Fun Has Changed

During our own lifetimes, ways of having fun have shifted.  Any older person can easily attest to this, but even the young ones among us can see differences. IMG_7722

 

At a college dinner a few days ago, a sophomore said, “I think our age group is lacking in social skills” and held up his phone to illustrate one of the reasons why.  The next day I mentioned this at the gym where I teach fitness classes and got a chorus of agreement as my older students reported on their grandchildren’s behavior.

 

So much has changed, and we all see it, but how do we understand it?

 

Fun isn’t what it used to be.

 

When compared with previous generations:

  • Children today have very little unstructured time.
  • Longer school days and shorter recess periods.
  • Structured sports teams rather than sandlot games.
  • More screentime, more online, and less time in person.
  • More social time in groups and less dating.
  • More work demands on everyone.
  • Families are squeezed for time.

 

Nonetheless we can all still have more fun more of the time.

It’s part of our nature as human beings to want this, but some ways of having fun work better than others.

How do we maximize our chances?  By being born into fun-loving families and communities?  We don’t have much choice.  Partying all the time?  That doesn’t actually work well even when people can afford to do it.   Choosing fun-loving friends and finding work that is enjoyable?  Ok, sure.  Nice work if you can get it, as the old song says.  In this economy, just finding a job at all can be pretty darned challenging.

But our own actions and attitudes still make fun more likely or less likely.  Besides noticing the factors that are affecting us and noticing the choices we have, we can also step out a little, embrace our own social leadership, and figure out how to create more fun for ourselves and those around us.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a bandleader and singer, helping people have fun at parties and celebrations.  For the past seven years, I’ve also been helping people have fun with exercise classes.  I’m going to begin posting ideas from the book I’m writing called  What Makes It FUN?    I invite you to join this conversation and subscribe to this blog.

Let’s make it fun!

 

Do you think that fun in general has changed?  Is it just because we are getting older?  Or are different kinds of fun available now (or less available now)?

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Art Students Create Toys for Elephants

Who can resist a project like this?  This story is fun on at least eight levels at once.

The art students are challenged with a real-world problem.   Being challenged can be fun, especially when you are working with others and have some resources and some hope of “success.”

The students are stretching to think about someone else’s reality as a basis for their artistic choices.  How refreshing to see the challenge framed as making something that will be fun for an intelligent but non-human being.

The students use their creativity to come up with concepts for toys and have resources with which to build and test their ideas.  Getting to play with ideas and materials is fun.

They get to meet elephants and see the elephants play with their toys.  Yeah!

The elephants have new experiences with the toys.  We hope these are fun for them and would love to see even more about this.

Videographer Lauren Frohne creates this video and The Boston Globe posts it.  Thanks Lauren.  Thanks Boston Globe.

We all get to see and enjoy it. Thanks MassArt students and faculty.  Thanks elephants!

As with so many projects in the arts, there is a multiplier effect.  Many people (and animals, in this case!) get something out of this.  Win-Win-Win-Win…

Big fun!

Long-Time Friends

Why long-time friends are the greatest:

 

They knew you when you wore cat-eye glasses – they honestly know how much better you look now  (and won’t be put off by a bad hair day, the “wrong” clothes, or a few pounds one way or the other).

 

You don’t have to go through a lot of introductory chatter since you already know each other’s history.  (And unlike recent information about new friends, you lived this.  It’s more deeply wired in your memory and easier to recall.)

 

You don’t have to prove yourselves to each other since you already did that a long time ago.

 

They literally know “where you’re coming from” because they remember your old house and old neighborhood.

 

They know that the teacher hated you in fifth grade – and they never thought it was your fault.

 

Since before Twitter was invented, you have been “following” each other’s relatives.  You know their parents and they know yours.  You remember their brothers and sisters as children.  (If you’re older, maybe you’ve known your friend’s adult children since they were children!)  This long-term knowledge becomes even more important when some of these people are no longer living and memories shared with others help keep them close.

 

You don’t have to explain what you were doing in college since they were there and did it too (or some of it!).

 

Even if you haven’t seen each other or talked in decades, you can pick right up where you left off.  If the channel was open before, it can be open again.

 

You see how hard they have worked at things and admire what they have accomplished.

 

The pure passage of time gives your friendship additional credibility and tenure.

 

You’ve developed ways of talking, joking, or just being with each other that let you think, laugh, and go deep all in the same conversation.

 

You see the essence of your friend more clearly over time and love them even more.

 

They knew you when you were a dorfwad and not half as cool as you are now, but you’ve liked each other all along!

 

 

What makes your long-time friends special to you?

The Wheelchair on the Dance Floor

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...
This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several of the most fun dance experiences I’ve had in the past few years have been at events where a person with a disability was central to the proceedings.  Contrary to what some people might expect, participation from the disabled person made the entire dance experience more engaging for everyone there.

