‘Life is Good’ – It’s More Than T-shirts

The Healing Power of Optimism

Well, that caught my attention.  I know those words to be true.  I’m a preschool teacher; optimism and healing are in my pockets, and in my heart.  It’s what I do with children.

That was the title of the Massachusetts annual conference for preschool teachers whose schools are nationally accredited.  This was their first ‘live’ conference since COVID.  As soon as I read those words, I signed up.

The featured presenters were the guys from ‘Life is Good’.  Think T-shirts?  Think again.

These were the words that hooked me:

Optimism matters.  An optimistic disposition enables us – through everyday and extraordinary struggles – to look for the goodness in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us.  For professionals working with young survivors of trauma, optimism isn’t just a critical tool; it’s the pathway to healing for kids in need. 

Are kids in need today?  You bet they are.  Teachers (that’s me) have to carry optimism, because children learn from us.

Steve Gross is the Chief Playmaker of the Life is Good Playmaker Project.  Yes, they reach out to children with a recipe of play and optimism.  I saw what he does with children in communities that have next to nothing.  It’s simple, inspiring, and the grass roots are optimism.

Here are his words that fueled me:

We’re the gatekeepers of emotional and social wellness.

In the midst of obstacles are opportunities.

Play is about the way you do what you do.  Any activity can bring love and a playful approach.

Then, he talked about Freud.  Yes, Freud.

“Nothing gives a child more pleasure than when an adult gives up their oppressive control and plays with them as equals.”

I often write about making connections.  Here is what Steve said:

It’s all about connection.  Smile with your eyes.

Connection is a primal drive.  Children will not grow if they don’t feel connected.

Find those micro moments and celebrate.

Anthony (Ant) Toombs is the Senior Guide & Outreach Specialist of the Life is Good Playmaker Project.  He says the Life is Good slogan is “Do what you love, love what you do.”  For children, play is their work.  For teachers, you cannot spread what you do not have.  He reminds us:

No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

There are four core ingredients for optimism (the roots):

  • Joy
  • Internal Control
  • Active Engagement
  • Social Connection

With those four, a child can find optimism, regardless of where and how they live.  I keep reading these ingredients, and I know – intuitively – it’s right on.

Here is a letter I wrote to teachers on my blog about finding joy:

Dear Teachers,

As you start your new school year there is one word that will get you through the uncertainty and the worry.  It’s the same word that is the heart of educating.  That word is ‘joy’.  No, it’s not the happiness that children bring. It’s the happiness that you bring because it inspires and ignites the mind and the heart of children.  Yes, that’s how it works.

Children come to you with big eyes, looking at you to teach them.  They don’t know what to think.  They want to learn, yet what they really want is to be inspired to learn.  That is where you can make a difference.

What do you like?  Because whatever it is, from math to music, that ‘like’ will become your best buddy, your guiding star, and the foundation to teach all the things that you like.  It will also become a portal to help you teach the things you may not enjoy.  If you know that every day you have some window of time to teach what you love, then you become an educator.  You go beyond teaching curriculum; you teach the child.

Do you like reading?  Does Because of Winn-Dixie or Charlotte’s Web make your heart jump?  Well, carry that book around and read it aloud on the playground, in the lunchroom, or at the bus stop.  If this is your passion, children will know, and they will listen.  They will learn.

Do you like science?  Carry a tuning fork, magnet, magnifying glass or flashlight in your pocket.  Pick up interesting pieces of nature and explore them with children.  This is one of the fundamental constants for learning.  If you are grounded in nature and science, bring your curiosity and discovery to the classroom and the playground; then the world will open up for children.

Do you love music?  Sing your favorite songs, sing the words to a book, sing poetry, or just sing the words that you say.  If this is your passion children will know.  They’ll listen and learn.  Introduce children to the music you love.  I bring my record player and old albums into the classroom.  Some years they love Beethoven, other years the Beatles.  The point is, they will love the music because you do.

Do you love art?  Don’t be afraid to use real artist’s watercolors when introducing art.  Children enjoy learning about famous pieces of art, too.  If you treat a child like an artist and treat the work s/he creates like a masterpiece, the results are remarkable.  When a child has created something and is incredibly proud, ask the child to give the art a title and record that to the work of art.  This simple affirmation has done more for the confidence and character of children than most anything I have done.

You may only like one thing, but that alone will open the door to help you teach the rest.

We all know that the emotional and social pieces for children need to be ‘there’ before effective learning takes place.  Well, flip-flop that fact from the child to the teacher.  If you the teacher are not grounded in an emotional and social component of educating, then how in the world can you get your message across to children?  You have to share your love and passions.  That’s your joy.  In that way, you are sharing you.  And, all that children want to know is that you love them and love what you are teaching.  If they know that, the floodgates will open to learning.

Maya Angelou was right when she said, “…people will never forget how you made them feel”.  The children I have taught for decades often return to school to visit.  They can’t put a finger on what it was in my classroom, but they come back.  Joy is the magic word.


Optimism is the ability to see the good.  Choose to focus on the good.  This is what I do.  Every teacher needs to follow this path.

