why is fun so important?

today, i have a bunch of questions on my mind. not many answers, just questions.

why do we hold “fun” as one of the key values in children’s ministry? i’m curious, why is it so important that our kids walk away from their sunday morning church experience having had a good time?

does fun = learning?

i was recently sitting in a workshop where i heard the speaker say that often the first question a parent will ask a child upon being picked up from church is “did you have fun today?” and the speaker made a point to say that it’s crucial for a child to answer “yes!”

why is that crucial?

as an adult, there are plenty of sundays when i don’t want to go to church, and many sundays when i don’t walk away saying “that was a lot of fun!” but i attend worship services as a discipline and as a place for spiritual growth in the context of community. and if it’s a good time – that’s a bonus!

now, i’m not saying that i want church experiences to be terrible, or boring, or dull for children, but what if the higher value was an experience that led to learning and transformation? can that happen without it being over-the-top fun? i loved gina mcclain’s recent post on “defining fun” maybe that is what’s needed: a clearer definition of what we really mean when we say, “we hope kids have fun!”

would love your thoughts today. why is fun so important?

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11 responses to this post.

  1. When you go back to the 2 questions that every parent asks when they pick up their kid you find that they are “Did you have fun today?” & “What did you learn?” So maybe a better question should be “Did you have fun learning today?” I don’t think fun=learning. I think fun can lead to learning and more learning. It’s like a comic who says I make them laugh to make them listen. Laughing and listening do not equal each other. In fact it’s hard to listen while laughing.

    I think the 2 do go hand in hand. I think fun is important because it can build an environment that kids learn in and want to come back to learn in. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of classes over the years that weren’t fun that I learned in but I did look forward to those that had both.

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  2. Posted by amyedolan on May 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    matt – great thoughts! thank you!

    i like how you said, “fun can lead to learning and more learning..” so fun creates an environment that fosters learning and enjoyment for children, but maybe it’s not essential for transformation?

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  3. Good reply, Matt. One of the reasons I emphasize fun as part of a quality kidmin experience is that I want kids to have a positive connection to God. In those impressionable years I want them to associate pleasant experiences with church, God, and anything spiritual. We’re setting the foundation on which their spiritual lives will be built and I think its important that we do anything we can do to make those early experiences as pleasurable as possible. For kids, fun is a great age-appropriate environment for learning.

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  4. Fun does not equal learning. Fun is environmental. The learning environment is a critical component in the learning process. Often, the learning gets ignored and the fun gets amplified. I remember a curriculum that was all about fun and games, but it had the absolute least amount of Biblical content ever known in church programming. That’s the danger. Kids can feel amped about being part of a church, but if we have failed to put them in contact with the Living God or introduced them to faith and practice then it is a huge waste of time, effort, and resources that could be put elsewhere in the Kingdom that is making a difference. “Fun” is to children’s ministry as “contemporary” is to seeker-friendly churches.

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  5. I think fun should be a natural bi-product of teaching that is age appropriate and effective. Kids don’t have as large of a vocabulary, so anything enjoyable to them–whether it’s learning a new concept and applying it to their life, being able to worship God freely, or having a quality conversation with their leader could be defined as fun. I’ve seen a rambunctious game of tag and a calm time of learning both be defined as “fun” by kids. I don’t think putting an emphasis on the right kind of fun downplays a learning experience at all. It just means we’re speaking their language.

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  6. As an adult, what weeks are you most likely to invite a friend to your church? I think most would answer the weeks where special services are planned. With kids, I expect the “regulars” in my church to come every week, as a spritiual discipline, but I don’t expect them to invite non-christian friends to a boring service. That’s why I try to incorporate fun into every service. I want kids to know that no matter what week they bring their friends, that friend is going to have a good time and hopefully even want to come back. I also want them to know that being a Christian is fun. I enjoy being a Christian and I want them to do the same.
    I do not think fun equals learning. I do think fun is a language kids speak and in order to communicate to them I must speak their language.
    Amy, I do think fun (when properly defined) is essential (or at least very important) to transformation during childhood. If kids are not having fun they are going to divert their energy into things that will offer them that and more often than not those things are not sprititually healthy.

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  7. My son (almost 2) likes to dump sugar, salt and pepper all over the table. If he could just get to the jam, peanut butter and honey, he’d have even more fun! He learns a couple things here: 1) when I dump different stuff, I get to feel different things and see how well they mix together and what happens when they spread out, and 2) mom and dad aren’t very happy. Or take a kid mindlessly playing video games…he’s having fun, but the learning is minimal. I guess we’re learning all the time in one way or another, but I think to different degrees. Fun can help cement learning if there’s an obvious connection. Emotions heighten awareness and help to seal memories. I don’t think it’s crucial, but still can be very helpful. Shoot, God uses suffering perhaps more than anything to teach us to trust Him…and that’s not very fun. So I think we should put kids in a lot of discomfort on Sundays to teach them…(jk).

