Saturday, June 8, 2013

Should learning be fun?

School was not much of a challenge for me, when I was young. I never really had to put forth much effort, and good grades came easily for me. In fact, they came so easily that some of my friends became irritated, and decided they didn't want to spend time with a "brain." Fine!

When I started high school, I decided that I would be more popular if I had lower grades, so for most of my freshman year, I really didn't do much of anything. My grades went down, and the people who had been my friends when I was "smart" were still my friends, and I discovered that those who hadn't liked me when I made good grades, were really not as wonderful as I had thought. So I went back to my old methods, and managed to finish high school with a decent grade point average.

It wasn't until many years later, that I discovered that I really wasn't any smarter than anyone else. This became evident when we began homeschooling. I discovered that, although I had received good grades, I really hadn't learned much in school. Instead, I was excellent at memorizing. I had the ability to easily discern what a teacher thought was important, making it simple to prepare for tests.

When we began homeschooling, I began to learn, much like I did when I was a young child, before I discovered teachers and textbooks and tests. I was learning because I enjoyed it, and because it was interesting. Hey! Learning was fun! Learning new things became a passion for me. There were so many things that I wanted to know, and so many of those things were incredible, amazing and eye-opening! I decided that I had to share this great discovery. There was more to learning than getting good grades. It could change your life. It was changing mine.

We were so fortunate to find a wonderful group of homeschool families, who seemed to have discovered the same thing. Learning was a joyful adventure. Tests didn't seem necessary. When the learning was fun, it was obvious that the children remembered what they had learned, because they were coming up with new ideas that built on the previous lessons. They were becoming self-directed, eager to learn, thirsty for knowledge, filled with questions. It was often difficult to get them into bed in the evening, because they needed to read just one more book, or try one more experiment, or paint one more picture. And when they awoke in the morning, they began all over again, with barely time for breakfast.

I began teaching enrichment classes about subjects that particularly interested me, subjects that were fun and that were filled with fascinating facts. The students who participated were involved and excited about things we studied. Parents would tell me that their children were digging deeper into the subject when the classes ended. How wonderful!

Lately, I have had some parents telling me that they think fun is fine, but they want "real" classes about "real" subjects, too. Some seem to feel that if the class is fun, it can't be a "real" class. If there is humor, the material learned can't be that important. Oh, that makes me sad. This belief seems to be especially prevalent in classes for older children and teens. To many parents, this is when serious education should begin. Yes and no...

I have seen a wealth of wonderful, fun classes offered at various co-ops. All the basic subjects, from literature to calculus, biology to ancient civilizations, algebra to chemistry, were not only taught, but what was taught was applied and remembered. Constructing with PVC pipe and duct tape, creating jewelry and armor with maille, taking photographs, growing a garden, solving logic puzzles, playing games and cooking new and interesting foods are all ways to bring those abstract subjects into the real world. Solving math problems involving measurement on paper can be boring, but measuring PVC pipe to make a potato cannon, or chocolate chips to make cookies is fun! It's still the same lesson. Chemistry in the kitchen is tasty and memorable.

I believe that by including fun activities that relate to real life experiences, students of all ages will be more motivated to learn. As students learn, they will, of their own accord, dig deeper, searching for more challenging material. Too often, I see older students leave fun and interesting lessons behind to plow through textbooks. At the same time, I see the students' enthusiasm for learning wane. They move on to memorizing facts to pass tests.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I don't expect all lessons to be fun, but I do think that it is important for everyone to experience fun learning activities every week. Look through those textbooks for ideas, problems and experiments that can be translated into real life learning. Get creative and find field trips that will tie in with the subjects being studied. If your teen is studying biology, take time to visit an arboretum, a farm, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (Wooster), the zoo. Studying astronomy? Visit the planetarium. Go outside and see how far you have to travel to minimize light pollution (that masks the night sky.)

Have a chemistry scavenger hunt at the grocery store. How many chemicals can you find listed in the foods you are buying? What are they doing in your food? How about chemicals in your clothing? Check the labels. Compare brands.

Not sure what to do for real life algebra experiences? Try an online search for "real life algebra." I promise there are many fun and interesting ways to learn algebra. Turn it into a family challenge! Mom and Dad, you are not totally responsible for everyone else's learning experiences, you know.

How about some fun in your life? What are you learning that is cool, awe-inspiring and fun? You deserve to enjoy yourself, too! And think of what a great example you will be setting!

Laughing and learning,


"In our great eagerness to teach our children, we studiously look for 'educational' toys, games with built-in lessons, books with a 'message.' Often these 'tools' are less interesting and stimulating than the child's natural curiosity and playfulness. Play is, by its very nature, educational. And it should be pleasurable. When the fun goes out of play, most often so does the learning." - Joanne E. Oppenheim Kids and Play, ch. 1 (1984)

"If you like to make things out of wood, or sew, or dance, or style people's hair, or dream up stories and act them out, or play the trumpet, or jump rope, or whatever you really love to do, and you love that in front of your children, that's going to be a far more important gift than anything you could ever give them wrapped up in a box with ribbons." - Fred M. Rogers

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