Start with Joy

Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness

Children come to school to become better readers, writers, and thinkers, but they also walk into classrooms hoping to be happy. Katie Cunningham argues that happiness must be as much of a priority in teaching as proficiency or achievement. When teachers intentionally design curriculum with joy at its heart, learning becomes more meaningful and memorable.

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Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness links what we know from the science of happiness with what we know about effective literacy instruction. By examining characters in the books they read, children develop empathy for others and come to understand that we all struggle and we all love. When given a choice about what to write, children express hopes, fears, and reactions to life’s experiences. Literacy learning is full of opportunities for students to learn tools to live a happy life. 

Inside, you’ll find:

  • Seven Pillars: The author offers seven pillars that will make classrooms more joyful, engaging, and purposeful—Connection, Choice, Challenge, Play, Story, Discovery, and Movement.

  • Ten Invitations: These ten lessons may be presented at any time of year in the context of any unit and include children’s literature suggestions, as well as, recommended teacher talk to meet children’s specific needs.

  • Teaching Tools: Tools and resources that will help students tell their stories and make literacy learning something all students celebrate and cherish.

This book honors the adventure that learning is meant to be. By infusing school days with happiness, teachers can support children as they become stronger readers, writers, and thinkers, while also helping them learn that strength comes from challenge, and joy comes from leading a purposeful life.


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An insightful guide full of stories and research to promote the contentment of children in the classroom. Cunningham’s book about happiness and advocacy for a mind-body connection is more relevant now than ever before!

Michael J. Hynes

Superintendent of Schools, Patchogue-Medford School District


About the Author(s)

Katie Egan Cunningham is the author of Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Instruction for Student Happiness and Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. She has twenty years of experience as an educator in many different roles including classroom teacher, literacy specialist, literacy consultant, and teacher educator. Katie is an Associate Professor at Manhattanville College in Literacy and English Education.



Product Details

Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Media: 256 pp/paper
Year: 2019
Item No: 1283
ISBN: 978-1-62531-283-9
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers