Education As Fun

It might sound like no fun to be a child growing up under Locke's method: your parents are stern and denying, you cannot ask for what you want by name, everyone is cold to you whenever you do anything wrong, and you are never rewarded with toys or sweets no matter how good you are. But, actually, Locke's entire battery of advice is almost single-mindedly geared toward making the experience of education as pleasant as possible for the child. In part this is because Locke felt a lot of sympathy for children. But there is also a more practical reason for making education pleasant: it makes the learning process that much more effective. If the child enjoys learning then he will really apply himself and get much more out of his lessons.

The key to making learning fun, Locke thinks, is to make sure that it is never seen as a task or duty. The only reason children love to play and hate to learn, he is convinced, is that children play at their own liberty and work under duress. Like any human being, children like to feel that they are free to make their own choices and that their actions come from these choices. If children are not forced to learn, but come to it of their own volition, then they will apply the same high-spirited energy (what Locke calls a "gamesome humor") that we see in their play, to their learning.

Part of never presenting learning as a task is never making a child learn when he is not in the mood. Instead, the parents should closely observe the child to see when he is best suited for learning (during what seasons, days of the week, times of the day etc.) and only have him learn during these periods. The best possible situation is to have the child learn only when he specifically requests it, but, of course, some children will not request to learn often enough to make this a feasible option.

Locke also suggests that games be used in learning, particularly in learning how to read. And one of the best ways to make learning enjoyable, he thinks, is to engage the child in constant conversation rather than lecturing to him endlessly. In this way children get to use their reason (which any rational creature enjoys) and they come to love knowledge because it enables them to participate in these conversations and to have their ideas taken seriously. Other suggestions Locke has for making education as pleasant as possible is never to scold or mock for a wrong answer, never to withhold and answer when a child is having difficulty solving a problem, and never to get annoyed when a child behaves like a child (that is, loud, boisterous, playful, forgetful, with wandering attention, etc.).

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