Saturday, January 5, 2019

Hygge in the Classroom

I am doing something SUPER fun! I gotta share it right now so you can start thinking about it, too. Have you heard of Hygge? (hoo-guh) It is a Danish word, which means a mood of warm cosiness, comfort, and sense of contentment. The Danes are known as the happiest people in the world and I think there is much we can gain by embracing a hygge philosophy and focus. Hygge is a trending topic with lots written about it now. In this post I'm going to tell you how I have a hygge classroom, and how I developed a special Hygge Hour. I also share what hygge is and even some research that backs up why hygge concepts belong in the classroom. Here we go!

I was instantly captivated by the idea of hygge when I first heard about it and decided I needed to read more. I made a little poster to summarize in a nutshell what I've learned and come to appreciate about hygge. It has been useful when sharing at school and with family and friends.

I decided that I wanted more hygge in my life and since my classroom is so central to my life, I thought I'd find ways to incorporate hygge into my time with the kidpeople. When I stopped to think about it I realized I already did have hygge in the daily environment of the classroom! It's in some of the small elements and even more so in the feeling I try to cultivate. Our lighting comes from lamps and softer, non-fluorescent overhead lighting. We have a couch, comfy cushions and floor seating. We spend lots of time sharing books with friends, sometimes in pretty laid back ways.

We have a twinkling fireplace, a favorite with everyone, kids and adults alike.

Even our class motto, "We are a Caring, Learning Commuity," which I developed many years ago, is hygge-esque. I used it in preschool, brought it to grade school, used it through the time we were a PBIS school (which I felt surely needed some balance) and now it really fits with our Responsive Classroom school. Click on pic for previous post.

I need to point out here, though, that hygge is actually more about feelings than things. Our class motto starts to get at the feeling piece of hygge in our classroom. I really want my kidpeople to feel connected, to understand that what they do affects everyone else. I want them to feel they have a place in the classroom, and they have a place in my heart. I build the connection piece into our daily routines– greeting kids one to one at the door, giving time for sharing first thing in the morning and connecting at the end of the day. We practice mindfulness right after lunch, which helps us slow down, listen, and discuss how we feel on the inside.

I have deliberate purpose for all the stuff and routines in the classroom, but how could I bring awareness and focus of these hygge elements to my kidpeople? That's when Hygge Hour was born! We may live in a regular hygge environment, but for one special hour we can be consciously happy and grateful for being part of a cozy, hygge community!

I was lucky enough to find a cartoon video for kids that explains hygge and what it means, and it was a great way to introduce hygge.  Click to watch.

The kidpeople were ALL about that video, even though I didn't say a word about having a hygge hour.  I just let the idea of hygge percolate for a while. Before I told them about our first hygge hour I asked the kids what they remembered about the word hygge and what were things they could do at home or we could do in our classroom for more hygge. They came up with several things, cookies being top on the list. snort. It didn't even occur to them that we could have hot chocolate or take our shoes off, so when I suggested it... Whoa! YES! 

This is how we do our hygge hour:

Lighting– I put a roaring fireplace video on the big screen. There are lots to choose from on YouTube. And each table gets a flickering LED candle. And of course, we already are a non-flourescent lit room.

Quiet background music– I put on a cozy instrumental background mix of snow songs or jazz. And some of the fireplace videos have nice music, too.

Hot chocolate–We use these tiny espresso cups that had been in deep storage in my kitchen forever. I mix chocolate and white milk together, which to my surprise, actually tastes better than straight up chocolate and it has less sugar. I heat it in a pyrex pitcher in the micro. When it is warm but not quite hot, I pour it into a thermos, which mixes it and keeps it warm until pouring time. Kids get to choose zero, one or two mini-marshmallows to put in.

Sweet treat– We've had donut holes, pretzel cookies, Keebler elf cookies, and cut outs. With one cookie and the micro size cup of hot chocolate they are not getting too much, but there has not been any complaint or spoken request for more. They seemed to "get" from the very beginning that this was a special time and the treat was only one small part of it.

Cozy elements– We get to take our shoes off and put on cozy socks! Something about this just took their fancy and they can hardly wait to put their shoes in their backpacks and grab snuggle socks from the bin.

The socks come with a story that might make you grin. It took Jonathan and I a full hour to find just the right socks at Dollar Tree. First, we collected little holiday socks, which took forever because I only wanted the ones with a non-Christmas snow motif. I had almost gathered enough when I spotted fuzzy socks in adult sizes. Hmmm... better. So we dumped the little themed socks and started scouring the aisles for enough pair of fuzzies, while managing to narrow the collection down to just two colors. And THEN, while looking for enough of those (I never realized how scattered around things are in dollar stores until that day), we found adult snuggly socks with non-slip dots on the bottom... Even better. Away we went again, this time staying with it until we found enough that were all the same color! Next year I might have kids just bring in their own pair, though these are holding up well through wear and laundry. I bought extra pairs and it's a good thing I did because all our visitors kick off their shoes and wear cozy socks, too... even our principal. snort. And yes, we do have visitors. Our principal, teachers, my adult daughter, and come the new year there is a long list of parents who want to duck out of work and come hang with us.

