Do you think children should be encouraged to do a task willingly that is not fun?

As a child, my big after-school task was to prepare the vegetables for the evening meal. My most unfavourite part was going out to the garden on a cold winter afternoon to pick the silver beet (Swiss chard) from the garden. My mother was busy teaching music at this time of day, so this was my contribution to the evening meal. I would much rather have spent the time playing with friends or reading a book. As a compensation, listening to the radio while I washed, peeled and chopped made the task bearable, even enjoyable, though still not ‘fun’. And whether I knew it or not I was learning to serve and bless others which is ultimately more satisfying than meeting a selfish need for fun.

It seems to me that many of today’s children have the feeling that something needs to be fun to be worth doing. Don’t get me wrong. I know that fun helps in the learning process and we can often learn more when something is fun. But there are times when there is a bit of work involved to push through for a certain skill, and the work itself may be less than fun. The process may feel tedious at times, but there is satisfaction with the outcome – ‘no pain no gain’ springs to mind.

An example of this in my job is in the area of helping beginners learn music note reading. It used to take a lot less time for children in general to learn their notes. Yet these days many children struggle to progress in this area, perhaps unwilling to put in the effort in what seems like an un-fun activity. There are some games and other activities that can make note learning fun, nevertheless it does still take some effort.

Note reading is best learned when the note is seen in a variety of contexts and worked on daily.

  • If it is only associated with finger numbers the learner may only get to know the note if the finger numbers are given.
  • If it is only with note flash card games they may not be able to quickly recognize and play notes in a line of music.
  • If it is only in relation to a piece of music they know better by ear, they may only know the note by following the up and down movement from one note to the next on the stave. Or they may not even be reading the music at all.
  • If they only actively learn the note names once or twice a week it will take much longer to establish long term recognition of the note.

We need all of these helps along with the regularity of moving on to new pieces to see and know the notes in different contexts. 

Some of these note reading activities may be considered less fun than others. Looking for fun ways to learn is a valuable and necessary part of the teacher’s job. However, with the pressure to keep the learning experience fun, some activities can be more focused on fun than actually moving on with learning the skill. The outcome can be that the process takes a lot longer than it did when there was an expectation to simply follow a learning process that was not necessarily a game.

As an adult, I have learned that for something to be fun I may have to work at it first. By giving our children a bit of work to do in learning their new music, giving support as they learn, we help them learn to value the pain of the effort. Encouraging them to perform their ‘work’, by blessing a grandparent or family friend with an impromptu mini concert, could help them learn the valuable life lesson of serving someone else, while learning a good skill in the process.

My mother told me that I would thank her one day for her insistence on my keeping up my piano practice, whether I was in the mood or not. She was right, I do thank her. I don’t remember the difficult parts much now, because, in teaching me that skill, I know her heart was to offer me something of herself.

Washing, peeling and chopping vegetables never did me any harm. And I still like silver beet! 

6 thoughts on “Keeping It Fun?

  1. I hate it when they say the ‘just want it to be fun’ thing but I love the picture of the clown with balloons. Sometimes I think that’s what parents want *sighs and goes away to blow up more balloons*

  2. Good points about “fun” Delwyn. Not just in learning music but in every area of life – sometimes discipline and just plain hard work bring about the best dividends and then the “fun” starts after all the hard work is done.

    • Thanks for affirming that Margaret. I often think that we learn quite a few life skills when learning to play an instrument. This would be one of them – as you say – the fun starts after the hard work is done. I also hear from a good number of people that they wish their parents had made them stick at it as children.

  3. I feel like your observations about the desire these days to make everything fun to help kids/ young people to learn is not just so true but is also applicable to all learning areas. I observed a colleague with a challenging year 10 class who were unruly and rambunctious and the school kept pushing for teachers of this class to engage them – ‘they aren’t engaged because they aren’t enjoying it’. So of course my colleague went out of her way to reimagine her lessons in fun ways with lots of activities and games. The result? The kids were even more unruly and felt they could rule the roost. Finally, she decided to do things her own way. I couldn’t believe the change in them! I would walk past the classroom and they were not only quiet and working, they were also the class that made the most improvement in their literacy testing in the whole department!
    Finally, I asked her what on earth she was doing with them and she replied “oh, I’m just making class really boring! I have lots of routines that we do every single day like starting with silent reading and then grammar, journal writing and reflections at the end of class. They know what they have to do every day when they come into class and what they have to have done before they leave.” It seemed that the class became almost an oasis of quiet with fewer over-stimulating activities and because of this they were able to learn and improve through doing the hard or boring stuff!
    Thank you for sharing your insights about this!

    • My apologies for the belated response – I love your story about this. It is such an excellent real example on the whole subject and I’m sure it is helpful for others to read your perspective. Thanks so much for taking the time (as a busy young Mum!) to tell it.

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