September, a time to set the foundation for a positive school year. There is an old adage, “Don’t smile until December”, but that is no longer thought to be the most effective approach. We know that confident students are more willing to take risks and they will learn new routines and information more readily. Learning about brain chemistry we see that there are four chemicals produced in the brain that create happy feelings. They are dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. Here are some examples that I’ve used with kindergarten to grade 8 students to help them feel happier and ready to learn.
“You did it!” Dopamine gives us a great feeling when we have a sense of purpose and can accomplish a task. Students with ADHD especially need help with dopamine. Many students will benefit from checklists, chunking tasks into small parts, and being given the opportunity to solve relevant problems. Taking on tangible tasks like helping a friend, organizing materials, taking responsibility to set up equipment…these tasks will help a student to be productive at school.
We all need a chance to relax, especially after a busy or slightly chaotic time like recess or a transition between classrooms or between teachers. Serotonin is produced when students take calm breaths, close their eyes, listen to calm music, or engage in an art like drawing. Teachers will feel the benefits as well!
By getting students’ bodies moving with physical education, daily physical activities, dance, and community building games you can help their brains release endorphins. Besides using online videos you can get them outdoors for a game or walk and take time to make scientific or social studies observations of your community.
The love chemical can be released if we make stuffed toys available to hug or have a class pet or have animals visit the classroom. Some high schools have effectively used this strategy during exams to help students feel calm. While you have your class out for a walk, take time to observe and appreciate nature. Look for seasonal changes in plants and also in animal behaviour. Even if you are in an urban environment you can always watch the sky and observe weather trends. Another approach is to model how to give compliments and make it part of peer feedback.
I found it exciting to explore information about brain chemistry with my students. The kids are very curious about the brain and I found they used these techniques independently to focus, calm down or help one another.
Have a wonderful time getting to know your students and creating the best possible learning environment.