Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

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Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby ridcully » Mon Jul 04, 2011 11:18 am

[Editor's Note: Post selected for Portal publication.]

This is something I posted elsewhere. Thought kiasuparents might have fun [but not too much fun] reading it.

How to get a child self-motivated? Don’t be too funny!

Many tuition centres will entice you with the word ‘fun’: ‘Join our fun centre!’; ‘Your child will have fun here!’; ‘Have fun and learn!’; ‘Learn Through Fun!’. The term ‘fun’ has become a mantra with unimpeachable certainty. Every parent wants his or her child to have fun learning. No one, surely, can argue against fun?

Perhaps one cannot argue against fun per se, but one can certainly argue against too much of it; one would certainly not want children’s educational experience to be unfunny. Modern early-years educational thought seems to be that education should at all times be as much fun as a trip to a theme park. Children go to nursery and kindergarten with the expectation of being entertained. The ‘teacher’ becomes a comedian and the learning materials become ‘fun activities’, often utilising multi-media with a visual focus involving the primary colours.

There is a role for such fun and purposeful play in the early years. It supports helping children to socialise and develop motor skills. However, the consequence of all play and no work can be to literally make Johnny a dull boy [or Joanna a dull girl]. Fun has its limits.

There are two particular dangers. Firstly, if children are fed on a diet of material being presented in such a fun way, there is less opportunity for them learning to appreciate the material for what it is rather than how it is packaged. Secondly, as children become older they will continue to expect learning to be fun, fun and more fun. As learning material becomes more abstract and rigorous in the later primary years, the ability to deliver such material in fun-sized entertaining packages becomes more problematic.

If you were asked to identify the key attribute of the academically successful child, what would you come up with? Many people would say that intelligence is the most important attribute. Others would stress the importance of being able to concentrate. Still others might suggest the capacity for hard work.

Undoubtedly, all those attributes are important. However, the key attribute has to be the child’s inner motivation. The other attributes are underpinned by inner motivation.

What motivates a child to want to succeed academically? This is a difficult question to answer. However, there are some general parenting and teaching approaches one can adopt towards children to inculcate inner motivation.

If you wish to encourage a high level of self-motivation in a child, then you should teach, both formally and by example, the notion that there is satisfaction in doing something well for its own sake. There is no harm in dressing up some learning material with some entertainment, but there should be an explicit statement to the child that it is the material which is being learnt, not the entertainment.

It is most invaluable for your child to cotton on early in life that some things are ‘boring’. No apologies are needed; that’s the way it is. Your child should have a cheerful disposition and accept the ‘boring’ bits whilst waiting to move on to the exciting parts.

A useful analogy is learning to play a musical instrument: most children will accept that certain drills have to be repetitively performed before the more interesting material can be approached. Indeed, many actions that adults think must be boringly repetitive to children are often welcomed by children. Sometimes, children simply do wish to be repetitive.

Interestingly, with this approach more of the ‘boring’ things become less boring, and more of the exciting parts become more exciting.

Coupled with this is the issue of rewards. Should you reward a child with stickers, sweets, hand-held gaming devices, ATM etc? It is better to be rather hard-nosed about this and do not so reward. Instead, how about giving your child a big hug and saying ‘Well done!’. After several days of good work by your child, you could also consider treating him or her to a special visit to an ice-cream restaurant or the zoo. By saying to your child, ‘Today’s treat is for the past few days’ work’ you are helping to inculcate deferred gratification – a concept seemingly alien to most children today (see ‘The marshmallow test’ below).

It is of course a value judgement that parents have to make as to how far they wish to take all this. Most parents would agree that childhood is distinct from adulthood and children should be more indulged. Parents will have come to a balanced view that works for them. However, if you want your child to chase academic success, then you should examine whether your child’s learning activities are encouraging a predisposition towards extrinsic rather than intrinsic rewards.

Coupled with the child’s desire to succeed is the important psychological attribute of being able to defer gratification.

An interesting test of deferred gratification was done between 1968 and 1974 by psychologist Walter Mischel and colleagues at Stanford University. It became known as the marshmallow test. Mischel studied children between the ages of four and five. He left each child in a room with a marshmallow, telling the child that he would return in 20 minutes; if the child had not eaten the marshmallow by the time he returned, he would reward the child with an additional marshmallow. Some children quickly gobbled the marshmallow whilst others managed to hold out for the reward – 20 minutes must have seemed like an eternity for the children. Fourteen years later, Mischel followed up on the children and found that those who had not eaten the marshmallow had better academic and social skills.

