Is School Supposed to Be Fun?

Updated on April 08, 2017
M.6. asks from Woodbridge, NJ
15 answers

This is kind of an observation/do you agree or disagree "question." I'm not quite sure where I stand on this issue, but I am curious to see what others think about this.

When I was in school (many, many moons ago it feels like!), school wasn't "fun." Extra curricular activities were fun, seeing friends on a daily basis was fun, maybe you would get lucky and have a fun class during a semester/quarter, like Art or Phy Ed. We got like 3 field trips during our whole 12 grades and everyone got to go unless you were super naughty, and they were the same field trips every other kid took when they were in that grade. We had field day in the spring, but parents didn't take off work to come (nor were they expected to). We lived in a very large school district with rural outlying areas so your bus ride could easily be an hour. No one really complained - other than us kids occasionally. Basically, you went to school, you did your work, maybe you were in an after school activity, then you went home and did your homework. The end. It was extremely rare that someone "dropped out" of school, the "slow kids" graduated with everyone else and usually were not separated out. No one really WANTED to go to school, but it wasn't like an option not to go, and I don't recall anyone thinking "gee if school was more fun . . . "

Nowadays, it seems like the schools work really hard to make kids WANT to come to school because it is such a good time. Class parties, field trips, daily incentives, end of week parties, dress up days for an entire week (not homecoming), dress as your favorite author, pajama day, doughnut day, 100th day of school party . .. today the 7th graders are doing an escape room that the school built. Why? Because it is more fun to learn science that way.

However, it seems like by making school fun, it almost seems like the kids are treating it as "optional" or a joke or not important. I don't have any hard data to back this up, but it seems like more kids aren't finishing high school, being truant, or attending ALC (not because they need it for true educational reasons, but because they can't get up in the morning on time). My nephew in a different school district was late to school 15 times in a trimester. Rather than "punish" him, they changed his school day start time to an hour later!

Maybe one has nothing to do with the other, but it seems like there is such a trend to kids treating school like a joke, and when I see what they are doing all day, I kind of don't blame them. The school is treating school like a joke.

This is not to say that there are not tons of kids, working their butts off everywhere around the country, and this is not to say that YOUR specific school does any of this and I know that there are parents who have school choices that their kids are super focused on learning. I'm just more interested in your thoughts as to this "trend" and whether or not you see it, too.

I am interest in hearing others thoughts on this!

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So What Happened?

Nervy Girl - I have 6 kids, two of which have severe special needs. I certainly do not mean to "infuriate" you by pointing out what may be mainstream thinking on this topic, versus what or how I actually feel as it pertains to my two special needs kids. Where I differ is I was able to step back and look at how my kids' special needs affected everyone else in the classroom. While it is wonderful that your child was not singled out during 2nd grade and ALL kids were offered fidgets, as we know it is not often the reality. From my experience, the worst days the teachers had were "party days" and dress up days. Kids who do not understand social boundaries and are easily excitable on a normal day don't have a prayer on party day of learning anything. When just one kid acts out, it can cause the entire class to come to a stand still. That being said, that wasn't the purpose of my topic discussion. In a nutshell, it was more about how people felt about the changing in learning styles through mainstream educational venues.


Very interesting thoughts! I love hearing other people's ideas :) Ok, but now I'm going to play Devil's advocate for a bit. I get that Tommy and Susie and 3 other kids in the classroom "benefit" from a hands on learning experience. And I get that Johnny and Sarah are more likely to "engage" if they aren't just staring at a blackboard. But what about the other 25 kids in the classroom? The ones who can learn just fine without all the hoopla. Even more, what about Alex and Andy who absolutely cannot function in a classroom with no structure 3 days out of 5, and are totally distracted from learning on all the dress up days?

Aren't we kind of pandering to the lazy and teaching to the lowest common denominator at that point? Do I think teachers and parents should be held responsible/more responsible? Sure, but where does the KIDS responsibility lay in all of this? I understand the big movement creating responsibility so kids don't fall through the cracks. There was a time when kids needed help, teachers KNEW these kids needed help, parents were completely ignorant of their kids needing help and we needed to change the way that teachers and parents worked together to get these kids the help they needed. But why doesn't anyone talk about the kids' role in all of this? As a parent, I would find it pretty frustrating if my kid knew he could be truant/late to school and all the school would do is start school later. From my perspective, what is my kid being taught when the school does something like that?

