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The Whys and Hows of Fun in Learning

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I love the creative why questions that relate to homeschooling, questions that allow for a full range of thoughtful responses, rather than cut-and-dried yes/no answers. There are many types of worthwhile questions, but my favorite is the why query. Why do you homeschool? Why did you choose this/that curriculum? Why are your children hanging from rafters by their tails? (Just kidding!) An excellent why question satisfies a need to explore and delve deep into a subject, setting aside predispositions and prejudices in favor of open-ended discussion and exploration.
Yet, sometimes a why question can be slippery, and in trying to answer it, I slide back and forth, bumping into myself, only to collapse in a tangled heap, unsure of exactly where I stand on an issue. Usually this is when I realize that the question I thought I was trying to answer is not the real issue at all. It is an aside of the real issue, much like a symptom is a sign of a disease, not the disease itself. When the why issues relate to homeschooling, certain underlying notions come to light--notions that contain much truth and wisdom, although not a full truth. One of these notions that I frequently find is the notion that learning should be fun.
Admittedly, I have been vocal in my belief that learning experiences should be enjoyable. Torture chambers may be great places to convert masses (or detect witches), but they are poor classrooms. Most of us learn best when we are engaged in what we are learning--and engagement generally implies an active desire to be present and focused. Ideally, every class session, whether in public or homeschool, would revolve around the joy of learning, the eagerness to acquire new knowledge and skills. Students would hold hands and cavort about in merriment; flowers would rain down from the ceiling; rapturous music would play from unseen sources; and the sun would shine (indoors, no less) on the smiling, eager, upturned faces of bright-eyed students. (Well, perhaps that is a bit much!)
In an ideal world, effort would be (like the zen maxim) effortless and every endeavor would be fun. Perhaps. Or perhaps such a world would fall flat--a two dimensional representation, lacking substance and depth (and value). Regardless, such an ideal world is fantasy, not reality. Wishful thinking, no matter how well-intentioned, will not change what is. Life is not two-dimensional. Neither is a good education. Which leads me to question the proper role of fun in education. How much is too much, and at what cost?
The notion that students must only study if a subject is fun for them disturbs me. I wonder about the future ramifications of this idea. What if a heart surgeon trained in such a way? (He would not be a doctor I would trust!) Or an airline pilot? Your dentist? The local police department? Our daily lives depend upon so many people whose jobs require focus and dedication, as well as intelligence and knowledge. If we only teach our children when they want to learn, and only what they want to learn, or if we only insist that they study and learn if the sessions are fun, what will the end result be? Enjoyment is an important part of life and education, but I am not convinced that it should be the driving force behind life pursuits or educational efforts or that it should be the overall goal of a life or an education.
Lest I seem to be against the notion of combining schooling and fun, this is not the case. For the most part, I am thoroughly convinced that the best learning comes when we are absorbed in the task at hand. When you have a natural desire to dive into a subject and get soaking wet, then you are bound to learn a great deal about it. When a subject is presented in a fun way, you are more likely to absorb it and soak it up, like a sponge. Conversely, if you are attempting to learn something that you dislike, or something that is presented in a dry, boring (or demeaning) way, you may have more difficulty in learning and retaining it. Or you may become resentful at being forced to learn the subject and may find your desire to learn squashed. Thankfully, most homeschoolers understand this on instinctive and intellectual levels, which makes for an ideal learning environment within the home: an education that is based upon developing a love for learning and thirst for knowledge, without sacrificing either creativity and individual tastes, yet which gives respectful instruction in the ability to attend to and deal with the less than pleasant aspects of life. In essence, effective customized homeschooling is an optimal way to engage in fun learning, without "fun" becoming the end-goal or an automatic condition of learning. Here's to your own unique homeschooling adventures: May they be fun--and prosperous in ways that count! Cheers.
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