Study after study after study has shown that kids (and adults for that matter) learn best when they’re enjoying themselves. The problem is, for many kids, a negative association has developed between them and their educational experience (which is not in any way their fault, it is a failing on behalf of the adults in their society). This negative association means that many kids are entering their school each morning with feelings of dread, anxiety, despair, frustration, or boredom. These feelings can be overcome but might require a little bit of a creative approach to teaching.
As a teacher, you have the curriculum you need to get across, but you also have knowledge of the kids in your class and what their mental and emotional needs are. The following will explore some of the things a teacher can do to help keep the classroom environment fun and interesting. Of course, every child is different. It is crucial that you pay attention to the individual emotional responses of the children you’re working with and adapt as needed. As well, if you’re picking up on something happening on an emotional or mental level with a particular child or group of children, you may want to address underlying issues before applying some of the below ideas.
At first, this one might not seem like fun to you or to the kids in your classroom, but very quickly, a few minutes of meditation at the start of the day has a fantastic impact on kids’ learning and school experience. Meditation practices in the classroom have led to a reduction in conflict between children and a reduction in conflict between children and teachers. It also helps children process their emotions, reduces anxiety (which, let’s face it, everyone needs right now), and encourages positive thinking. Kids as young as the first grade have seen their marks improve once meditation was introduced in the classroom. It also helped both children with ADHD and without increasing their attention span. As a bonus, teachers in classrooms where meditation is part of the experience reported feeling calmer and more peaceful while at work. That is too many wins not to give it a try.
Incorporate Games Where You Can
It’s no secret that good games are fun. But it can be hard to think of when and where to play them. A game could be as simple as using a spin the wheel tool to determine which topic the class works through next or as complicated as charades using the terms you’re learning to spell. Look for opportunities to play at every corner.
Studies have been finding that standing and moving about while learning is the natural state of a child. This information is not new, and yet, for some reason, it isn’t being applied in our classrooms. When kids can stand and lean over what they’re working with (observing it from different angles and getting some of their energy out), they have an easier time staying focused and absorbing the information. Standing up while learning is not only absurdly better for children’s health, it’s also better for their education. It’s almost as if humans aren’t supposed to be sitting at a desk all day.
Make Space For Emotions
If children, especially young children, are given space to let their emotions out, it’s much easier for them to stay focused and interested. Healthy emotional outlets can be as simple as encouraging kids to name what they’re feeling. One teacher spoke about collecting a mood register during attendance where each child rated how they were feeling on a scale of one to ten. The teacher could then follow up with kids who were feeling low. This also gave children a sense of each other’s emotions and helped encourage a supportive environment.
Get Outside As Much As Possible
Does the lesson you’re teaching require a classroom setting? Is it nice outside? Then why not take the lesson outside? Breathing in the fresh air helps kids with concentration, retention, and focus meaning it’s much easier for them to absorb what you’re sharing. It also boosts their mood and revs up their immune systems. While this isn’t always possible, it is possible much more often than it’s currently taken advantage of.
Ask Children What Could Make Their Experience Better
When all else fails, why not ask the students what would make things more interesting to them? All too often, we skip this step when creating experiences for kids, but studies have shown that we probably should. One study even found that adults cannot accurately organize leisure activities for children as our sense of what is fun for them can be slightly off. When children are asked what makes something enjoyable, they often cite:
- Getting to do the thing with their friends
- Something that isn’t taken too seriously
- Something that does not involve competition
- Something that isn’t rushed
- Something that doesn’t have far-reaching outcomes
It is a little funny that this description of leisure is very similar to an adult’s description of leisure. It’s also a little scary that some of the most commonly used motivation tactics from adults immediately take the fun out of an activity. Turning something into a competitive game increases stress for kids instead of making things fun.
This description of leisure can help teachers keep learning enjoyable. Rather than saying: you’ll need to know this for the next grade, or high school, or university, or your future job, figure out how what the child is learning could help them in the present moment.
The above ideas should help open your mind to the possibilities when it comes to making learning fun and interesting. It’s always critical to ask whether something is done a certain way because research has found that that is an effective way to do it or if it is something that has been grandfathered in from back in the day where schools were designed to function like factories (the bell ring tells you when you start when you break for lunch, and when you stop) that kids would one day be working in unless they were farming (hence summers off school—kids were needed to help with the farm). Now we know that if children are unhappy, their learning will be suboptimal.