Again, I don't necessarily believe this, its more that I see the differences in my generation, my oldest kids generation and my youngest kids generation (my kids are across a fairly large age gap), and then now my granddaughter's generation. I wonder if some of the problems that the schools encounter these days are actually fallout from "celebrating mediocrity" by giving all the participation award and gold star each day, so to speak. On the other hand, I wonder how much TV and social media is influencing this and the school is just trying to "keep up with the times."

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answers from Columbus on

I was actually thinking exactly the opposite today. My son has done well in his first year of school, but I'm amazed at how different it has been from when I started school. I remember playing with blocks and learning the alphabet in kindergarten. Today's kindergarteners are expected to know 100 plus sight words and addition tables by the end of the year. And I've been frustrated all year that the 3 parties that they've had were only 30 minutes long.

I think that the emphasis on testing has led to a lot of changes. Even 2nd and 3rd graders seem to understand the importance. If adding a few theme days helps ease the tension, I don't see a problem with it. Yes, we had standardized testing when we were growing up, but it wasn't nearly as important.

I think that what's more important is that schools teach kids to love learning, and that's the beauty of hands on activities.

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answers from Atlanta on

I should say up front that I'm an educator (college professor), so I am biased. I liked learning from books or teachers and I did well in traditional school (grew up in the 1970s and 80s). Should school be fun? I think the real question is how to make LEARNING fun. That's the thing which should happen in schools, learning and getting the skills needed to function in the wider world as an adult. If the school builds in some little perks that make kids less resistant to being there AND which help with learning concepts in different ways, all the better. I don't think it makes school into a joke; the 'fun' may help the teachers achieve the ultimate goal.

Now, what you describe with kids dropping out more or not being able to follow the structure, that seems less about including 'fun' extras and more about a lack of discipline policies or other problems in the wider society which are affecting the students. If kids feel there's no point in graduating high school because the diploma won't help them get a job anyway or their family needs them to work for economic survival, that isn't due to the school including incentives. Just my thoughts...

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answers from Boston on

ETA: The picture you paint in your SWH isn't accurate in my experience. Hands-on learning opportunities are for the whole class. In my kids' elementary school, if there aren't enough materials so that each child has one (e.g. a science kit, math manipulatives, etc.) then the kids work in small groups to share a kit (or an iPad or whatever) and it's a group project. A skilled teacher balances individual pencil-and-paper work with individual hands-on work and group work. Having kids get used to working out of their comfort zones is good. While I loved to work alone and am happiest learning from a book, real life doesn't work that way - I have to go to meetings, work with colleagues. sit through and give presentations, and sometimes get my hands dirty. And the kinesthetic learners who love to get their hands dirty sometimes have to settle for listening to a teacher or reading a text book.

I also don't find that spirit days and the like disrupt the classroom to the point of a child being unable to learn. My kids usually don't care about crazy hat day or pajama day or whatever and just tune it out. We used to do a school fundraiser where the lead up to the events, which took place over two weekends due to the size of the school, was distracting so we scrapped that in favor of a different event that is less disruptive (and where the lead in is tied to curriculum goals). In my experience, if teachers find something disruptive to the point of throwing off schedules or affecting learning, they speak up early and often and loudly to preserve the learning environment of their classroom.

Original: I think we romanticize the past a lot. Those "slow kids" who graduated with everyone else without mastering the skills needed to succeed in life did not benefit from being herded along. They found themselves under-educated and under-employed. In a time when there were good blue-collar jobs maybe that wasn't a problem, but it is a problem when the world is becoming further and further stratified into knowledge work and service work, with very little in between. Education reform kicked off in Massachusetts in 1993 and provided a much-needed reality check for our public schools. There were huge chunks of student populations whose education was inadequate - special education students, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students, racial and ethnic minority students, and students in entire districts. A mandate to ensure adequate education for all prompted a lot of changes in how schools here approached education at every level, and the results have been great and give us what are quantifiably the best performing schools in the country.

