What Makes "Fun" Fun? Insights into Children's Participation in Physical Activity

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Hopple, Christine J.
Andrews, David
Graham, George
A rapidly accumulating body of literature points to fun as an important factor in the physical activity participation choices of children. Few studies, however, have conducted systematic, in-depth investigations into what children mean when they say an activity is fun. Scanlan and Lewthwaite’s (1986) Sport Enjoyment Model was used to guide this inquiry into children’s enjoyment of physical activity in the contexts of Physical Education, organized youth, and recreation. This descriptive, mixed-methods study involved a convenience sample of 98 fourth through sixth graders from six classes in three non-traditional public schools in a mid-Atlantic state. Data collection methods included focus group and duo interviews, an activity-related drawing, and a quantitative measure including both Likert and open-ended questions. Qualitative data was inductively analyzed using comparative analysis techniques with triangulation occurring across all data sources. Findings suggest that the reasons children gave for enjoying and not enjoying physical activity were numerous, varied, and compelling in nature. Although many factors were perceived similarly by many children, others were perceived quite differently. Thus, there appears to be an idiomatic tendency of fun – that is, what each individual child will perceive to be either fun or not is particular to that specific child, with some factors being more salient than others. Contextual factors also strongly influence whether a child will find a specific physical activity to be fun or not, to the extent that these appear to have a stronger influence on the enjoyability of an activity than the activity itself. Lastly, data-gathering methods used with children (activity-oriented questions and card-sorting during focus group interviews) were very effective at stimulating discussion amongst children and uncovering what they think in a very non-threatening manner. Taken together, then, results suggest that the reasons as to why any given child will find an activity to be fun or not fun are complex, interwoven, highly individualistic, and dependent upon a number of contextual factors. Results can aid key players in developing policies and programs which hold the potential to increase children’s enjoyment in physical activity while concurrently decreasing their non-enjoyment of activity.