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Program Design, Development, and Quality

In Serious Need of Fun


Life should be lived as play.

Summarized from Plato’s Laws, should be the mantra of every adult providing out-of-school time care for children. Childhood passes swiftly, and even more so as our nation careens down the path of testing and accountability. With Americans living on average into their 70s and 80s, the time one can spend playing without guilt passes in a blink. The childhood experience is missing fun for fun’s sake. Free play has been replaced with purposeful skill building. Pick up sports have been replaced by competitive teams. Hours of free time have turned to structure and expectations. Our children – and perhaps we—yearn to burst through stifling schedules and to run with abandon, to giggle without care, and to leap wildly–without correct form or technique–through the air. We are in serious need of FUN because:


According to the New York Times (July 2, 2013), the number of Americans who receive Social Security Disability Insurance for mental disorders has doubled during the past 15 years. An incredible 11.5 million American adults now receive a total of 150 billion direct dollars due to debilitating mental illnesses. While I am not insinuating the cause of mental illness is the lack of fun, it is important to remember the opposite is not boredom, it is depression. It is proven that good feelings flow when fun is involved, including joy, motivation, attention to the present, serenity, confidence, clarity, engagement, and delight. Mood lifting body chemicals are released with laughter, fun, and play!


Children’s Advocacy Centers report serving 287,000 child victims of abuse around the country in 2012. In a culture of sadness and hurt, where children and families are suffering, fun heals. Fun creates a distraction from pain, fear, and other burdens. Playing with others reminds us we are not alone in this world. Stuart Brown (TED, 2009) asserts, “The basis of human trust is established through play signals.” We connect with others and form the infrastructure of trust, the foundation of all positive relationships.


Play teaches children how to interact with peers, relieve stress, and cope with their surroundings. Students bond over silliness and through play. Sharing joy and laughter with others strengthens a sense of community in programs. This sense of cohesiveness provides emotional support for children in even our neediest communities and makes children WANT to attend afterschool programs.


Pleasure is an important ingredient in learning and memory as it increases dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in the brain. Play, with language and words allows children to grow in literacy skills, and play with blocks and manipulatives allow improved 3-dimensional understanding. From physical play allowing children to develop gross and fine motor skills to imagination and fantasy play allowing children’s minds to wander, fun enhances every domain of a child’s development.



Life is serious; adults are serious; school is serious. Out-of-school time is not yet regulated and policed into seriousness. We must take advantage of this freedom! Incorporate fun and play in your programs—

1. Trash (recycle) the worksheets! Make it a rule to use NONE in your program!
2. Change 2-player games into small team games and encourage collaboration.
3. Make ACTivities active! Use hands-on materials to practice skills, such as giant number lines and dice to practice adding and subtracting by standing next to numbers and stepping forward or backward.
4. Play games—board games, indoor games, outdoor games, jump rope games, hand-clapping games, line games—it does not matter—just PLAY!

Find ways, every day, to encourage laughter, enJOYment, and fun. You will be rewarded with the best program year, and your students will reap the rewards.

For breakfast I had Cheerios with raspberries!

Author: Terri Marini

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