I find that the standards our kids have to meet now are much better defined and higher than standards when I was in school, and I went to a very competitive Catholic high school. I also went to parochial elementary school, and learning was intermixed with plenty of fun (a positive) and a ridiculous amount of non-educational time (a negative). We had classroom parties for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and St. Patrick's day (and used to leave school for 2 hours to watch the St. Patrick's Day parade), tons of holiday activities and concerts, Catholic Schools Week, etc.. We had a long recess. We also spent time away from education doing things like going to Mass; printing, collating and stapling program booklets; cleaning erasers; setting up tables for bingo; washing cafeteria tables after lunch; bringing equipment carts around the buildings; packing up classrooms for the summer at the end of the year, etc.

We did a lot more than just sit at our desks and do school work, which kept the day interesting (and in retrospect saved the school from hiring appropriate levels of help) but didn't exactly further our education. My kids have a lot of fun, interesting and engaging things to do in school but they are learning all day. They still don't *want* to go to school, but really have nothing to complain about. We don't have big issues of truancy or drop outs or alternative schools in my area, so I can't speak to that other than to say that my local data - and the national data that I've seen - don't support what you are seeing.

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answers from Boston on

I think we've learned a lot about how different kids learn. When I was in school, we all sat in rows facing the board. The teacher read or put stuff on the board, and sometimes we read different portions of a book aloud (especially in English class), and otherwise we answered questions and took written tests/quizzes.

That's boring. That's why school wasn't fun. It was regimented. Many kids learned that way, but many others just didn't. Those were often branded "the dumb kids" who we relegated to a seat in the back, a trip to the principal's office, and a failing grade (or being "left back). Some of those kids might have had intellectual difficulties, but many others had learning challenges like dyslexia and various processing issues. Some had ADD/ADHD or focus problems. As a former teacher, I now see so many of these kids who at least have a diagnosis, and we know they learn differently (not necessarily in a lesser way). The number of diagnoses have gone up, and there are likely just more kids with autism, sensory processing issues, epilepsy, severe allergies, and much more. We can debate the causes of that in another forum.

But we know that some kids are visual learners, while others are auditory, and still others kinesthetic and tactile. So getting up and moving around, making a game out of learning, changing the way material is presented, etc. makes a huge difference in what they take in and what they retain. Creative play activates different sections of the brain. Music, art and hands-on activities aren't just for "fun" but for stimulation of the brain, increased focus, and more. Looking at a problem or a subject in a different way, from a different vantage point, and using different senses can enhance what is taken in and retained. Being able to get up from the desk and move to a different "station" in a class lets kids who have focus problems still be able to learn by removing themselves from a difficult situation or going to a quiet corner. It also lets kids work in small teams so the teacher can get around to each group and interact individually rather than just survey the crowd from the front of the room.

Some kids need incentives - it's not enough to wait until the end of the marking period to get a report card. There's nothing wrong with it - to me, what's wrong is teachers having to spend their own money on supplies and stickers!

How many of us who sat in rows and memorized facts only to regurgitate them on a written test lament that we don't remember half of what we learned? What if some of it had been taught in a different way?

Field trips - we, fortunately, had many. I grew up on Long Island, and we often took bus trips to New York City for theater, the symphony, museums, and specialized programs (e.g. the Spanish classes went to Spanish theater and a Spanish restaurant). To me, this is just as educational as sitting in a row taking a multiple choice quiz. My senior Spanish teacher was a dancer/choreographer, and he taught us a bunch of dances - we went around to the elementary schools to perform, thereby introducing younger kids to new experiences and encouraging them to take Spanish when they could. Totally beneficial even though it took away from the days we spent conjugating irregular verbs!

While I don't think kids should think they don't have to do something unless there's a reward attached, I do think tying privileges to their participation and cooperation (which are measures of performance just like grades are) can be really beneficial in light of what we know about learning styles.

