Sometimes people make recommendations to me for things my kids might like to do. The people will tell me their kids like it. Or they’ll tell me it’s really popular online. Or they’ll say they loved it when they were kids.

I keep looking at these recommendations wondering, why do my kids hate everything? Pretty much anything I recommend to my kids as “something you might like” they scoff at.

At first I thought this is because kids hate everything their parents like. But that’s not true for us. My older son reads books I recommend. My younger son will pretty much play anything I like to play (we are playing jacks right now – as a former playground prodigy I handicap myself by clapping before I pick up.)

What I realized: most stuff kids think is really fun is actually only really fun relative to how stifling life is at school.

For example:

Gym is a disappointing way to play.
Kickball, dodgeball and all other gym-class sports: If you have to play inside, with boys and girls mixed, and no one risks getting hurt, then these games are really fun. If you can leave school and pick your own games, these gym-class games are boring.

Kickball has very few rules and very few opportunities to excel. (More interesting: baseball.) Dodgeball is way more fun on trampolines, which my kids spend all winter playing (We go to SkyHigh Sports.) Climbing, running, tagging, all more fun if you can choose your friends and your venue (My kids can spend three hours a day at the Seattle Center playground .)

Other peoples’ projects are sad substitutes for your own.
My brother sent me a link to Zooniverse. It’s a way that kids can participate in scientific studies about animals. The concept is really cool. A lot of data collection is easy and kids can do it and if we crowdsource, the process goes faster.

It’s a great idea in theory, because kids like to do meaningful work just like everyone else. Kids want to feel important. And, relative to school work, this is really useful and meaningful. But this wouldn’t work for unschoolers because they already feel like everything they do is fun and meaningful because they chose it themselves.

Also, kids who get to do whatever they want during the day don’t understand the need to look for someone else’s project to work on. Why would they do that? Kids who are in school all day—doing what they are told for no compensation—are used to it doing other peoples’ projects.

Museums are set up for school field trips.
The most innovative museums are like Montessori classrooms, where you can do whatever you want as long as you choose from ten things that do not involve competition, fighting, and touching other kids (all things that little boys love.)

The worse museums are 100 years old and “cornerstones of the community”, with the best ones retrofitted for the Internet generation. But really, any interactive exhibit you can do on a touch screen in a museum you can do on a touch screen at home, with your favorite YouTuber blasting in the background.

If kids were paid by the hour to play and learn, the travel time, entrance fee, and walking around time in a museum would be too costly and kids would just find whatever they are interested in and do it all day.

So most museums are geared toward kids who feel like prisoners in school and are happy to get out for the day even if it’s just to another enclosed, overbearing place.

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11 replies
  1. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    “What I realized: most stuff kids think is really fun is actually only really fun relative to how stifling life is at school.”

    Yes, I agree with that. Things are fun only compared to how mundane the school experience is. Not a good measuring stick for fun if you ask me. The most enjoyable experiences come from things that we choose. When I was a kid, I really enjoyed creative writing and playing sports. When I talk to my kids about school and ask whether they want to go next year, it’s always a no from them. Their version of fun is relative to other fun things they have done. It is not being in a classroom all day, sitting at a desk, listening to a lecture about a specific topic with 30 minutes of recess and lunch or the random field trip.

  2. Purva Brown
    Purva Brown says:

    I absolutely agree that museums are set up for school field trips. One of the Montesssori-type museums where we live has “homeschool days” which are pretty fun because the entrance fee is lowered on that day and they have huge tubs of water and PVC pipes – which my boys love. BUT they also have classes around a specific theme, which I absolutely do not understand. Haven’t homeschoolers opted OUT of the classroom? Do they think we somehow miss classrooms?

  3. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This week my favorite 7th grader had a three day weekend, she has 4-days of half days for benchmarking tests, then she has a four day weekend.

    She drags through days, loving the hours she is not at school, basically all she does all those hours is gather strength to endure school again. The biggest obstacle to getting anything out of the day is the early start time.

    I can feel her misery.

    It seems like school is demanding she waste her life, in her most precious year, the age of 12.

    Her fun, her joy, is simply not being in school.

  4. mh
    mh says:

    I had this conversation with a school-day-at-home parent who wanted my kids to sign up for a class-type activity with her same-age kids: two days a week.

    Her: it’s fun!
    Me: what do they do that’s fun?
    Her: last semester they made microscope slides of their own bacteria!
    Me: (thinking) that’s a normal day around here… (Saying) yes, that’s great.
    Her: they have a giant bin of Legos
    Me: yes?
    Her: and, they get to be around all these other people
    Me: yes…?
    Her: interesting other people…
    Me: I’m reluctant to schedule up two more days. Music and swimming are enough right now. The kids need time to just play.
    Her: it’s a fun program.
    Me: yes.

    It probably would be fun. My kids have fun no matter what. I can’t see them sitting in seats being gradually “allowed” and “guided” to do what are normal activities at home.

    We have been so careful choosing a music teacher who gets our philosophy. The kids WANT to learn. They come to lessons eager and excited and prepared. Lessons should be a time to build a connectedness with the teacher and with the music. Even my son who is serious about music likes to use lesson time to play and laugh. Almost anything he wants to know about technique or composer bios, he can learn on youtube. That’s not what lesson times are for.

    What’s the point of them doing it if it doesn’t delight them? I hired the playful music teacher.

  5. Pat Sommer
    Pat Sommer says:

    ooooh, when an educator says fun, run a mile.

    I have set up HS museum trips to meet our (loosely-organized) group’s needs. Simply provide a docent to answer questions and LEAVE the KIDS ALONE.

    So funny when ‘activities’ are offered to ‘enhance’ our experience: tried the drum circle at a music museum with our teens, moms joining in. After bored looks from the trite spiel we got, docent asked what group ARE we…?

    Deadpanned “we are a new cult encamped in the mountains. we want you to join us” long pause. kids didn’t crack. laughter.

    Some good came of it: I will procure loud percussion instruments of rebellion and let them have at it on park days

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think homeschoolers could find Zooniverse to be appealing as you’re allowed to build your own project. It says – “Anyone can build a Zooniverse project. Just upload your data and choose the tasks you want the volunteers to do. To find out more, read our How to Build a Project documentation, or click the button below to get started.”

  7. Dominique
    Dominique says:

    “…like Montessori classrooms, where you can do whatever you want as long as you choose from ten things that do not involve competition, fighting, and touching other kids (all things that little boys love).”

    You just nailed exactly why my favorite Montessori school failed my son, yet was the perfect fit for my daughter.

    Meanwhile, SkyHigh dodge ball is insanely fun, especially on frigid, wintry days.

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