One instance was a wedding and the ceremony took place outside, on a beach downhill from a hotel.  Everyone walked down a long zig-zag aisle to get to the ceremony location and once the processional began, we could see that this arrangement had been chosen not only for its visual beauty, but also for functional reasons.  The Best Man used a wheel chair and the zigs and zags were like a series of ramps, making it possible for him to process down to the beach as a member of the wedding party.

Later, at the reception, the dancing was all right, but really took off when a female guest invited the Best Man onto the dance floor.  As he rolled and spun in his chair, and everyone else joined in, the whole event seemed to lift.  It was suddenly not about dancing just like your neighbor danced, it was about expressing joy, rhythm, and movement in the ways available to you at that moment.  Dancing had become “safer” for everyone.

The Best Man was a good dancer.  He was in a wheelchair, but he was a good dancer. My husband leaned over to him and said, “you’ve got some good moves there!” to which he replied, “I had even more a few years ago.”  My husband just laughed and said, “Yeah, me too!” and we all danced with all the moves we had on that particular day.  It was fun!

Whether we say it overtly or not, people are always seeking that special chemistry that makes a party “gel,” the energy that connects everyone more intensely, the magic that makes an event memorable.  Back in the 1950s, politicians used to talk about “making the world safe for democracy.”  I’m interested in making the world safe for fun and one of the ways we do that is by being aware of the conditions that allow more people to participate more fully.  Making that zig-zag aisle allowed a man in a wheelchair to play an integral role in a major life event for his friend.  Including a person in a wheelchair in the dancing made the whole celebration more fun for everyone.  We’re not just “doing a favor for a disabled person” when we make our events more inclusive; we’re making our own worlds larger and friendlier.  And if we should become disabled at some point in the future, the image of the wheelchair on the dance floor will remind us that there are still many ways to dance.

What’s Fun About Recess?

Do you remember recess as the most fun part of your school day?  If so, you are probably no longer a child.  In many schools right now, recess is not that much fun. In one study, principals reported that the largest number of visits to their offices resulted from situations that arose during recess.  An alarming number of injuries and school suspensions occur because bullying and fighting are happening rather than good clean fun.  It’s obvious that many kids do not know how to play well with others.  And when they don’t know how to share or resolve conflicts, they may attempt to solve problems by using brute force or threats, making the whole situation messier and worse for everyone.

 

If our goal is for more people to have more fun more of the time, how can we help our kids with that?  One answer is to be sure that our children are learning basic social play skills.  This happens most effectively when adults and other young people model fun-loving supportive behavior and when the entire social system of the playground is set up to encourage positive interaction.  One group that has made both a science and an art of this is Playworks and a recent study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has now shown the effectiveness of their approach.

 

http://www.playworks.org/research-reveals-playworks-reduces-bullying

 

Playworks works primarily with low-income schools, but also does training programs for teachers and staff at higher income schools.  A Playworks coach works as a full-time staff member in the school, setting up active inclusive play activities.  Coaches work with both teachers and students, organizing the use of playground space, establishing consciously cooperative situations, and encouraging new expectations about playing together.

 

One simple and strikingly effective method of resolving conflict involves using the old “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game to allow kids to take charge of their own decisions about who goes first or whose judgment will be followed in case of a disagreement.  The thinking behind this is that many of the conflicts kids get into are arbitrary and if they can be settled quickly, the kids can get back to playing.  Although it takes a while for everyone to learn these new norms, as kids begin to “own” these methods, their desires to keep the fun going lead them to manage themselves and their play effectively.

 

When the overall atmosphere of the playground is positive, kids have more fun and feel better about themselves and each other.  They also get more instructional time in the classroom because they settle down to work more quickly and bring fewer emotional upsets with them after recess.

 

Playworks so perfectly illustrates what I am interested in–methods of helping people to have more fun more of the time!

 

  • It’s a nuts-and-bolts action plan that replaces chaotic, negative, and violent behaviors with organized, positive, cooperative ones.

 

  • It helps shape student experience while the students are still young and sets the stage for a better overall experience in school.

 

  • It empowers kids to handle many of their own issues in productive ways.

 

  • It makes kids feel good about themselves and their school, but is not just a “self-esteem program.”   It actually teaches social skills, cooperation, respect for others, and self-management.

 

  • The Playworks coaches engage with the kids in playful ways, but also expect responsible behavior.

 

I remember so well the differences in “recess supervision styles” of my own teachers (and I’m talking a half-century ago!).   I bet you remember some of these things too, regardless of your age.   Teachers and coaches are just that important!

 

What were some of your own most positive experiences with recess?

If recess was sometimes hard for you, what could have made it better?

What have you observed about the play experiences of the children you care about?