Those who did not eat the marshmallow demonstrated a variety of strategies to help them resist, including one child who pretended to doze off. This suggests that the ability to defer gratification can, at least partially, be taught.
Last edited by ridcully on Mon Jul 04, 2011 1:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

ridcully
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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby Guest » Mon Jul 04, 2011 11:42 am

This is interesting.
Is the marshmellow test really an indication? I hope so in my case for me to predict the future... :pray: why?

I would share in 14 years' time when my child academic journey is over if this is true for her because as of now she would be one who would not be tempted to eat the marshmellow.

Her reasoning is:
(1) I am not crazy about candies so the temptation is not strong (haha) so is that a strategy?
(2) If I get more marshmellow due to this, it is a bonus because I can bring home to share with others who may like it more.

Btw, I agree with you that fun is only a starting trigger to stimulate interest in something...at some point, reality has to set in as one climbs higher mountain that it is not always possible to have everything in fun form. However, there is one thing that is possible to keep FUN ALIVE forever, that is the mindset. My mindset is a fun one all the time so I find fun in everything I do even if something is really no fun.....maybe to some people I am Mrs Ah Q.... :rotflmao:
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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby ridcully » Mon Jul 04, 2011 1:08 pm

ksi wrote:Her reasoning is:
(1) I am not crazy about candies so the temptation is not strong (haha) so is that a strategy?
(2) If I get more marshmellow due to this, it is a bonus because I can bring home to share with others who may like it more.
I would say that your daughter is destined for great success. Her first reason shows divergent thinking, which was not demonstrated by the child subjects in the original experiment, and her second reason shows nobility of spirit.
:celebrate:

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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby ridcully » Mon Jul 04, 2011 1:25 pm

I often wonder whether parents really look through the tuition centre worksheets completed by their children. Mostly, it seems to me that parents are simply happy when their children say 'I had fun'.

An unscrupulous tutor can easily provide 'fun': just tell a few jokes, give a few stickers, hand out sweets, allow the children to draw on the whiteboard etc.

If parents are looking for value for money - and who isn't? - then they should really ask 'Great that you had fun! What did you learn?' and expect something other than a cursory response.

Just my two cents worth.

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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby Chenonceau » Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:31 pm

Ridcully, good post. I wholeheartedly agree.

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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby Guest » Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:42 pm

ridcully wrote:
ksi wrote:Her reasoning is:
(1) I am not crazy about candies so the temptation is not strong (haha) so is that a strategy?
(2) If I get more marshmellow due to this, it is a bonus because I can bring home to share with others who may like it more.
I would say that your daughter is destined for great success. Her first reason shows divergent thinking, which was not demonstrated by the child subjects in the original experiment, and her second reason shows nobility of spirit.
:celebrate:


Wah you make it sound so good...in any case...thanks for the spirit-lifting comments, in 14 years' time, I can write to you and tell you if your prediction is correct. :wink: :boogie:
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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby Guest » Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:44 pm

ridcully wrote:I often wonder whether parents really look through the tuition centre worksheets completed by their children. Mostly, it seems to me that parents are simply happy when their children say 'I had fun'.

An unscrupulous tutor can easily provide 'fun': just tell a few jokes, give a few stickers, hand out sweets, allow the children to draw on the whiteboard etc.

If parents are looking for value for money - and who isn't? - then they should really ask 'Great that you had fun! What did you learn?' and expect something other than a cursory response.

Just my two cents worth.


Yes that is so true too...hopefully ks parents do figure this out.
I heard some centres they perform magic shows....I suppose if it is relevant to the learning, that's fine otherwise learning becomes show business if this continues.
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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby jamestancx997 » Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:47 pm

I agree with ridcully's post.

Some parents I know of do the right thing, and quiz their children after each lesson, "What did you learn today?"

That should be the right question to ask.

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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby ridcully » Mon Jul 04, 2011 4:55 pm

ksi wrote:I heard some centres they perform magic shows....I suppose if it is relevant to the learning, that's fine otherwise learning becomes show business if this continues.
I always think a good test is whether a tuition centre allows parents to unexpectedly drop in and watch lessons in progress. Naturally, I understand that there are concerns about supervising who is wandering around the centre, but the receptionist should not fear allowing in a parent whose child is enrolled in the class.

There are several centres I can think of - which I won't name - which seem to go to great lengths to keep parents outside the premises, that is parents are not even allowed to wait in the reception area. For me, this is a red flag.

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Re: Learning Through Fun? It's overrated.

Postby ridcully » Mon Jul 04, 2011 4:57 pm

ksi, Chenonceau and jamestancx997

I appreciate your responses. :celebrate:

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