The role of fun in meaningful physical education: Part 2

In one of our recent posts, we discussed the importance of providing physical education students with experiences that are fun. This is likely unsurprising to many readers, particularly for those physical education teacher/scholars and coaches who have undoubtedly experienced fun associated with movement.  However, the literature suggests a degree of developmental appropriateness when planning for fun.  Students at varying grade levels seem to have different conceptions of fun; students at the elementary school level expressing preference for play-based activities (MacDougall, Schiller, & Darbyshire, 2004), while students at the secondary school level desire a more “sophisticated” learning experience in which fun is less about playing games and more about learning and challenge (Dismore & Bailey, 2011).

Similarly, while students consistently report a desire to have fun in their movement experiences, some studies have suggested an overemphasis on fun may detract from the meaningfulness of a movement experience.  In his review of 285 physical education lessons posted on YouTube from 27 different countries, Quennerstedt (2013) noted that those lessons in which the emphasis was almost exclusively on fun tended to lack meaning.  This may include, for example, allowing students to sit around on the sidelines, chat with others, wrestle with peers, or “mess around” instead of engaging properly in the lesson to achieve learning outcomes.

Although fun is an important component of a meaningful movement experience, it is critical that the physical education teacher or coach recognize that fun is not the only important component.  Kretchmar (2006) suggests we “aim too low if we target fun alone” (p. 7).   When fun is prioritized at the exclusion of other meaningful components (e.g. learning, motor competence), students may not take their physical education experience seriously.  So while participants may not report that physical education is “too fun”, it may be possible for teachers and coaches to place too much emphasis on fun. We recommend that fun be considered alongside or in tandem with other components of a meaningful experience, such as social interaction, challenge, motor competence, or personally relevant learning. For example, many students we have spoken with find physical education fun because of the opportunities to be with friends or the challenges it can provide.

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