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  8. I think fun is essential in principally for three reasons:

    1. We do have to develop spiritual disciplines. They get us through the rough and bumpy times of our spiritual walk. At the core of good children’s ministry is helping to instill these disciplines in children. That is the essence of a biblical worldview – we do what God wants us to because he knows what is best for us, not just because it feels right. That said, if I hand a child a catechism and say memorize this – the test is next Sunday, they may memorize the words but they will be less apt to internalize it. If I can somehow make it fun without losing the meat of it, they are much more likely to internalize and develop that discipline when they do need to trudge on even though they don’t feel like it.

    2. In terms of outreach, I think Jared makes a very sound point. We want our kids to want to invite other kids. Ideally, we want them to invite them because they want to share the love of Jesus, but practically they are more likely to invite them to something fun.

    3. God already has a bad rep in terms of being some old curmudgeon (sp?) in the sky who is against everything fun. We know that couldn’t be further from the truth. He made us creative. He gave of a sense of humor. He invented the idea of playing games. He taught us how to laugh, and he enjoyed it so much he made us ticklish so people could make us laugh on command. God is about fun. I want my kids to understand that God is fun just as much as they understand that he is loving and just as much as they understand that he is all-powerful.

    In short, it is not fun for the sake of fun, but fun for the purposes of promoting the kingdom of God. Paul became all things to all people that he might win some, for us I think it’s OK to inject fun for the purposes of reaching kids who enjoy the lighter things. By the way, I don’t think fun always mean unstructured activities, or laughing, or playing games. I think fun can just as easily mean being captivated by a retelling of the story of the Bible, moved by the Holy Spirit during prayers, or sharing in the trials and doubts of a friend during small group. Those might not meet the traditional idea of fun, but when we can get our kids to focus and see the world through God’s eyes, they can see the fun in those moments as well.

    When a parent asks a child in my class if they had fun, my desire is that they would say, “Yes I had fun. We learned about God, that’s always fun.” That’s my two cents.

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  9. […] This post is 40% a response to their posts and 60% Monday morning rabbit-trail. Thanks Gina & Amy for the provocation.Why Fun is GoodWhen kids talk about fun, they usually mean something they like. […]

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  10. Posted by Rose in Ohio (@RoseMillsOhio) on May 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    First, I am enjoying all of your very thought-provoking comments. I think Jill especially had a great comment above. And I believe it really is important to define “fun” if you’re going to use it to describe your ministry.

    Second, my comments here are only about Sunday School, not other children’s ministry activities. And they aren’t specifically about the importance of fun in children’s ministry. Rather, you got me thinking how interesting it is that parents ask their children if they had fun in Sunday School. I never remember my parents asking that, and I never expected to have any fun at all in Sunday School as a child. (Nor did I. Maybe in part it because I was the only girl my age in the whole church.) In my church, fun was reserved for Sunbeams, GA’s, and VBS, and even then in carefully meted out doses. (And I do remember having fun in those.) Wonder when parents started asking that particular question, and why?

    Fun is subjective, of course. My definition of fun is hardly the same as a child’s, though I almost always have fun in our classroom when I think the children are having fun. As intentionally as I try to provide a rich, varied, relational, and yes, “fun” learning experience, I’d bet that an exit poll of my 5th graders on Sunday morning would reveal that some students would answer with an enthusiastic “yes” to a “did you have fun” question while others would answer with a matter of fact “no.” The difference? The child’s definition of fun. I’m finding more and more children who seem conditioned to expect “lots of fun”–whatever that means–in class, because they are lured to Sunday School by desperate (sorry!) children’s ministry workers promising just that–undefined FUN, as if FUN were the purpose of the whole effort (instead of the byproduct of learning that Jill mentioned). (Is that where parents get the idea?) Some children, expecting “lots of fun,” are surprised and even disappointed when they discover that we use our Bibles, settle down for a lesson, and spend quiet time in prayer. Perhaps they thought we’d be sliming each other and electrotechno-hopping for an hour. (I made up electrotechno-hopping! Doesn’t it sound super-charged and nerve-stimulating and fun? Let’s do it every Sunday!) I don’t think that the “no fun” responders dislike the class—it’s just not what they expect when they hear the word “fun,” or they were hoping for the fun and nothing but the fun.

    This is one of the reasons I specifically choose not to try to hook students with a promise of fun. Instead, I let them know how IMPORTANT they are to God and to me, and I describe a wide variety of appealing activities in which we engage, the special events we observe, the opportunities which are provided for each child to make his or her own contribution to our class (e.g., each child has a job and a title, based on his or her interests/talents), and above all else, I promote an atmosphere of Christian love and acceptance, as learning about God could hardly take place in any other environment. And then, by golly, I love to surprise them with new “fun” things. Yes, we play lots of review games! We get silly! We create! We laugh! But I don’t market with the fun tag–we’re about so much more than just undefined “fun.” Plus, I think it makes parents ask the wrong questions.

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