(post by Dov Stucker, BCL Faculty)
When my oldest daughter was four, there was a long stretch of time – weeks on end – when each day after school she would ask me what games I played, who I played with, or what I did that was fun. Although I didn’t want to disappoint her, the fact is that most of the time, I didn’t have an answer. It’s not that the time I shared with my students wasn’t valuable. If you asked anyone in my 9th grade Social Studies class, they might report that the course was interesting, engaging, challenging, or relevant… Still, I’m not sure how many of them would have mentioned “fun,” at least as one of their first few adjectives. After a few days of coming up with creative answers to my daughter’s questions, it became harder and harder to face the reality: “fun” just wasn’t baked into my daily experience.
As you’ve seen from past posts (highlighting everything from real-world research to circle practice to consulting on city policies), the Burlington City & Lake Semester takes advantage of our unique learning environment to approach school a little differently. Along with experiential, collaborative, place-based learning, we have committed to an ongoing investment in connection, joy, and play.
Every two weeks, our BCL community sets aside time for for Fun Block. The only “rule” of Fun Block is that the fun has to be inclusive. Fun brings us together, building bridges. It also inoculates us against apathy. Fun Block is an investment in resilience, too. When individuals are struggling – with attendance, with engagement, with follow-through – it’s often the fact that we’ve played together, laughed together, and seen one another with our guards let down that allows anyone to step up as a potential ally. We are stronger because we play.
We are also better learners. This is key, since much of the BCL experience is collaborative, and working in groups is always challenging. (Ask any adult in the work world; if they’re honest, they’ll tell you that group work doesn’t necessarily get any easier over time!) But if you’ve played with the people you’re working with, the level of trust, vulnerability, and support in that group is inordinately deeper. We’ve seen it.
Because of this, Fun Block – and the fun we find in little moments, throughout the day – is not a diversion, not a trade-off in which learning is lost. It literally makes us better learners, and a more capable and caring learning community.
And just as important, I now have an an answer for my daughter when she asks what games I played at work.
The main reason I liked fun block was because it gave our class the opportunity to connect and bond with each-other in a non academic setting. Everyone seemed a lot more comfortable with themselves and each-other when we were having a dance party in the kitchen or playing games at the park. It also was a chance to learn about my peers and get taught new games. My favorite fun block experience was probably the day we made smoothies because everyone was laughing and making some crazy new flavors.
Having Fun Block in BCL is very valuable and creates a very strong sense of community. We get to step out of the context of school and get to know each other in different ways as just teenagers or kids. During our semester, Fun Block was mostly student-led, and it was definitely something that I looked forward to. It provided an opportunity to get to know each other better and it pushed us beyond our smaller groups. As the semester progressed, our community strengthened so much that people in the program were more like friends, rather than just classmates. As a quiet and not very outgoing person, I looked forward to Fun Block partly because it was a low-risk opportunity to push myself out a bit in a structured yet unstructured environment.
One of my favorite fun blocks was what I’m pretty sure was the first one we ever did. We went to Calahan Park and had snacks and played SPUD and various other games. It was still at the beginning of the semester when we still weren’t very comfortable with each other, but it was an essential and valuable part of my BCL experience. By taking these pauses every other week to focus on the relationships rather than the learning, it built up our community and therefore made the learning part of BCL better.
Fun Block is a valuable and important part of the BCL experience. When we all hang out together with the sole goal of having fun and doing a fun activity, it really de-stresses people and allows them to connect in ways they wouldn’t otherwise have done. I love that some Fun Blocks are student driven because it allows us to shape what we think would be fun. But I like that not all of the Fun Blocks are student ideas because then we get to do stuff like improv comedy with Margo Austin. This was an activity that was really fun, and one that I don’t think any of us students would have thought of or supported initially.
For me, Fun Block was probably one of the most important parts of building our BCL community, alongside Circle and our art project. Playing games, and sharing food, especially sharing food, brought us together in a way that classwork could not. While having serious and deep conversations helped build trust, I would say that laughing and food did just as much.
Many of my favourite memories of BCL came from Fun Blocks. The day we played Survival was probably the first day I went home and really felt like we were a community, and our Thanksgiving feast and lunch with Mulu were two of my other favourite memories. I’m not sure what it was about food, but I think that eating the food we had made TOGETHER had a unique impact on us and my feeling of our connectedness.
I think a big part of building a great community is being able to be completely goofy together, and Fun Block let us do that in a way that we, as students, got to dictate. I think it made us much stronger as a community that cared about each person not only as a student but as a complete human being.
“Play is the highest form of research.”
~ Albert Einstein