Not everyone believes that learning should be fun. We’ve been taught that learning is boring and hard, kind of like a chore and many of us still believe that. When I was searching for a tutor for my own child, I wanted someone who would teach and get results, but more importantly, I wanted someone fun. Guess who I found? NOBODY! This tutor did not exist, so I became the fun tutor who gets results. I believe that if learning isn’t fun, it probably isn’t happening.
Brains Love Fun
Learning happens when the brain is in the right state to learn. What is the right state? Is it fear? Is it anxiety? Is it frustration? NO!
Author Leisl McConchie says that “...curiosity, anticipation, feeling accepted, belonging, or even feeling challenged” are the optimal brain states for learning. It is in these states that our brain releases “hungry to learn" chemicals (dopamine, norepinephrine, and cortisol).” (Teaching to the Whole Brain, 2020)
When learning is fun, we are leveraging the brain’s natural motivational forces, and they are powerful. We don’t need sticker charts or threats to take away iPads. The brain will motivate itself given the right conditions.
What Can We Do To Make Learning Fun?
Leisl McConchie says that the optimal states for being ready to learn are: curiosity, anticipation, feeling accepted, feeling challenged (not frustrated- note the difference). Our students need to be engaged to experience these optimal states of learning readiness. If what we offer them is not presented in a way that interests them, and sparks curiosity and anticipation, then they will not have these positive feelings toward learning.
The other important aspect of learning is a sense of belonging. This is one of my favourite things about small group classes. We can create an amazing community of learners and have fun learning with peers. I love it when kids don’t want to leave the learning space at the end of the class because they are having so much fun together.
How can we create this sense of community in a one-to-one tutoring class? Ask students about what they are interested in and incorporate it into the lesson. Start the class by asking about their day and how they’re doing. Allow aspects of yourself and your personality to come out in the lesson. My cat regularly makes an appearance and it is not a disruption. Quite the opposite, it is something to celebrate because this is part of what creates a community between myself and my students.
If learning should be fun, then why isn't it much of the time? Why do we make kids sit and do worksheets and apps and reward them with candies, toys, and stickers?
I like to say, "Make learning fun!" because, in my experience and my research, most learning happens when we are feeling good and having fun.
What do you think? Is it okay to make learning fun?
Which students look more engaged in learning? All students are using technology (tablets) to learn but their behaviours are different. Why? Hint: look at the classrooms in the background. Which learning environment looks more fun?