Having a Ball

“For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.”

Penelope Leach

I believe school should be fun.  When did learning become such serious business?  It seems as though we have forgotten how to play and laugh, smile and maybe even get dirty. How many times a day do you smile to your kids?  How many laughs do you share?  I noticed when I came to my school that it is rare that a child looks up at me when I pass by them in the hallway…even rarer that they smile and say hello.

“Children engage in such (free) play because they enjoy it–it’s self-directed. They do not play for rewards; they enjoy the doing, not the end result. Once they get bored, they go on to do something else–and continue to learn and grow.”

Sheila G. Flaxman

It takes months before classes loosen up and laugh.  Using humor in a class is a valuable skill.  It is scientifically proven to increase student achievement.  Have you heard about that one person who did his thesis on “Using humor in the classroom?”  Yep, that was me.  Humor goes hand-in-hand with play.  Do you play in your classroom?

“In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time’s continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world’s ordinary miracles. No mind or heart hobbles. No analyzing or explaining. No questing for logic. No promises. No goals. No relationships. No worry. One is completely open to whatever drama may unfold.”

Diane Ackerman in Deep Play

Laughing and playing allows a class to bond.  It allows for shared experiences.  And yes, it releases some killer chemicals into your body that make you feel all warm and fuzzy.  Somewhere along the line we have come to believe that learning is serious business.  That school prepares kids for work. Work is serious.  You are supposed to be “serious” and not supposed to laugh while working.  Therefore, we should not be laughing and playing in school.  Even when we create “fun” projects, it is done with an adult perspective.  Adults’ sense of what should be fun for kids has been warped by decades of people telling us to grow up, act more mature, get serious and stop being foolish.

“PLAYING SHOULD BE FUN! In our great eagerness to teach our children we studiously look for ‘educational’ toys, games with built-in lessons, books with a ‘message.’ Often these ‘tools’ are less interesting and stimulating than the child’s natural curiosity and playfulness. Play is by its very nature educational. And it should be pleasurable. When the fun goes out of play, most often so does the learning.”

Joanne E. Oppenheim Kids and Play, ch. 1 (1984)

We spend so much time trying to get them to act and behave like us.  Wonder what would happen if just for a day, we acted like them.  What a grand and wonderful perspective of the world we would get.  Imagine if for a day we dropped all of our adult baggage at the school’s front door and entered with the heart of a child that we all once possessed.  We need to forgot many of the random rules that govern what is and is not acceptable.  Walk down the hall “flapping our wings,” hop on one foot to get across the hall, and try to juggle the oranges at lunch.

“Innately, children seem to have little true realistic anxiety. They will run along the brink of water, climb on the window sill, play with sharp objects and with fire, in short, do everything that is bound to damage them and to worry those in charge of them, that is wholly the result of education; for they cannot be allowed to make the instructive experiences themselves.”

Sigmund Freud

Somehow we have been taught to scrutinize our every action.  We have put limits on our fun, our laughter, our spirit.  We have created rules about having fun that include where and when, how and how long, why and with whom.  They are self imposed? school imposed? culturally imposed? limitations on our play.

“When we play, we sense no limitations. In fact, when we are playing, we are usually unaware of ourselves. Self-observation goes out the window. We forget all those past lessons of life, forget our potential foolishness, forget ourselves. We immerse ourselves in the act of play. And we become free.”

Lenore Terr in Beyond Love and Work

So I would like to invite all of you to play with the same spirit of your children.  Sometimes it is very hard to walk into school with a smile. We teach in buildings in which fun, smiles, and laughter are extinct—and eventually our school days tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.  Remember to bring your own sunshine, smile daily, laugh a little more and teach like you are having a ball.

“For since most of our living is unconscious, play is like matchstrokes in the void, bringing into light the structures we behave by, illuminating for us, however briefly, our deep meanings.”

M. C. Richards


  1. You know, the teacher has more fun too while using humor in the classroom. I’ve been using some ideas from Ron Berk’s book for several years. I saw him on television, cutting up in the college classes he teaches, and thought it looked like fun.

    I loved your suggestion of dropping all of our adult baggage at the school’s front door and entered with the heart of a child that we all once possessed. Especially your suggestion of walking down the hall flapping my ‘wings’.

    Paul, I really like how you start your school year with a song. This year, I started my college visual literacy class with a kindergarten activity I found online because I thought it was really creative. I had them take a shoe off, draw a picture of it, then put the shoes into a pile. We mixed the drawings up, then let each student try to identify the owner of the correct shoe.

    I think MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten exemplifies this kind of thinking. The world needs more creativity and spontaneity. Returning to our inner kid is one way to do it.

    1. Don’t know it you are following the comments still Bill–finally getting to this! Don’t know if I mentioned this before but my thesis for my 6th Year was on using humor in the classroom. The link to a summary is blocked at school, but if you google:
      turkey crossing when ha ha leads to ah ha
      The second link is a summary I did on my old podcast.

  2. I did a short piece in computer skills that got all the kids up and moving and typing a story, one day in English and the next in Spanish. I thought it would be fun, the kids thought I was torturing them. They don’t like to leave their seats and they don’t like to interact. I will not be thwarted, though, we will do more of this.

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