[Vacation is over and it's time we reevaluated our attitude
towards certain activities]
"Good morning, children! As you wake up in your `fun' bed
with its `fun' blankets, you will wash your hands with your
`fun' cup into your `fun' bowl, get dressed into your `fun'
clothes, eat your `fun' cereal, and go to your `fun' school
in your `fun' schoolbus. At school, you will listen to `fun'
lessons and take your `fun' pen and write `fun' exercises in
your `fun' books. Have a great `fun' day!"
There are some items missing from this `fun' diary. Do the
children daven their `fun' davening from their
`fun' siddurim? Will they learn chumash from
their `fun' chumashim? And when they get older, will
they learn `fun' Talmud from their `fun' gemoras? Will
Rashi ever become `fun'? Can we look forward to `fun'
The non-Jewish educational system has become preoccupied with
motivating children by promising them a life of fun. As the
boundary between education and commercialism becomes
increasingly blurred, more and more educational resources are
become `fun' oriented. We, therefore, need to consider how we
need to relate to exposing our children to `fun.'
Before the era of commercialized education, one of the prime
goals of education was to train the child to persevere,
overcome trials and tribulations and to keep going until he
achieves success. This followed the Biblical philosophy of
"One who sows with tears, reaps with joy!" And, as Chazal
say, "The reward is according to the anguish." Even athletes
exercise to the dictum of "No pain, no gain."
The most popular hobbies were those based on developing
skills and artistry through constant practice; embroidery
(samplers) and tapestry, knitting and crocheting, woodcarving
(whittling, cornhusk carving), basketry, model making,
pottery, chess -- the list was long. Even if a child was not
interested in any of these pastimes, he grew up knowing that
skills develop slowly and only after consistent effort.
Nowadays, the spirit is, "Use once and then discard."
Resources come pre- printed, pre-scored, pre-cut, ready to
use straight out of the box. The child is shown what to do,
how to do it, with minimal effort so contrived that he is
guaranteed to produce a perfect item immediately.
"Look, Mummy! Look what I did!"
Perhaps it is a beautiful painting made by mindlessly filling
in numbered areas with paint according to the diagram which
comes with the kit. Perhaps it is a complicated model made by
clicking together pre-cut, ready-painted, numbered parts,
"Fit part A into part B as shown... etc."
The pay-off is the familiar whine which comes when the child
does not understand something the first time, or when he
needs to practice something more than once. "I can't do it.
Ain li koach! I don't wanna do it again!"
The instant gratification of the `fun' approach does
manipulate the child into doing what you want him to do --
for awhile, but the end result is, "One who sows with joy,
reaps with tears!"
Deep down, the child knows he did not bring about the end
result. He knows he cannot do those things by himself. He
knows he does not have the skills to really make what he is
being maneuvered into appearing to make. The child gets
depressed, feels unfulfilled, lacks self-confidence and
develops all of those negative feelings which is becoming
endemic to the children of our era.
In contrast, at an "Early-Developmental Skills" group held
recently for young children in Jerusalem, parents reported
how they saw their children flower as they learned to develop
basic skills "the old way" through practice and encouragement
to "try again." The children became happier, gained self-
confidence and improved in areas of their schooling which
were apparently unrelated to the activities of the group.
Recently, Mr. Reuven sat down to so some reading drills with
Rochele, a typical spoilt little girl who could not be
bothered doing anything. After two `runs,' Rochele gave up.
"I can't do it anymore!" Mr. Reuven promised Rochele that if
she did it a few more times, he would make a box for her.
Filled with curiosity, Rochele complied. Mr. Reuven then made
a box by folding a square piece of paper. Rochele squealed
with delight. "That's neat! Please show me how you did
Mr. Reuven then taught her the `magic' of folding a plain
square piece of paper into a box. Rochele practiced a few
times until she got it right. Within a short while, Rochele
was tearing paper into squares and making box after box,
ignoring the computer games, organ and a host of other
sophisticated "guaranteed success" toys which filled the
house. That was probably the first time Rochele had
experienced the joy of making something from raw materials,
with her own hands.
Children do enjoy being creative and they are prepared to
invest time and energy into rote drillings and developing
skills. But that usually is not something the parent needs to
buy. Raw materials are cheap. Industry needs to sell items at
the highest possible price, for the greatest possible profit.
Hence the great race to sell parents expensive `educational'
games and kits, textbooks that can only be used once, and all
sorts of equipment designed to last as little time as
Industry justifies them with their style of educational
psychological philosophy. They claim that you have to make
things as easy and effortless as possible for the child so
that they can experience immediate satisfaction. What they
really mean is that you need to make it as profitable as
possible for the manufacturers and retailers.
Incidentally, equipment for the "Early Developmental Skills"
group comprised not much more than bits of wood, pieces of
string and rope, items cut from cardboard, balloons and home-
made bean bags.
And how to make that box which Mr. Reuven folded from a
square of paper? Well, you can get a book on paper-folding
which describes how to make tens or even hundreds of
different models and you can practice on pieces of scrap
paper. Or you can buy a kit of pre-folded, printed, fancy
colored paper, guaranteed to fold into the right shape the
first time you try.