Fun and learning should not be mutually exclusive. Kids remember more and understand better when learning is pleasurable.
So many homeschool moms were educated in the public school system. Reflecting on that experience, very few of us refer to our education as one that prioritized fun in learning. As a result, we often lack the understanding of how and why to incorporate fun while learning with our own kids.
When it came to educating my first child, I took a more traditional approach. I am one of those moms who started my first child’s early education sitting down at a child-sized (at least I did that!) table with workbooks. The approach was what I was familiar with. There’s no shame or condemnation for me or anyone who chooses that approach. I just think there’s a better way.
“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” —Albert Einstein
My favorite part of teaching my kids was—and still is—reading good books. So we read a lot. We took trips to the library, went on field trips with friends, and participated in dance or gymnastics classes to get out of the house and break up the monotony of “traditional school.”
I didn’t fully realize the value these activities had in my kid’s learning until I met Debbie Strayer, the main author of the Trail Guide to Learning series. I was introduced to Debbie during my first year homeschooling. It was her knowledge and influence regarding the education of children that helped me to see how important having fun while learning really is.
I’m so thankful for her patient and persistent encouragement over the years, especially when I was such a new homeschool mom. I’m even more thankful that she wrote the curriculum all of my children used for years of their education so that they could experience the fun that learning can be.
While it may seem obvious, sometimes just hearing the “why” behind something can spark a new motivation or reignite a flame for something that is already within us. So bear with me for a moment.
Why is FUN so Important?
1. Having fun supports the natural way kids learn. From birth we are processing the world around us to form our own conclusions and find our place in the world. We are born to be naturally curious. School should represent learning that encourages children towards what they are curious about.
2. Having fun will cultivate life-long learning. Learning is a part of the maturation process. When a child’s curiosity is met with acceptance and affirmation through fun, engaging conversation or activities, they want to continue to learn more. Their ideas are affirmed and they see the world as a place to explore and get answers. When we try to control or limit that curiosity, a child can be discouraged. As a result, kids often feel stifled and give up wanting to learn.
3. Having fun builds relationships with our kids.
Making learning a pleasurable experience with our kids helps build a strong, positive relationships with them.
When met with resistance while teaching our kids, often the default is to blame them for wrong attitudes or defiance. Could it be that our approach is causing dissonance or internal struggles that they cannot express? If building a strong relationship with your child is a priority, consider mixing up what you’re doing with something that your child would consider fun.
4. It’s more enjoyable! While this may seem obvious, it needs to be said. Why should learning be anything but fun, interesting, and engaging? Why should learning be relegated to classroom and book-learning? We have the freedom as homeschoolers to learn in any way that best engages our students. Let’s use our freedom to inspire our students to love learning!
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” —Einstein
Fun is not one-size-fits-all. What is fun or pleasurable to one child will not necessarily be so for another. Likewise, there are as many parents with different interests and types of abilities as there are children. I’d like to share some ideas for helping any parent—regardless of personality, life circumstance, or ability—to include more fun into their homeschooling.
One of my favorite things about Geography Matters is that they provide curriculum choices to help parents bring fun to learning. Whether using an all-inclusive curriculum such as Trail Guide to U.S. or World Geography or the Trail Guide to Learning series or one of the many supporting materials, such as Profiles from History, Eat Your Way… cookbooks or Geography Through Art, you’ll find so many options.
Having fun doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be natural. It can also be simple.
Out of the Box Ideas for Including More Fun
- Change scenery—Sometimes a change of location offers a distraction from the hum-drum, same old same old. If you normally do school together around the living room, consider a different place in the house. Have the kids build a fort and do part of your school in it. If weather permits, lay a blanket in the backyard or visit a local park. Take over a booth at a family-friendly restaurant or local coffee shop. Believe it or not, making a simple change like this can make a big difference.
- Dress up—If you normally do school in PJs, just getting dressed will be enough of an upgrade. Consider dressing for school in a fun family “uniform” or maybe you all dress in the same colors or even a costume to match a character or time period you’re studying.
- Cook together—For those who are “foodies,” go all out and make a charcuterie board of their favorite fruits, cheese, and crackers, or bake a favorite dessert. Have a tea party. Ask an older child to prepare a special meal or snack. Cook a recipe that has to do with your subject or not! Get some great ideas in our Eat Your Way… cookbooks.
- Take the day off (like literally OFF)—Surprise your kids when they wake up with a day off. You could use this as a day to take off yourself and let them play or as a day to go to the park, zoo, or theme park.
- Take a field trip—This could be related to something you’re studying or not. There is so much learning available to us in nature. Our kids instinctively know that.
- Switch roles for the day or subject—Let them be the teacher. What perspective you and your children will have as you switch roles! With multiple kids, it’s probably best to choose one subject or alternate a day for a specific child.
- Movie Day—Take a subject you’re currently teaching or that your kids would like to learn more about and select movies or documentaries around that subject—bonus if you include a fort, popcorn, and watch it in PJs. If you are using any of the Geography Matters curriculums, there are many movies suggested in the lesson plans.
- Incorporate more games—We all know that kids love games. At the end of every lesson in Trail Guide to Learning there is a review which includes games and activities. Our Profiles from History books also use a variety of activities such as crossword puzzles, word scrambles, and word searches to review what they’ve learned about important historical figures. There are a plethora of resources on just about any subject where you’ll find a game to help teach or reinforce a subject you’re teaching. I found this gem of a resource which breaks down some great game ideas by the four main subject areas.
- Add creative arts—Encouraging your kids to engage in the arts is always a sure-fire way to add fun. You can build on things they’re already interested in, or try some new things such as Watercolor for Young Artists or learning to mold clay animals with Modeling Clay Animals.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun. ” —Albert Einstein
- Watch funny videos—There was a season where one of my sons who loves making people laugh started asking me to watch clean comedy videos with him. We soon began sharing that time occasionally during lunch or dinner. It was a much-needed journey into great fits of belly laughs together.
- Listen to audio books—Spice up lunch time, car rides, or bedtime stories with a book that brings laughter like these Munford books. The great part about this is that mom doesn’t have to read. She can sit back and listen, too!
Fun doesn’t have to assume more work. I see it as a shift in our mindset. The work can be more mental as you talk yourself into letting go of ways you used to think of learning. This can take time as it did for me. Take small steps. Educate yourself by reading articles, setting goals, and asking friends to help you.
In addition to being an enjoyable way to learn, all of these ideas have multiple benefits. The old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine,” has at its core meaning the fact that having fun is good for our mental and emotional health. Naturally incorporating more fun into our homeschool regimen will also help you as the parent!
You could take a list of suggestions like those I’ve given above and choose one each week or month. The idea is not to create more to do but to encourage you to enjoy your kids while they learn and to inspire them to a life of learning! Relax! Remember we’re all on a journey! Life goes quickly, you might as well enjoy it!
“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” —Alfred Mercier