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answers from Springfield on

I think one thing that has really changed in the field of education is a realization that the old ways really didn't serve the majority of kids.

When I was growing up, it seems like there were 3 categories of kids, LD (learning disability), BD (behavior disability) and "normal." I hope I haven't offended anyone is saying LD, BD or "normal," because I'm really only repeating what I heard as a child and what I understood as a child. It is absolutely amazing to me how many different types of learning challenges kids really can have. Not just learning challenges, but learning styles and neurological challenges and physical challenges and just all sorts of things than can affect the way they learn and they way they behave.

It's actually really sad to think back to the days of blackboards and lectures and "one size fits all" education. It might seem, looking back, like it worked, but it really didn't. It only worked for some. Far too many people did not succeed. It wasn't that they weren't smart enough or capable of learning. Not at all. But they were not able to learn in that environment, so they simply didn't. There weren't opportunities for multiply styles.

In your SWH you said, "And I get that Johnny and Sarah are more likely to "engage" if they aren't just staring at a blackboard. But what about the other 25 kids in the classroom?" Very few kids actually do learn well that way. The reality is more like 20 students are more likely to engage and only 3 or 4 do better with a blackboard and a lecture.

I have a "Facebook Friend" who is absolutely convinced that vaccines are evil and are the sole cause of Autism and is always showing stats of the number of vaccines going up while the number of kids diagnosed with Autism has also gone up. What she fails to recognize is that the absolute biggest reason the number of diagnosis has gone up is that psychologists keep redefining what Autism is! Remember that little boy on St. Elsewhere that was the son of one of hte doctors and was not verbal and just played with spinning toys? There was a time when only children who were nonverbal received a diagnosis of Autism. Remember Rainman? There was a time when his symptoms were included in the diagnosis. Today, there are kids diagnosed with Autism that are extremely high functioning. Also, parents are so much more aware.

My point is, as a society, we have grown to understand just how different people are and how many different factors affect us and how many different ways there are to learn and grow. Maybe you see school as more "fun" than it was when you were a child. I can only really speak for my boys. My oldest goes to our neighborhood school that has one field trip each year (if they are lucky). They do have 2 weeks each year that have themes - Homecoming and Red Ribbon Week (anti-drugs). They also have the occasional pajama day. But the teachers do a wonderful job. My younger so could not handle it. He is on the Autism spectrum and likely has some sensory issues. He goes to a school that has a very structured classroom. His field trips are very social - bowling, swimming, zoo. But he's also in a school with other kids that have poor social skills. So really, it's part of their curriculum.

I think your observations have more to do with educators recognizing the diverse needs of the students and less with the students constant need to be "entertained." That's really a whole nother issue!

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answers from Anchorage on

I remember school often being fun. We had field trips, and back then we even got to have dress up parties for Halloween and the like. Homework was not designed to be fun but the teachers tried to make the lectures interesting to keep us engaged.

As for drop outs, those who don't know "those" kids probably never realized how many kids really did drop out back then. I had a friend in the alternative school for drop outs to help them earn their GEDs and there were a lot of teens in the program who just couldn't do it the "regular" way. There are now many schools with these alternative programs that actually meet in the high school during regular school hours and that helps a lot, I certainly don't think we have more drop outs, it seems like less to me because of these types of programs.

One thing we have learned over time is that not all kids learn the same way, if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will always fail. Adjusting the way we teach to suit what works best for certain children is a good thing, in the past those kids just fell behind or were forgotten about. My cousin with FAS had to teach himself to read using audio books when the school failed to make accommodations for his limitations, that wouldn't happen today in most schools, there are resources to help.

But, we do need reform, and mostly we need more money put into education. We can't keep expecting schools to do great things for our kids when our government refuses to give them enough funding to do it.

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answers from Portland on

It's probably because it's Friday and maybe I'm missing the point - but I don't think of it in terms of fun or boring. I think so long as kids are engaged - then that's a good thing. They are more likely to learn.

