It will come as no surprise to many that as far as schoolchildren are concerned, Friday is their best day of the week and the one when they are the happiest. This not so shocking revelation comes courtesy of the annual event on happiness in innovative schools that always takes place as part of the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council’s) yearly Festival of Social Science.
Fish and chip school lunches, family, friends and fun are mentioned by children in this small-scale project as some of the ingredients of a happy school life, says event organiser Dr Lindsey Cameron, a child development specialist at the University of Kent. “Asking children themselves what makes them happy rather than assuming we as adults know the answers can provide some surprising results,” says Dr Cameron.
“When we asked children aged 10-11 to investigate what made them happy during last year’s Festival, we discovered that material things were not mentioned at all. Rather, it was spending time with family and friends, having fun and enjoying small things like eating fish and chips for school lunch or looking forward to Friday as – for most children (and adults) – the start of a relaxing weekend with their family.”
The ‘How to make a happy school’ event, which this year will be run in three Kent primary schools during the first week in November, aims to help children use social science methods – including collecting and analysing data – to investigate what makes them and their classmates happy and why happiness is important.
During the week children will visit the University of Kent and learn important research skills as well as finding out more about the science of happiness. Back at school, they create their own survey to find out what makes people happy. With the help of local artist, Tracey Falcon, and Kent-based arts organisation People United, they will find creative ways to present their findings to the whole school.
“We need to find out more about what makes young people happy, and who better to investigate this than young people themselves?,” Dr Cameron asks. “A 2007 UNICEF survey placed Britain near the bottom of league tables for well-being. And happiness is an important part of well-being.
This event helps to raise young people’s awareness of the things that are really important for their happiness as well as introducing them to social science methods.” Dr Cameron hopes to share this approach with schools across the country so that they can use social science to explore happiness in their own schools.
Although the project is small-scale, Dr Cameron believes that listening to children from these primary schools gives parents pause for thought as well as highlighting the need for further happiness research. “When asked children clearly tell us how important family, friends and having fun are to their happiness.
For busy parents this may be a difficult thing to hear but it’s worth asking yourself next time to decide to do some hoovering or tidying up, whether those five minutes may not be better spent having a bit of fun with your child,” Dr Cameron says.