I also decided to incorporate a special activity as part of each hygge hour to focus us on the "being together" aspect of hygge. On our hygge activity list are winter song sing-alongs, back tales and echo stories, community building games, and some new cozy things for free choice, which comes in the second half of hygge hour. They love getting out book buddies, cushions and even blankets on hygge days. Not too many better ways to spend half an hour at school then snuggled with a book and friends in the Book Nook.

We have some special small world play with snow, characters, and even a fairy house.

If we get enough real snow this winter, I'll bring some in so they can don mittens and build small snowmen at our water table. In fact, all our hygge hour activities are good general learning activities made extra special when introduced as part of hygge hour.

Our hygge hour is the last hour of Friday afternoons but that is mostly because our specials schedule. The kiddos go off to special and I have half an hour to prep the room, the treats and activity. Hygge is not tied to any particular season, in fact it is an all year long mindset, but from the get-go I decided that we would do hygge hour every week until our spring break in March. Our hygge hour is full of cozy indoor activities to perk up cold, gray, winter days, but once spring comes we'll be outdoors more.

I have chuckled to myself to see how invested the kidpeople are in hygge. They take turns serving treats, setting out the flameless candles, and holding the sock basket. The clean up and putting cups in the sink has also been very cooperative, too. Parents report that the kiddos jump right into bed on Thursday nights because "Tomorrow is hygge!!!"

In our first couple of hygge hours, to signal it was time to eat, and without putting much thought to it,  I raised my cup and said, "Happy Hygge." Several weeks later at a Hygge Hour I simply said, "You may begin," which is what I say twice a day at our community-style snack times, and the kidpeople immediately protested... "Nooo, Mrs. Wright! You need to say Happy Hygge!" I didn't know the toast was so important... grin.

There is other evidence that hygge hour is important to the kiddos. As is tradition in our school, we have classroom "winter break" parties before we go off for our two weeks at home. We wear PJs that day school-wide. I was excited to tell the kids about what we were going to do for our party. It was all fine and dandy until they realized it was going to be during the hygge hour. I actually got moans and groans... "What about our hygge, Mrs. Wright??" Even though the party was going to be more special than a typical hygge hour, the only way I could bring them around on the party idea was to call it a "Hygge Party." We pretty much did the same things, only with a bigger cookie and a candy cane. snort.

To be perfectly honest, I look forward to hygge hour as much as the kids do. I have to be extra organized on Fridays, getting backpacks packed up early so my planning period can be given over to prepping for hygge. And it costs me a little out of pocket because there are the cookies and milk to buy as it is only occasionally that parents donate.

But what makes the hygge hour and hygge in our classroom in general SO important is actually the emotional aspect, the feelings that go along with of all that we do. To feel that we belong, that kids know each other and are connected to the teacher; that we are safe and cared for so we can be happy and content while we learn and grow. Simple things like reading by the fire, or telling our stories from our own lives, or playing games together is really more important than the material things that make our classroom hygge. Our hygge hour is just one more way I strive to meet the emotional needs of my students.

Just as pretty much everything in my classroom has data to back it up, so too, my focus on emotional connection with my students is based on ever growing evidence from educational research. Teachers who invest time and effort in developing relationships see more student progress in all areas. Kids who have an emotional connection with their teachers do better academically, showing higher grades and test scores. Teacher-student relationships are central to Responsive Classroom schools, too. My Early Childhood background taught me long ago that all this was true, but it is nice there is always new info coming out for all teachers and students. You can read more about the the importance of teacher-student relationships here.

Even going shoeless is research based! A decade long study on tens of thousands of school children in over 100 schools in 25 countries found students were more engaged and did better in the classroom when they ditched their shoes. In classrooms where students went with just socks, children got better grades, were better behaved, and they read more, especially boys. There was also less bullying. Those dollar store snuggly socks are golden! You can click here and here and here to read more about learning in socks.

I shared the idea of hygge hour with parents via email before returning from Thanksgiving break. They are very supportive of hygge. A few have supplied cookies, many hope to be visitors... it's so good when parents come to school! One family even bought me a hygge shirt- grin.

So what do you think? Do you already have some hygge in your classroom? What new things might you try now? A hygge environment and a hygge hour can be developed and maintained with next to no stuff at all, especially if the focus is on kids feeling cozy and content, and part of the tribe. It is about person to person relationships, not tiny cups, even if tiny cups are fun to have and use. I do encourage you to try it in whatever form you choose. You can have my poster up at the top of the post if it helps you think about and share hygge– click on it to download. Mull it over and decide what you hope to accomplish with your students and how hygge fits in.

I really encourage you to check out hygge for your own life, if not your classroom. After this post I have linked some books and videos. Hint- you can read or listen to quite a bit of the books for free in the sample sections of Amazon. You don't have to buy to learn more.

Here is one last little hygge image to use in ways of your choosing. I've used it as a mini-poster and as little thank you cards for folks who have stopped by or donated to the cause. Just click on it.

Please Pin this post to share and to refer to!

Thanks so much for stopping by. I would love to hear what you think in comments below!

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