Adventures in learning

Guest contributor Paul T. Shafer is a self-proclaimed fun dad who enjoys going on educational adventures with his children. He writes about some of their exploits at In 2014, he’ll be launching IncrediBUS, a mobile learning extravaganza for children between the ages of 4 and 10. If you’d like to get a sense of the adventures Paul has in store (and a chance to win free passes on IncrediBUS) check out his weekly challenge, which can be found here.

Shortly after my son learned to speak, I hung a number chart on the wall and quizzed him using a laser pointer. In the event he would provide an incorrect answer, I would make him do push-ups totaling the number he had just missed. For some reason, he learned his numbers very fast. He also built some good strength along the way. (Kidding, of course—at least about the push-ups.) Anyway, it didn’t take me long to realize I needed to make some adjustments or this whole father-son teaching thing wasn’t going to last very long.

Fortunately, my wife witnessed the number chart episodes and gently intervened: “You might want to consider making it fun for him, or you’ll both end up pulling out your hair.” She was right: virtually every time I sat down with that laser pointer, my son or I ended up in tears. “There must be a better way,” I thought to myself.

Fast-forward several months and one deck of Uno playing cards . . .

The thing I noticed about playing Uno with Owen was the overwhelming joy we shared together. He was excited at all the numbers and colors, and I was elated because the cards were doing all the work. “What’s this one, Daddy?” and “Is this card a 9 or a 6?” We were both having fun and he was learning along the way. The experience left a profound impact on me—learning should be fun, right?

I decided to continue testing this theory of fun and adventurous learning for the next several years. For example, I always had an interest in entrepreneurialism, so I wondered if a fun entrepreneurial event might advance my kids’ interests on the topic. We forewent the traditional lemonade stand and sold Starbucks, chocolate milk, and donuts on a street near our house one Sunday morning. We sold our entire inventory and made some good tips to boot. The kids thought that was great. And we got to learn about creating flyers and counting money and saying “Thank you” to customers as part of the event.

We decided to take it a step further a few weeks later and sold breakfast in our neighborhood from my kids’ Radio Flyer wagon. We got the inspiration from a local food trailer called Torchy’s, and I arranged for them to meet the founder and ask him a few questions about how he started his business. He was incredibly kind to the kids, had a great amount of patience, and even donated a few tacos for their taco wagon event. Now we were really having fun!

Through all of these adventurous experiences (there are many others I’ve written about on my blog), I have noticed that kids are most engaged when they are exploring and having fun. Learning doesn’t have to be about worksheets and memorization and mundane repetitive tasks. It’s about experimenting and trying new things and getting lost in the experience. And to make things even better, I’ve found that if I’m joining in the experience and rolling up my sleeves with them, we all get to learn together and keep enjoying it for weeks to come.

Paul T. Shafer