I repeated the title of this blog to myself, “Education is Fun,” and heard in my mind all these inner responses. “Yeah, on what world?” “When I was three, it was fun. Then I went to school.” “It should be fun, but only with the rare teacher.”
Play and exploration are the earliest forms of education. They are fun. They involve the mind and body’s natural curiosity and drive to grow, develop, survive. So many people have written about this. I remember reading John Holt in the late 1960s, who said learning, for young children, “is as natural as breathing.” There’s John Dewey, A. S. Neill, etc..
But in the U. S. having fun in school is too often considered “frivolous.” We have too many important issues to deal with, too many failing schools. There are no Common Core Standards for fun (thank God)! Concentration, focus, oh, and discipline are our priorities, and memorization. Yet, this is ridiculous. A joyful or happy brain is one that learns efficiently. Joy involves the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system gets us ready for fight-freeze-flight, a quick response to danger. The parasympathetic system involves a ‘rest and digest’ response, cools the readiness to fight-freeze-flight. It also allows us to feel attraction, love, to digest food and ideas. It allows our eyes to focus for deeper overall vision. So it can make learning more efficient. A brain readied for fear and threat is ready to fight or run, not stay and learn. Joy and happiness are our brain and body’s signal that great learning is occurring.
And fun and joy improves the quality of our life. If education is about living a good life, why isn’t it more concerned with fun? We live not only to achieve and make the world a better place, but to love and be happy. In fact, making the world “better” means decreasing suffering, increasing happiness. Yet, what do we see in the headlines? More testing! More threats.
So, how do we bring fun into a classroom? There are four ways I can think of right away: Games, creativity, depth or meaning, and flow. These four are so interwoven that I can hardly stand to separate them.
Games: In English classes, writing can easily be made a game, even without going onto the internet. And it utilizes your own creativity as well as that of your students. For example, to teach story writing, I would write short stories of about 10-15 sentences. I remember one popular story was about being home alone at night. It began with a description of my hearing an unexpected sound and went on to describe what I discovered. After I wrote the story, I broke it down into individual sentences, made copies, cut them out. Each student or pair of students got the whole story in the form of unorganized sentences. Their job: to put the sentences together into a coherent story. A great lesson in logic, pacing and plot development. Another game: write the beginning of a story and have students finish it. I taught grammar sometimes by finding very short stories, taking out the punctuation, and having students fill it in. We could then discuss the story and how different ways of punctuating it would change the meaning. Or you’re preparing for a test or other assessment of learned material in science or history, so create a game of jeopardy. There are so many possibilities.
Creativity: Besides writing stories and creating games, for student assessments, include creative presentations. Have students in English classes play the characters they read about. Or in a science class, they can create their own fantasy interviews of scientists or design an experiment. In history, they can create fantasy journeys back in time. Depth, Meaning, Relevance, and Flow: There is joy in going deep into a topic or question, especially one that arises naturally in your life. Ask students where their interest and questions lie and then guide them in researching and answering the questions. Have students engage in meaningful, real life projects in their community. Flow is a natural joyful state. It involves getting involved in a project that is a great challenge, but one you can handle. It is self-motivating and means getting so engaged that you forget about time and the possibility of failure. It is very much like play, very meaningful play.
And your attitude toward fun, meaning, engagement, your kindness and valuing of your students, and prioritizing their well-being as people, not test scores, brings all these together.
So, instead of using standardized tests as assessments, use projects that induce flow. Then you’ll witness a generation of dedicated and successful learners.