

As a result of this emerging awareness, teachers and administrators are beginning to “rethink schooling.” At the heart of this new approach is a recognition that “joy and academic rigor go hand in hand.”

The Denver Waldorf School’s focus on joyfully educating the whole child long-predated the COVID-19 pandemic. For decades, DWS has inspired its students to become original thinkers, creative innovators, and compassionate world citizens — all the while creating a school environment that promotes joy, well-being, and a healthy emotional and intellectual life.

So, how does DWS foster a love for learning, personal growth, and compassion amongst our students? Here are a few of the elements that unleash joyful learning at DWS:

  • We integrate the arts into our curriculum. The fine arts, practical & industrial arts, and performing arts are all woven into our curriculum. The Waldorf method of education through the arts awakens imagination and creative powers to bring vitality and wholeness to learning. Students gain valuable tools to expand understanding of the world as they connect the arts to all academic subjects, and learning comes alive!
  • We move! Our previous School Counselor, Jenny Thompson (MA, LPC), recently wrote about the importance of movement to boost mental health. She explained that effective movement reduces stress, increases relaxation, alleviates anxiety, improves self-confidence, and sharpens memory and cognitive ability. DWS students are not a sedentary bunch; we move, we learn, and we grow!
  • We emphasize the joy of play in sports. DWS coaches recognize that their student-athletes have embarked upon a journey of growth and development that supersedes wins and losses. We seek to develop the whole athlete by valuing growth in individual skills, championing teamwork and inspiring each to become the best they are capable of becoming. Every athlete has their place on our teams.
  • We embrace the festival life. We come together to celebrate the turning of the seasons, to find joy and meaning in diverse cultural traditions, and to strengthen our connections to each other and this world. These traditions and celebrations give meaning to our passing days together as a community. 
  • We work together towards social renewal. Whether through service to others, stewardship of the earth and healthy living, valuing inclusivity and diversity, and working within our greater community –  our education provides a healing element to the world as well as meaning to our work together. 
  • We take our learning beyond our classroom walls through class trips. Annual class trips are a beloved aspect of our education – whether it’s a week-long river trip or a field trip to the farm, class trips provide the opportunity to deepen our relationship with nature and one another.

As one walks through our hallways and our classrooms, you can’t help but notice your senses coming alive. Whether it’s the smell of freshly baking bread in our kindergartens, or the sound of flutes from our 2nd grade classroom, or the artistic creations at every turn- there is much beauty, life, and warmth that surrounds us. And a true joy for learning.