That's kind of like the workplace though isn't it? The places where I put in the most extra effort were generally the places where it was enjoyable to do so. The places that were less fun/enjoyable, I counted the minutes down on the clock some days.

I remember school as being fun up until about fourth grade - before that I wasn't conscious I was learning. I think it has been the same for my kids.

My kids grades reflect how much they enjoy their classes. One of mine has A's throughout except this one class. The teacher is a total dud. It's not the subject matter. It's just boring and the kids are not engaged in anything creative. It's taking down notes.

Added - I should add, the way it works in our schools here is the kids get rewarded for good behavior, helping peers, showing kindness, etc. They get to add a ballot to a box, a marker to a jar, etc. and when it is full - then they get a PJ day, or a movie afternoon, etc. It's not that often - it has to be deserved.

* I saw your SWH. I too find this a bit off "Aren't we kind of pandering to the lazy and teaching to the lowest common denominator at that point?" - maybe it's just your phrasing but like RK, I found that somewhat offensive.

Like BirdsFreakMeOut - I like the reward system for good behavior, being respectful in class, etc. That's what I had described above for earning (all about earning) a PJ day. Think back to when we were in school - kids were punished (with physical consequences at my school) if they didn't sit quietly and respect the teacher. Now thank God, they reward kids for being able to do what they are able to do - in a positive way.

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answers from Boston on

Two very different responses to your questions.

1. Yes, I have seen too many magazine drive hooplas, taking time away from learning. And some schools have so many parties and celebrate indescriminately, and I wonder when the children learn. But, in my experience, these are not the majority of schools. Most schools integrate learning into their celebrations, and celebration into their learning.

2. The phrasing used in your response elicits anger in me. I don't think I have written that ever before on Mamapedia. " Teaching to the lowest common denominator" is about as ugly a term as I have read on this site. In all my years of teaching, no child has ever met this description. I'm not sure where these hurtful words come from, but I wish you peace and discernment.

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answers from Kansas City on

So this kinda reminds me of the age old question that administrators used to (maybe they still do?) ask teachers...Is it important that your students like you? And the answer to that question is...yes. It is important because liking people is how you build relationships and building relationships is how you make connections and making connections is the key to learning and thinking and problem solving.

So when I think about your question I kinda think about it like that. Should schools/teachers main goals be to entertain children, no of course not, but there is so much more technology and resources now than when we were kids and why shouldn't it be taken advantage of! Now, although this is directly contradictory to what I just said, I will also add that although we need to use that technology we also don't want to let it get in the way of good old fashioned research and book reading. My kids school uses the iPads a lot and I don't love it, but that is an entirely different post! LOL!

If these parties and escape rooms and whatnot can get kids excited about school then go for it. Additionally, there are some kids who ONLY come to school for this kind of thing. It's good to be able to reach them and encourage them and hopefully one day the spark will fly and they will pursue their education and goals.

We know so much more about how the brain works, mental health, bullying, etc. now that I do believe we should change the way things work to accommodate those things.

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answers from Seattle on

My observations....
When kids have something to work towards (marbles in a jar=get a party) kids usually work better. Especially younger kids. My daughter's class just had a pajama day and they got to bring a stuffed animal with them. She was so excited!! She talks all the time about how her class behaves so they can win "prizes." Positive re-enforcement.
I would rather have a teacher teaching using positive things (parties, treasure boxes, field trips) then have a teacher constantly punishing.
I think kids behave better that way. But that's just me.
Also...I highly doubt that because your nephew was late to school that the whole school district changed their start times. In my area (greater Seattle area) they have changed all the schools to an hour later. Why? Because there have been multiple studies that show that kids of all ages pay attention better, get better grades, and stay awake if they go to school at a later time. So why NOT give them the opportunity to do better?

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answers from San Francisco on

I think your community (like a huge part of America) is stuck in the past. Being hands on and engaged leads to success, whether you're hoping to become an engineer or a doctor or a dancer or a mechanic, if you want to succeed you'd better start DOING, and that starts in school. Kids (and adults) who just show up and sit there expecting to be told what to do end up dropping out and working minimum wage jobs. It's boring and irrelevant in an increasingly global economy. And no one wants to hire a person who doesn't actually know how to think and solve problems. Sounds like that's what's happening where you live. School is boring, life is boring, there are no jobs so why try? Don't blame it on the kids who crave a better education, they already understand the future better than you (or me.)

