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.