Picture this: seventeen-year-old boys–boys who are studying to become auto mechanics, no less–running through the halls looking for the letters to a “secret word” hidden in poems posted throughout the school. Irish music blasts through the intercom speakers as they work together to find the green letters in the poems and then unscramble them into the secret word: LEPRECHAUN! They triumphantly return to the main entrance to share the secret word and claim their prize (a few pieces of candy).

This was the scene on St. Patrick’s Day at my career and technical high school. Teenagers running and laughing, trying to figure out the “secret word” from limericks that some of my colleagues and I wrote and hung at the door to each classroom. Pictured below is the limerick from outside the main office. It took us a few lunch periods to write them, and the fun our students had in the silly scavenger hunt made that small sacrifice of our time totally worth it!

St. Patty's Day Fun

Why am I telling you about our St. Patty’s Day shenanigans? Because I firmly believe that schools need to bring back fun, now more than ever.

I know that some of you may be thinking, “My students are so far behind, and I have so much curriculum to cover, I don’t have time for fun!” I’m not here to diminish the issue of learning loss in many of our students. I have seen it acutely in my 11th graders this year, most of whom have not been in a school building since March of their first year. However, I have also had many of those same teenagers admit to me the anxiety that they feel in school and the lack of motivation that comes with that. A recent meta-analysis showed that the “prevalence of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents around the world has doubled from pre-pandemic levels to 25.2% and 20.5% respectively.”

Most educators know the saying “Maslow before Blooms,” and it definitely applies to this school year. If our students are feeling anxious and unmotivated, they simply will not be able to perform as well academically. We must first attend to their basic need for safety and belonging before diving into the curriculum.

One way to help ease anxiety, build a sense of belonging, and increase motivation is through fun. When students participate in creative, fun activities, it can help ease anxiety by increasing dopamine levels. Fun can also increase student motivation, build relationships, and create a sense of community within a classroom or even the school as a whole. Building relationships and a sense of community have proven repeatedly to help reduce stress and anxiety among students.

As we head into the end of the year, which for many of us signifies the stressful standardized testing season, now is the perfect time to consider how to infuse our classrooms with moments of joy and fun. It could benefit our students and us alike. To help you along, I compiled some ideas below, inspired by real teachers and schools who brought the fun.

Spirit Week or Dress up Days

A blog about fun wouldn’t be complete without dress up days, right? Whether it’s a single day like, “Superheroes and Snowman Day” or connected to a spirit week (both pictured below), kids of all ages love to dress up. When choosing said days, we just need to be sure we are being culturally sensitive. The teacher blog More Than Thursdays provides some perspective on this issue and offers some great ideas for “themed days.”School Dress Up DaySesame Street Dress Up Day

Friendly Competition

I don’t know about you, but I have found that nothing motivates students like a little bit of friendly competition. At my school, we held a door decorating contest leading up to winter break with the theme of “Winter Wonderland.” We were all pleasantly surprised at how engaged our students were in the process and genuinely impressed by the doors they produced. Check out the winning door below created by the Auto Body class. Yes, they used tires to create a wreath and tree! This teacher blog provides more, simple contest ideas. In addition, if you want to up the ante and participate in a national contest, check out this comprehensive list of contests for all different age ranges and subjects.Door Decorating Contest

Virtual Field Trips

Did you know you could take a virtual tour of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or the famous Louvre in Paris? Well, the magic of technology can make it happen. In fact, We Are Teachers compiled 31 educational virtual field trip ideas for teachers. Most are free and could be done in connection to an assignment or project or just for fun.

Reward Days

With state testing in full swing in many schools, rewarding students who are studying and prepping hard is a perfect way to help alleviate some of the test anxiety and stress. Oftentimes, however, rewards can relate to food, particularly unhealthy foods. Nevertheless, there are many options for whole-class rewards that don’t involve food. Check out the amazing teacher below who let her students have a blanket fort day! For even more non-food ideas check out this teacher blog.Fort Day At School

Outdoor Learning

After the pandemic forced many families to remain indoors and many students to learn from home, learning outside is a welcome change of pace for students and teachers alike. As a recent article from Harvard School of Education pointed out, learning outdoors, as long as the learning tasks are carefully structured, can have a calming effect on students and result in more learning and less behavioral problems. This Edutopia article on creating a joyful classroom promotes outdoor learning days as one of the ways to add fun and reduce stress. It also offers concrete ideas for how to connect your curriculum to outdoor activities. With spring in the air, it’s a perfect time to get outside!

Author

Megan Panek is a secondary Language Arts teacher and instructional coach. She currently teaches and coaches at a career and technical education (CTE) center in Virginia and believes in CTE with all her heart. She considers herself a life-long learner and is always looking to improve her craft.”

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