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answers from Santa Fe on

I guess I don't really notice that big of a difference in school since I was a kid...I do notice some difference. BUT I totally expect schools in our country to change over time and not stay the same. I would like to see them change even more, but teaching and all the different types of kids and ways of learning and how to measure that is a difficult problem to solve. I'm no expert. My kids don't really find school fun...especially my 13 year old son. They both say it's pretty boring. I think my 7 year old has a lot of fun at recess...or so she says. The elementary school allows 2 class parties a year. They do one field trip a year. I think that is fine. If it is someone's birthday the parent can bring in something to pass out in the cafeteria at lunchtime. It doesn't even affect the classroom time. I don't doesn't seem like a big deal to me if they have spirit week or crazy hair day because the school day is exactly the same. I don't really care if the kids wear sports jerseys or school tshirts or whatnot...I don't think it affects the teaching. Both my kids really could care less about this stuff...they often forget and don't seem into it. I don't see teachers treating school like a joke...over the years I see teachers working VERY hard to try to teach their kids. It looks very hard to me to deal with a class of 28-30 kids. I remember being bored in school and things finally got interesting in college...I went to an extremely academic college and finally learning became fascinating! I applaud any teacher's efforts to try to make learning interesting and hands on...I find I learn the fastest when I am "doing" and I'm a big believer in hands on activities. I do see a lot of repetition in school...but I totally remember that from when I was a kid. It drives my son nuts.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I have done some research on our educational programs and have found some lines of thought that I agree with.

One research topic I found through the department of education stated that kids who are held back are less likely to ever graduate high school. That about 40% of them will drop out as soon as they reach 18.

Another line of thought is homework. Kids who hate school and have massive amounts of homework don't do well and as soon as they can they sometimes drop out and IF they do graduate they're not likely to go to college.

Kids that don't have busy work homework, not unfinished work or spelling words or reading time each day but real "Do problems # through # and turn it in tomorrow" are better students and enjoy school more. They have higher test scores across the board and end up being the ones that graduate and go off to college and beyond. I think it's because they get to be kids and do things after school like play with friends, go do sports and fun activities. They don't feel the drudgery of school.

Kids that have busy homework a lot tend to dislike school and not want to live, breathe, and eat school so they don't do as well on testing as the kids who don't have busy work homework.

I do believe the tendency is heading towards schools not having homework. I think I read an article that said America is the only educational program that does it like ours and our students come out of high school well below the rest of the world's first country populations. Obviously we've not been doing it right. All the bright people who are curing disease and fixing world problems and making changes are from other countries, even if they live in America now they probably grew up and were educated in another country.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I see what you're saying. I've volunteered at school and have been in the classrooms over the past 10 years full time. Is there a difference? Yes. There's a reason for the change. The school districts have collected data showing different ways of teaching kids and getting optimal results. The end result is the change you are seeing. It's two fold: engaging students AND finding a diff way to teach kids that it all encompassing. Meaning you are breaking things down in ways they have not been exposed to in order to elicit a better percentage of successful students. What looks like a trend is actually the result of studies done. They are getting students to participate that never did before in what looks like games. It's breaking down info (spelling games, word games....all done as a class), camouflaging & hiding extra learning as "dress as your favorite historical person (you have to do the research first), "enact a historical event", has been determined through studies to "get/keep their interest", "get the students to learn the material" and "provide material in a different format in order to reach students of different learning levels". Not a trend but a different style of teaching in order to get across to students. Do I think we'll see a change again? Yes but it will be awhile.

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answers from Norfolk on

"Fun" is a 'nice to have' but it's not a requirement.
Our son enjoys learning - and he doesn't like everything about school - but there are parts of it he is quite happy about.
If it makes you feel any better - it's the same thing with work or any job..
There are parts you learn to love and parts you learn to tolerate.

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