The Power of Fun

“Let’s make it fun.”

You hear those words a lot these days from parents, teachers, and coaches — along with words like “passion” and “engagement.”  We all know that “fun” is a key element of the learning process. We think of it as the the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. That’s part of what fuels the modern urge to provide trophies, ribbons, and ice cream to every participant in every activity — after all, it should be fun, shouldn’t it?

But is this the right way to think about it? Is “fun” really something you can add to the process?  Or is it something more?

I think we get some insights from this video. It’s about the Cochran family, which has produced ten national-level downhill skiers on their small hill behind their house in Vermont. It’s a wonderful video for a bunch of reasons, but especially for the way the four Cochran kids, now grown, describe the experience:

“It was like having a party at your house… We’d come home, rush to do our homework, and at six o’clock the lights would go on, and this magical place appeared.” 

“I don’t ever feel that my father wanted us to be World Cup racers or ever had any idea that we’d be national level racers; all I remember that it was incredibly fun. We just loved going out there.” 

I think this shows a truth that’s easy to overlook:

Fun isn’t something you add to the process — fun is the process.

Fun isn’t the sugar that gets sprinkled on top of the work — it’s baked into the work itself.

Fun isn’t really about parents or teachers or coaches at all. It’s about creating a space where learners can experience the deep fun of discovery and improvement.

(And judging by those smiles, it never goes away.)