“Your class sure looked happy,” one of my colleagues remarked last week. And I agreed! They were very happy.
When the sun reappeared after a cold spell, I took my Nature Connections students outside for an activity that I was sure would be fun for them.
I’m a firm believer in fun in the learning process. And I’m not alone. Brain research has proven that students learn better when the lesson is fun and enjoyable. Not only does fun promote learning and long-term memory, it also increases dopamine and endorphins in the brain—the “feel-good” neurochemicals.
To be clear, fun doesn’t mean relaxing or goofing off. “Fun means engagement, doing and learning what has meaning and purpose, and it means challenge.” (Daniel Pink, author of Drive).
Renowned psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser states: “There are four psychological needs that we are individually driven to satisfy: the need to belong (sense of community), the need for power (control over ourselves and our environment), the need for freedom (lack of restrictions), and the need for fun (pleasure and enjoyment). These are things that we need in our lives almost as badly as food and shelter.”
As teachers, we can help satisfy these needs for our students through the way we structure our classrooms and our lessons. I focused on FUN last week. Below are some fun ideas you might like to incorporate into your classroom.
Inside: Fun and Unusual Animals
Kids love animals, and they’re a source for so many “fun facts.” Especially when the animals themselves are really unusual. There’s Baribusa in My Bathtub: Facts and Fancy About Curious Creatures by Maxine Rose Schur is full of humorous rhymes and magical illustrations that illuminate the lives of little-known animals.
There’s a loris in your chorus? He’s quite a singer! Care to play bingo with a dingo? Watch out, he’s a sharp one. A babirusa in your bathtub? Better leave him there – he loves water!) Witty, lively poems makes learning about these unsung animals fun—and fun to imitate by writing similar poems about well-known animals.
Outside: Creating Blobsters
A Blobster is an imaginary creature that is made of clay and natural items. The picture shown here is a Blobster I made as a sample for my students.
Here are the steps I used in my lesson:
- Because we had been focusing on recycling in the classroom, I began this lesson discussing natural objects that can be recycled.
- I showed my sample Blobster and asked students to identify the natural objects I used to create it. We then made a list of some of the natural objects found on our playground that could be recycled to create a Blobster.
- I gave each student a small paper bag and took them outside. They had about 10 minutes to collect natural items.
The following steps may be done inside, but my students had fun creating their Blobsters outside:
- We gathered at picnic tables on the playground, and I gave each student a “blob” of clay. (I used about 1/2 pound per student. You can use modeling clay, but I chose to use clay that would air-dry because I wanted the Blobsters to harden. It was also much less expensive than modeling clay.)
- Students had 25 minutes to create their Blobster. I reminded them to firmly push the natural items into the clay, because the clay would shrink as it dried. They discovered that some items were much more difficult to adhere to the clay than others.
- I knew some would finish in a hurry, so I had enough clay for those students to create a second Blobster—a “Blobster Buddy.”
- I had several shallow boxes on hand, and students put their Blobsters in the boxes to transport back inside.
- A few days later, when the Blobsters were completely dry, we had a Blobster Display and students admired the work of others. I ended the Blobster activity with a science/writing project about the four basic needs of all animals, which is described under More Facts and Fun with Animals.
Note: Although one side of the school still had some snow on the ground, the other side was in the sun, and kids found an abundance of dried leaves, bark, twigs, pine cones, dried seeds, and stems to use.
More Facts and Fun with Animals
All animals have four basic needs: food, water, shelter, and safety. Use the pdf Wildlife All Around Us, to introduce these needs to your students. Once they understand the terminology, have them fold a piece of white paper into 4 quadrants, labeling each quadrant with one of the basic needs. With words and/or pictures, have them show how their Blobster meets its basic needs. On the back of the paper (or on a fresh sheet), have them do the same thing for an actual animal.
Have students create a story about one of the animals found in Nature’s Patchwork Quilt: Understanding Habitats by Mary Miche. Then have them weave the four basic needs into their story in an interesting way.
David Rice, in his book Do Animals Have Feelings Too?, has collected true stories of animal behavior that is not only captivating, but also thought-provoking.
Photo sources: Dawn Publications, Carol Malnor, Brad Montgomery, Colleen Webb