The Fun Theory

This week my son taught me a lesson without even being aware he was doing it.

It happened because I finally made the time to review and upload to my website the183 photographs stored on my digital camera. Clicking through the photos I landed on a group of shots I knew I hadn’t taken. While my photos are generally pretty standard, many of these were shot on an angle. The majority were close ups of people with broad grins, laughing out loud, or making faces at the camera. All of the photos conveyed an artistic sensibility as well as an amazing sense of fun!  It eventually occurred to me that these were photos taken by my son who is both artistic and fun, and, is also far better than most, at living in the moment.  It was a great reminder to slow down, appreciate the present, and have some fun.

A second reminder about the importance of fun came this week when someone from our team sent me a link to a website called The Fun Theory ( An initiative of Volkswagen, the site is dedicated to the idea that something as simple as fun just might be the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. It might be about a change for you, for the environment, or for something entirely different. The point is that it’s change for the better.

The top video, Piano Stairs, has been viewed by over a million viewers on YouTube and for sure I’ve contributed to that number by sharing it with a lot of friends and family.

Anyway, Piano Stairs is an experiment that asked, “Does turning a set of subway stairs into a real-life piano encourage people to use them? The answer is yes, 66% more. Another experiment asks whether making a trash can sound like a 40 foot-deep well will make people pick up their garbage. Another turned a bottle recycling centre into an arcade game.

Of course this raised profile showing the connection between fun and learning isn’t new to anyone in my field of recreation. Despite the perception that it is a soft profession dominated by clipboards and whistles, there are a wide variety of benefits provided by recreation, play, sports, arts, and culture. From my first days working at the Niagara Falls Boys’ and Girls Club I knew that creating fun-based opportunities grounded in some kind of learning were a fundamental part of my job.

While to others it may have seemed we were simply playing games or hanging out with the kids, we were in fact helping children learn about learning and consolidate previous learning through curiosity, invention and persistence. In our environment, children were free from the normal pressure or tension they often associated with needing to learn. We also helped children use play to learn to work with others and grow their problem solving ability to ultimately help them achieve. We organized group activities that provided children with enjoyment, accomplishment and a sense of belonging. We nurtured the development of interpersonal skills, such as empathy, trust and the ability to express ideas, and we used pretend play and arts activities to further develop the divergent skills and thinking necessary for creativity and innovation.

If you’re still not convinced that learning can be fun based, you might just want to conduct your own experiment. Volkswagen has launched a competition to find fun ways to change behaviour. There is prize money on the table and perhaps more important, it could be fun! 

Posted on 10-25-09

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