March 2, 2016
When I was a first-year teacher, I was called into my principal’s office. “What is going on in your classroom?” he asked, somewhat sternly. Rattled but trying not to show it, I was unable to respond. He continued, “Why is it every time I ask a student what he is learning in your class, he says, ‘nothing’?” Once again, I did not know what to say, but I was determined to get to the bottom of it. The next day I polled my students. They explained that all we did in class was ‘have fun’ and that, since learning was not fun, they must not be learning. This was upsetting to me, partly because I had been summoned by the principal but mostly because these seniors in high school had spent their entire educational lives believing that learning was and should be boring. I wanted to convince them otherwise, to show them how much they had learned and explain that there was a method to my lesson plan madness. In hindsight, however, I wonder how much it would have really mattered. If they were learning and enjoying it, was it necessary to shine a spotlight on it? Weren’t they learning just the same whether they realized it or not? Children do things because they are fun. They usually stop when they are not. This holds true of the books they read, the shows they watch and the activities they join. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find something they truly love and other times they find it right away. Like the adults they will grow up to be, the more enthusiastic a child is about what he is doing, the more dedicated and committed he will be. So when a child finds an activity that he truly loves, is it necessary for him to understand all that he is learning as well? Isn’t he benefitting just the same either way? Extracurricular activities should be fun. And, in my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong with fun for fun’s sake. But the beauty of extracurricular activities is that they are not just fun. They are filled with opportunities for learning and growth in an assortment of areas. Research has long lauded the many benefits of these activities. From academic gains to socio-emotional ones, children who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely than their uninvolved classmates to foster positive relationships with peers and mentors, graduate high school and go to college. They are also more likely to have higher levels of self-esteem, self-worth and self-efficacy. It is important for us as adults to know this, but I’m no longer sure that the kids need to realize it as well. Isn’t their enjoyment- that just so happens to be providing them a multitude of other benefits- enough? In February, we were able to help provide some of that fun and learning to 434 children in 44 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the District of Columbia. Activities included many regulars such as dance, guitar, swimming and STEM along with some less common activities such as Future Farmers of America, rugby, roller skating and archery. Whatever the activity, the benefits are just the same, and we wish Our Military Kids a lifetime of fun and learning!