I find that when children are happy and having fun, they are in a prime position to learn. Emotion is the gatekeeper to learning. Making learning fun ensures increased interest in a topic and the information becomes more memorable.
Let me share an experience with you. There was a time when I needed to put my older children in school. They were placed in the same classroom. When I picked them up after their first day, I was excited to hear from them how the day went. They told me that the teacher said she would be nice and she would not give them homework on the first day. This was an unfortunate take-away from their first day of school: schoolwork is bad, avoid it if you can. I was so disappointed. This was opposite of the fun learning we’d been having at home!
Yet how often do we get stuck in the “I hate schoolwork” trap? Do our children enjoy their day-to-day learning? I believe that it is not only possible to have fun learning experiences every day, but that they SHOULD have fun learning experiences every day.
When children are having fun, they are in a relaxed and alert state and their brains are wide open, ready to learn.
Here are some fun ways to introduce great topics to your child.
Use themes. What are your children interested in? Most if not all of your learning experiences can be influenced by the theme. When new information is juxtaposed with things they already love - such as a favorite topic, a theme park or popular computer game - their interest is heightened. I like to start by decorating our learning environment to match the theme. It’s so fun!
Get out! Children love adventures and to see new things. Each new thing they en- counter is something they can learn from. Some great places to go:
• libraries • a variety of field trips • hiking • theme parks • park day with friends • road trips
Start a co-op. Some children love to go to “class” with friends. This class time should not be spent sitting at desks, listening to lectures or completing worksheets. These classes can be dynamic activities that en- courage collaboration among peers. Invite your friends over for some fun learning activities such as cooking, building, challenges and hunts!
Once curiosity is sparked, who knows where it’ll lead? You will hear your child say things like, “Let me try! Can I do it? Show me! Tell me! Let me do it!” This is when you know they are ready to move on to the second part of the process, which is playing with the topic. Let them choose how they will play with the information. They may explore the topic on their own and within their own intelligences and learning styles. Will they spend a couple hours Googling it? Will they make posters? Write plays? Can you think of some ways your child would enjoy playing? Allow them to delve into the topic.
This is when you can provide REC time for your children. This means you can allow them to: Read. What books are they drawn to?Exercise. The brain works better when the body is fit. Children like to move, and a moving child learns faster than one who sits still. Create. Keep a variety of materials and resources available for your child to create. Aside from the collaborative projects with others, it is also important for a child to have time to create on their own. Be sure to allow for lots of time for your child to do these projects. Your child may appreciate suggestions for projects.
Children love exploring and learning like this. When learning and fun are synonymous, students come to really love learning – even the hard stuff!
When the artist Michelangelo was 15 and working on a sculpture, he was invited by a friend to go on a hunt. Michelangelo turned down the opportunity. After being chided by his friend, he said, “For me, marble has the excitement of the hunt.” Because of his deep interest in sculpture, Michelangelo would rather work than play. The same thing can happen with learning. With true interest in a topic, a child may have the opportunity to enjoy the excitement of the hunt themselves. What can they discover, uncover, create and find?
Don’t worry about making sure that all recommended topics are “covered.” Information shared with a bored student is time wasted. But when a child is properly engaged, and the learning is fun, they will remember these experiences, along with the accompanying information.
When your child is moving, touching and breathing their learning experiences, don’t be too surprised to find your child jumping up and down about their schoolwork (I’ve seen this happen)! Don’t be surprised when these interests expand into other interests. Don’t be surprised when they become insatiable learners.
As Frederick Nietzsche said,
“Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of a noble education. Dancing with the feet, the mind and ideas.”
Enjoy the adventures you will have, and don’t forget the fun!
-Heather Martinson was introduced to homeschooling by her mother in the 1980s. Heather's four children, ages 25, 23, 16 and 12 were almost exclusively homeschooled. In 2006 Heather started Celebration with the premise that learning should be fun. Celebration Education now offers fun learner-centered classes in a variety of locations including parks, rented facilities, homes, theme parks (including Disneyland), and now Minecraft!