Thank you, Steve and Anthony.  Thank you, Life is Good.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in Expressing words and feelings, Giving, Inspiration, joy, Kindness, Teaching young children and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to ‘Life is Good’ – It’s More Than T-shirts

  1. beth says:

    what a wonderful conference with amazing presenters. I agree with every word of this and every teacher should approach young children with a positive take on life and meet them where they are. great post, Jennie

  2. Fraggle says:

    I think that’s a path everyone can follow as well as teachers!

  3. beetleypete says:

    That conference was right up your street, Jennie. Your letter to teachers is an example for every teacher in every country in the world. I hope that they all passed it on.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. Norah says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! What a wonderful program, and an amazing letter you wrote to your colleagues, Jennie. It is so affirming and uplifting to be in company like that.

  5. Alice Collins says:

    Words to remember, Jen. I’m printing this one out right now for my ‘fridge!

  6. Anne Wilson says:

    Hi Jennie! Anne from the Playmaker Project, here 🙂 Do you mind if we share this on our social media channels? Thank you!

  7. Opher says:

    Optimism, praise, love and recognition – how to make kids grow!

  8. Don Ostertag says:

    And above all, smile with your eyes.

  9. That letter really says it all, Jennie. I hope all teachers actively project optimism. People really will never forget how you made them feel. Optimism really should be a goal all of us achieve and express.

    • Jennie says:

      When I included my letter on joy, reading it once again was inspiring. Like you, I hope all teachers project optimism. It means the world to children. I think about Maya Angelou’s quote all the time. It speaks to me and how I teach children. Thank you, Bruce.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    That advice applies just as well to college students. During my years of teaching English it was my love of poetry that allowed many poetry averse students to change their minds. My daughter is now a college professor too and brings her joy to the classroom. College should be just as joyful as preschool with just as much laughter and freedom to make “mistakes.”

    • Jennie says:

      Beautifully said, Elizabeth. Yes, college should be the same way. In preschool, optimism and joy give children roots. In college, they give them the wings to fly. I am so glad your daughter brings joy to her classroom. Wow! She is making a difference.

  11. quiall says:

    Our world has become so complicated when something as simple as joy has become so difficult. It’s nice to see it’s being re-introduced. I guess it was always there, we just couldn’t see it

  12. Great program, Jennie. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Dan Antion says:

    Our world needs more optimists.

  14. Ritu says:

    I join you as one of those optimists, Jennie ❤

  15. Ah, what a lovely happy positive post. Thank you Jennie.

  16. Yes! I love this message!

  17. petespringerauthor says:

    First off, this a brilliant letter about bringing joy to our classrooms. There is no question that children feed off a teacher’s natural enthusiasm.

    I know I’m drawn to optimistic people, and kids are no different. I love all of the messages coming from Steve and Anthony, especially the concept of playing with kids as equals.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Pete. I know you embrace this concept. It is so natural, yet people get swept up in the everyday, and optimism and joy get a little lost. But, it’s always there. We just need a nudge, like a smiling child or looking at a sunset.

      These guys are terrific! And, who knew Freud would have said that? Wow!

  18. Ally Bean says:

    I’m a reluctant optimist. I came to the concept later in life, but now that I’m here I embrace it. I’m glad that teachers are acknowledging how sharing happiness and joy can be motivating in subtle or dramatic ways.

    • Jennie says:

      I think there are many reluctant optimists. We all have it deep inside, it just gets suppressed by everyday stuff. Once you have a moment, or a reminder to embrace optimism, it’s quite wonderful. Yes, when teachers share it, it’s like invisible sparklers. Thank you, Ally.

  19. Abbas Anwar says:

    the amazing letter you wrote jennie

  20. Thank you, Jennie, we can all appreciate being reminded about joy and life being good. A fabulous and uplifting post.

  21. Manisha D. says:

    So good 🌟

  22. dgkaye says:

    What an amazing and inspirational conference. Loved all the quotes – especially the Freud one. ❤

  23. frenchc1955 says:

    Hi Jennie, thank you for a wonderful post!

  24. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Please read this wonderful post from the excellent teacher, Jennie!

  25. delphini510 says:

    Your post is wonderful and inspiring, Jenie.
    I find the quotes deep and strong – including Freud.
    And so very truly ” Optomism matters”.


    • Jennie says:

      Thank you! I feel the same way about the quotes, and never expected Freud had said that. What a wonderful surprise. You are right, optimism matters.

  26. Carla says:

    This sounds like it was an amazing conference with a message that everyone, not just teachers needs to hear. I used to get frustrated when primary teachers would say that grade __, isn’t playtime anymore. There is always time to play, just like sing, draw, read etc. Wonderful post about the need for joy in your job and life in general, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Carla. You are so right, it’s a message everyone needs to hear. Teachers you knew really said that grade __ isn’t playtime anymore? How sad. It’s something everyone needs. Play = learning + joy. Right? The joy piece is so important.

  27. TRAILBLAZER says:

    Great! I’m so happy to know that as a preschool teacher, you have optimism and healing in your pockets, and in your heart. Those are great values one must possess. Congratulations!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s