The work/fun conundrum

Published by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2008 at 03:14 PM

You’ve been observing your child and documenting his play, his interests, his conversations. You think you’ve hit on a strong interest that might be the starting point to some rich investigation and project work.

Let’s say, polar bears.

Direct advance: “Bart, I notice that you are interested in polar bears. Would you like to study polar bears? Would you like to research polar bears? Do you want to get some books about polar bears when we go to the library tomorrow?”

Bart’s wary retreat: “No thanks.”

That didn’t sound like fun; it sounded like work. There are certainly children who exist who, at the age of five, already have a deep fondness for folders and perk up at the word “research”. But most children hear research and think cheese-covered broccoli. They are, from years of experience, suspicious — and rightfully so.

Here is where the work/fun conundrum comes in.

We think fun and work have to be two different things. If they weren’t two different things, why would we need two different words to describe them?

Imagine a Venn diagram where one circle denotes Fun and the other Work. The cross-over section in the middle is the magical area where Work is Fun. When you are deeply engaged, experiencing the Flow, working at your challenge level, and firing on all cylinders, you are in this magical zone.

But a lot of us think Work isn’t Work if it’s also Fun. We frown and point to the Work-only area of the diagram and say, yeah, but that’s real Work. We all need to experience Real Work. Grow up, kids, and eat your vegetables.

There are people who take the Jessica Seinfeld approach and try to hide the vegetables inside the mac & cheese. This aggravates me — both in the vegetable sense and the Work sense — because the message is, yeah, vegetables are terrible, and so is Work. So fool the kid into thinking they’re having fun, but they’re really ingesting pureed Work. Broccoli. Whatever.

When the truth is — vegetables are delicious! Not all vegetables, maybe — at least, you are probably not going to be a fan of every single vegetable. And not prepared in every fashion; boiled spinach is not my cup of tea. But as Hal would say, that’s human error. It’s not the vegetable’s fault.

Working on a long-term project, doing deep and varied investigation of a topic that genuinely interests you, is Fun. But it’s also Work. And therein lies the rub, or the conundrum — we can either change the term or change the mind. You can either deny that Fun Work is Work, or you can realize that Work can be Fun.

I intended to write something today about using provocations to jump-start project work, but as usual, my introduction took over and became as long as a post, so I’m going to let it stand and I’ll write tomorrow about provoking investigation.

In the meantime, ponder this: Is there a more worthy goal of education than introducing children to the pure enjoyment of doing meaningful work?


Comment by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2008 at 05:09 PM

i would like to note that i *like* broccoli. lightly steamed for three minutes, no cheese.

i was going to make a footnote but the superscript was throwing off my whole posting mojo.

Comment by Molly on October 30, 2008 at 06:31 PM

i like broccoli too.

I also like to work, when it is in any area of my interest. But I know if someone set out a stack of books and said, 'HERE, these relate to your topic - read them." I would say No way. Call me stubborn ... it's why I had trouble with 'required reading" in school; always wanting to stray.

I digress.

We have had the most lax couple of weeks here, doing the most spare amount of 'school' work imaginable. I think we are both unmotivated. Thank God, H has been playing her quitar 2-3 times a day on her own initiative -- she is really excelling with her music. We also do a math sheet or two and call it a day. Bad Homeschooling mommy of late.

We need to settle into a project or land on a theme. I feel like we are just skimming the surface everywhere we turn.

Oh, and I like spinach, too.

Comment by Jody on October 30, 2008 at 07:01 PM

I'm glad your "introduction took over." I never quite thought of the conundrum as you have stated it but it is so true. It is an interesting thought to ponder. How do we instil in children that desire for the "pure enjoyment of doing meaningful work?" You are correct. I can think of no other educational goal more worthy.
BTW...I'll take my broccoli with the cheese, please.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2008 at 07:46 PM

molly, i think there’s no way to work at an intense level all the time. when i owned the school, we talked about this a lot. how could we possibly do a good job of observing and documenting the children’s interests if we were always trying to direct and engage? there has to be an ebb and flow. the inspiration comes during the quiet times. and who wants to be in high gear all the time anyway? it's what melissa wiley calls “low tide”:

so, in other words, you are a *good* homeschooling mommy. ;^)

jody, thank you! i’ll pass the cheese. ;^)

Comment by Brynn on October 30, 2008 at 07:56 PM

This thread of thinking right now is exactly what I need. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I read, I internalize, I attempt, but mostly I just feel calm and trusting about learning while living. Life at home has improved dramatically. I feel inspired and so do kiddos.

Your post yesterday about indirectly inviting learning through materials and experience is an exciting direction to make home more inspiring. A friend and I are going to share ideas.

I anxiously await the next post. I think it will help some of the pieces fall into place.

Again, thank you, thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2008 at 08:43 PM

brynn, thank you! positive feedback helps motivate me to keep blogging. :^)

your comment makes my day; let me know how things are going, and think about posting in the forum!

Comment by se7en on October 30, 2008 at 10:25 PM

Regardless, or in spite of, the rest of the post - I am so with you on the hidden vegetables, like why ? !

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 31, 2008 at 12:19 AM

in spite of?! lol

Comment by Joanne Rendell on October 31, 2008 at 01:21 AM

Hi Lori, Thanks for finding me and my blog. You're site is superb! (and it's going to be a great resource, I can already tell). "Anti-schoolers" was the title the NYT gave to us - to hook in readers. But yes, I suppose we do fall into some category between homeschool and unschool. I saw someone else talk of eclectic homeschooling too. Probably most people are eclectic! Anyway, thanks for stopping by.


Comment by Lori Pickert on October 31, 2008 at 02:13 AM

joanne! thank you so much -- i wasn't dissing on the "anti-schoolers" term, either. i just think it's interesting that factions keep breaking off -- unable to identify with the group, needing their own identity/label. i find that fascinating. whereas i'm perfectly comfortable with "educating", "teacher", etc., many homeschoolers (esp. unschoolers) are decidedly *not* -- they need to make a new lexicon to support what they want to do. again, fascinating.

i always say that "eclectic" is the middle portion of the Bell Curve, everything between the purist boxed curriculum users on one end and the purist radical unschoolers on the other end (assuming those two types aren't mythological creatures).

Comment by Deirdre on October 31, 2008 at 03:53 AM

As always, so insightful.

My college roommates used to tease me because I'd come back from the library with bags full of books, except for the ones I'd been assigned...

I am still unable to stay in any book club because once I feel I "have" to read something, the rebel in me comes out.

Love the venn diagram image. My best friend and I take turns obsessing over what we should be "when we grown up" or when our kids do, which ever comes first...we're going to make our own work/play diagram based on your point to see where the overlap leads;-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 31, 2008 at 04:47 AM

i feel the same way about book clubs! that's so funny. knowing i have to do something pretty much ruins it for me.

oh, that makes me think we should all make a work/play venn diagram and them share them. :^)

Comment by Thimbelina on October 31, 2008 at 07:42 AM

Can't wait for the next post as my daughter is one of those that is supicious of anything that is labelled work and like your example will say no to anything suggested that is work disguised as fun, she sees straight through it

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 31, 2008 at 12:57 PM
Comment by Marci Johnson on October 31, 2008 at 06:05 PM

What a great point you make here. Work can be fun, and satisfying in a way that fun fun (i.e. entertainment type fun) cannot be.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 31, 2008 at 06:57 PM

thank you, marci. agreed - satisfying work is an important part of a happy life.

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