Are we having fun yet?
I am leading the new teacher training today and the topic of “fun” surfaced which made me think about that word and how I feel about it. Everyone wants to have “fun”—”fun” is the word we use to describe our happy experiences. Fun is free, happy, includes laughter, involves increased heart rates, lightheadedness, and the belief that life is good, right now.
But what happens when we say to our kids or friends:
“This experience is going to be fun”?
I know for me, when someone tells me to expect that an outing or event will be fun, a little part of me tightens. I wonder if I’m being tricked into an experience I don’t really want to have, or if I’ll be required to say I had fun because I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I wonder what happens if the event isn’t fun for me. Do I have a way to stop being a part of it?
There are times when the promise of fun is wholly justified. If a friend calls and says, “Let’s go surfing! It will be so much fun!” I’m likely to agree happily. But if right before spring cleaning, my spouse says to me: “You know we’ll have fun washing the windows,” part of me feels, well, manipulated. What if I really hate window-washing? Just white-washing it (ha!) with the word “fun” isn’t going to change that. I want it understood that I have a genuine feeling about it and I don’t want someone to require me to feel what they assert.
“This is going to be fun” is a coercive statement. Therefore, I avoid making it.
The thing about children is this. We’re told that they are responsive to joy, laughter, and the experience of fun. That means, adults attempt to win cooperation from childish children for tasks that are often associated with “not fun” by promising “fun.” Corporations have figured this out. Daily vitamins, as one example, are shaped like cartoon characters and soaked in sugar to make vitamin-popping a “fun” experience.
The promise of “fun” though, can be a promise of diminishing returns. If you tell a child that the visit to the dentist will be “fun” because there will be a toy at the end of it, and instead, the visit includes painful tooth-drilling, the fun no longer stands out as the key experience of the appointment. The child learns to be cautious when the word “fun” is batted about. It starts to sound like, “This experience is not going to be fun, but we’re going to pretend it is so you won’t get mad or cry or run the other way.”
And so begin the dubious associations with the word “fun.”
With homeschool, as in life, there are tasks that are “fun” and tasks that are not. Not every task has to be “fun” in the true sense of that word, in order to be satisfying or productive or even practiced. Each person needs to have the freedom to form his or her own opinion of the subject area or how we teach it.
“Fun” needs to be experienced as a wonderful by-product when observed in hindsight: “That was a lot of fun learning about dependent clauses.” It is not likely that forecasting “fun” for dependent clause study will be met with anything but suspicion.
Rather than looking for “fun ways” to learn any subject, focus instead on teaching a subject area in a way that involves the child’s whole personality and sense of self. No one wants a subject “done to them.” No one wants to be required to enjoy a subject area.
The best learning experiences are those where the child is engaged/immersed—with his or her full powers of evaluation and capability available. Your job is to provide a stress-free, nurturing, attentive, clear environment in which that activity can take place. Fun is not essential, but when a child is fully involved, fun is a frequently cited result.
And that’s when fun is, well, fun.
Cross-posted on facebook.