What *Really* Makes Learning Fun

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 18, 2010

It seems as though every ad or promotion for an educational tool promises to “make learning fun!” This reflects our culture’s lazy habit of talking about learning as if it’s inevitably tedious, something kids will resist as vigorously as canned asparagus. Granted, any subject can be made dull by a disaffected teacher, and any lessons centered around “teaching to the test” is not going to light young minds on fire and change lives. But children are learning machines; they love discovery. They enjoy new ideas, and knowing things, and engaging with the world around them. They even love the hard work and discipline involved in learning, as long as it makes them feel purposeful and alive. We all do.
A segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes reminded me of this truth; it featured Gustavo Dudamel, the 29-year-old Venezuelan phenom conductor now heading the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Watching his passion for music was mesmerizing, and was made even more powerful by the way he shares it with thousands of children who might otherwise never have a chance to be involved in anything like the not-for-profit music program he’s helped found in Venezuela and L.A. Watching this wild-haired, unpretentious, semi-goofy wunderkind radiate his love of music, and communicate it to roomfuls of children from kindergarten through high school, made me a little teary. I’m always moved by people doing what they were born to do, and doing it with joy.
If you have a chance to watch the full segment about Dudamel, I guarantee you’ll be inspired, too. (It’s just under 14 minutes.) If you’d like to read about him and see more video clips, here’s a good place to start.
Watching Dudamel’s story made me think about those lazy assumptions we can sometimes make about kids and what they won’t want to do or learn. It left me re-inspired to make sure I not only share my own passion for books with the children at the store, but to share with kids all kinds of books that communicate an author’s or artist’s passion—for language, for story, for history and science and sport and fantasy and family and art and music and friendship—that might resonate with a child’s heart and mind. It’s the least we can do.

Who inspires you, and broadens your thinking about the kinds of books you share with young readers?

5 thoughts on “What *Really* Makes Learning Fun

  1. Diane Guscott

    I am a high school teacher and you are absolutely right about teaching to the test, this only inspires boredom in student, but standardized tests are what out society is focused on right now. I believe that books are how we can inspire one another. I love to see my student’s reading for pleasure. Schools don’t give student’s enough time during the school day to just read for pleasure. We all need to get back to the art of reading for pleasure. When we all get into that reading zone our imaginations can take off and this is when real learning occurs.

  2. Ellen Scott

    I saw the 60 Minutes piece too and loved how much fun this guy has with his music and musicians. And the learning and love of music that happens!! Wonderful way to teach.

  3. Fran Manushkin

    I had the thrill of going to Gustavo Dudamel’s first appearance at Carnegie Hall. There was also a lecture before the concert about “El Sistema,” the program in Venezuela which teaches music to thousands of kids–many of them from tough neighborhoods. I hope Dudamel succeeds in his effort to bring a version of this program to Los Angeles and elsewhere!

  4. Joan Kane Nichols

    Whenever I see a one-year-old trying to learn to walk, I realize how absorbing–not fun–learning is. The dedication, the absolute refusal to be be stymied by failure–fall, get up; fall, get up–the joy of accomplishment. That’s my model of learning–hard work, perseverance, patience, courage, and ultimately joy–not “fun.”

  5. Maggie

    As Aunt Tootie said in Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, Sugar, find your passion in life and follow it. I feel so lucky to be able to follow my passion for books and kids in my chosen profession as a children’s librarian. We just had our big Friends of the Library Book Fair this weekend…all gently used children’s books sold for 25 cents. I was able to booktalk and hand sell til I was hoarse. It was so exciting to see kids eyes light up with excitement and parents so grateful to have suggestions.


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