The illusion of "fun"
Over the years I have engaged many times in dialogues about the fact the word "fun" being used as a key word in the preschool/kindergarten/early years context... that school/preschool should be fun. The thought being should this really be a key word? School and preschool (ages 0-6) is about learning (preschool is learning through play and exploration rather than the formal learning of school) not about having fun. The educators are not trained in how to entertain the children and keep them happy... the educators are trained to support the children's learning. This is not to say that learning should not be fun... but how is learning fun? Let's keep this to three points... For me the first thing we need to do - is create a place where all the children feel safe to be who they are... where they dare to communicate their ideas and express their emotions... without a safe space it is near to impossible to children to be capable of learning and having fun, of experiencing joy. Children need to feel accepted to feel safe. They need to feel cared for. They need to have people interested in them and invested in giving them the time and space to evolve. - In my thinking about Original Learning this thinking connects to joy... where I interpret joy to a sense of well-being and professional love. Secondly the learning needs to inspiring... it needs to awaken the children's curiosity, it needs to get them excited to learn more, it needs to ignite the children's desire to explore the world and everything in it. This feeling of wanting to explore is often connected with enjoyment rather than being forced to learn something they are not interested in, which seems the opposite of fun. In my thinking about Original Learning this connects to the words... wonder, curiosity, knowledge and imagination... Thirdly it needs to be motivating... not only to motivate the children to try new things but also to complete the tasks they have started... not by force, but because the children are motivated to do this. In the sense the the learning is meaningful. Risk, time and reflection are the words I would connect this to in Original Learning... you may wonder why I have written risk... it is that tummy tingling uncertainty of not knowing the outcome, which can be intrinsically motivating to find out what will happen. The educator should be aware of how much uncertainty there should be - as too much will turn off rather than motivate. Reflection connects to completing a task, project or interaction and taking the time for metacognition. IF these three elements are in place then the learning is going to be "fun". of course I think that the first point - being safe - should be something that is a given in all educational settings, but sadly I feel not all children do feel safe in their learning environment. Children should feel safe in the whole world. yet we do not live in a safe world... so we do need to focus on creating a safe place for learning in schools and early years settings. Exploring what safe means whithout being over protective and thus limiting children. As educators we need to facilitate the children's learning - not teach what we think they should know... but guide the children to discover the world around them and their identity within it, as an individual and as a member of a variety of groups (family, friends, preschool/class, clubs, neighbourhood, town, country etc etc). learning can be frustrating and hard work at times... it is not "fun" all the time... but it should be meaningful, the child should feel motivated to exert the effort to endure the frustration and the child should feel safe to be who they are, to get it wrong without admonishment and to feel the power and wisdom of trying again. Back in 2013 I wrote a post A successful child is a happy child - reflecting on how there is a focus on trying to keep children happy, and that a parent or teacher feels successful if their child is happy. I feel it is NOT about children who are happy that are successful I think there has been a focus for a long time on trying to make children happy... hence the focus that preschool should be fun, learning should be fun-filled in the Swedish preschool curriculum. But if we are always focusing on the happiness of the child, then how will the child learn to manage their other emotions... how will they learn to overcome challenges... how will they learn to compromise and interact with others if the focus is on having fun and being happy? Challenge, frustration etc do not have to be negative parts of learning if they are part of a inspiring, meaningful learning experience in a safe environment - the children will overcome the challenge and feel empowered by the experience of their own success. Instead if everything is geared up for the children to be having fun - how will they own their own successes in the same way? Malaguzzi said "Nothing without joy" - but for me joy can be only experienced is you feel safe, accepted and competent - and a curriculum based on fun is not going to enhance the children's feeling of safety, acceptance and competence - while a curriculum based on feeling safe, feeling inspired and feeling motivated will. Children can have fun for a short period of time without feeling safe... but for me this does not connect to life-long learning, but to sporadic moments of learning littered over time... The learning should not be hidden under a layer of entertainment (although this can be a language of learning... but just one of the 100 or more languages). Fun lessons can create an illusion that the children are learning through play - fun lessons are often teacher led, teacher controlled... this is not play, even if it is play-filled. Fun lessons can be a part of the day... but should not be instead of play. Our focus should not be on providing a place for the children to have fun, it should be a place that allows the children to evolve and to be empowered and to experience the joy of learning.