top of page

If You're Not Having Fun, You're Not Doing It Right

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

Adventures in Learning Podcast -- Season 1, Episode 2

Host: Dr. Diane Special Guest: Jennifer Coleman

Welcome to the launch of a brand new adventure. In the spirit of building connections, we are going to be talking to a wide range of fascinating people this season. Each episode will explore adventures in learning from a unique perspective, plus feature interesting children's literature and picture books that will pair beautifully with STEM/STEAM challenges for engaged learning. Expect to hear from teachers, authors, STEM leaders, and more. There might even be a #bestdayever surprise or two in store. Adventures in Learning Podcast Show Notes for Episode 2: If You're Not Having Fun, You're Not Doing It Right Adventures with Jennifer Coleman Episode Summary: If you're not having fun, you're probably. not doing it right! In this episode we meet Jennifer Coleman, whose adventures in learning include teaching fifth grade, leading informal education programs at a children's museum, and now serving as a college admissions counselor. Through it all, she's brought her spark, joy and laughter to playful learning. Join us as we look at the connections between play and engaged STEAM learning. Link to Episode

Some of the biggest laughs of my life have come in the company of Jen Coleman. She is Ms. Frizzle personified, full of energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and joy! We led informal education programs together for five years at a children's museum, discovering ways to bring the "wow" or "showtime" into playful learning. And we visited so many children's museums together too, playing and learning as we figured out ways to bring new ideas back home. During the height of the pandemic, when we couldn't be together in person, we communicated via zoom daily as we learned brand new skills and cranked out engaging videos and hands-on learning ideas for families and teachers stuck at home. Today, although we have both launched new adventures in learning -- she as a college admissions counselor and me as an education consultant and trainer -- we still get together for weekly walks (and healthy doses of laughter, learning, and play)! As Jen says in this podcast, "if you're not having fun, you're probably not doing it right!" I hope you have fun discovering the connections that are possible between play, engaged learning, and children's literature this week! And did I mention, we both have aspirations of adding Disney Princess to our resumes? You'll find out why around 00:41:32. Full Transcript of Episode 1 Episode Highlights:

00:53: "And so I decided by second grade that I wanted to be just like my first grade teacher and replace my second grade teacher." During the first portion of the conversation, Jen reveals her nearly lifelong ambition to be a teacher, plus she shares secret childhood career aspirations never revealed before this moment (and the two careers are oddly connected as both connect "showtime" and content to create a powerful learning experience).

04:22: As we delve deeper into our conversation, we discover that the picture books we loved as children (The Monster at the End of This Book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Peter's Chair, The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie) reflected our experiences, our personalities, and our worldviews at the time. And there's an appreciation for our younger siblings, Shane and Kristie, and how they also shaped our reactions to the picture books that formed our windows and mirrors on the world. (Side Note: thank you, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, for shaping our world view and impacting the way we both try to help our learners connect children's literature and hands-on learning to this day).

Note: As an Affiliate* I earn from qualifying purchases. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. [08:56] Meet Ms. Frizzle! Jen shares the real-life inspiration (her eighth grade science teacher Mrs. Schiavone, who showed her science was magical and fun. "She (Mrs. Schiavone) walked in on the first day with a cape on, and turned the lights out and turned a bunson burner on and threw something at the bunson burner, and it like sparkled and crackled and glowed. And it was amazing. And she told the story about how science has always been magic, and she just transformed it from being a dull thing in a textbook...She made it exciting, so literally that first class that I was hooked." As someone who taught side by side with Jen, I've seen her channel her eighth grade science teacher many a time! She constantly modeled the fun that could be had combining costumes and drama and hands-on learning, and PLAY!

14:15: Play is at the heart of building strong connections between engaged STEM/STEAM

learning and children's literature. "As a teacher, you know that you're supposed to connect the prior knowledge to relate to something that they already know, but I think that if it relates in a way that's fun and joyful as well, if the learning experiences attach to a feeling, I think that they stick a little bit longer. So I think that play and learning should go hand in hand honestly," Jen reminds us. We explore playful learning through Jen's fifth grade lessons about the American Revolution (16:19) and my preschool explorations of discovery with my budding astronauts (22:03). Some of the books we reference during this conversation include:

Note: As a Associate* I earn from qualifying purchases. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

[25:52] Dr. Diane: "And I love the fact that there are so many multicultural picture books and multicultural stories that are available too. I think all too often in our textbooks there are so many voices that have been silenced, and this is a wonderful opportunity to develop empathy and be able to see things from another perspective as well." As we consider the engaging lessons we are sharing with our students this year, let's not shy away from looking for books that help bring new voices and perspectives to the table.

[27:57] As former classroom educators who became informal educators in a museum setting, both Jen and I learned early on how to connect showtime, play, and learning. In this portion of the conversation, we share some of the strategies we used to center playful learning as a way to engage and motivate student engagement (and they got the content too!).

At [29:14] we discuss how playful learning leads to what Steve Spangler calls making it a "best day ever". If you make it to the dinner table, then you've succeeded. If you can do those hands-on activities and build those connections, create the wow, then, as an educator, you've got a shot at being someone's best day ever and making it to the dinner table (or at least setting the stage for engaged learning). Also, side note, if you aren't following Steve Spangler on social, you're missing out on some amazing science and STEM ideas!

We also discuss ways our students learned resilience through the playful attitude that embodied our classes (waterfalls in the ceiling [29:50] or dinosaur digs as a result of basement floods [30:59], anyone?)

[35:10] We begin to explore how play and ongoing learning impacts our adventures in learning as adults -- outside of our classroom experiences. Ms. Frizzle re-enters the conversation as we talk about ways we've both begun exploring new ideas -- and the value of being welling to get messy and make mistakes. And if you ever need your kitchen tiled, you might want to check out what Jen has to say about her latest project at [36:34].

[38:10] Circling back to the conversation about picture books that soothed us as children and some of the wonderful picture books available today, I took a moment to highlight a wonderful picture book that's coming out this month that explores the endless possibilities each child has — and I think it goes for adults too. It’s called Patchwork by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Corinna Luyken. It’s for all those kids who don't necessarily follow a direct path in life, but who try a little something here and a little something there. They're the patchwork kids and they may try something and fail, and that's okay. That’s part of the learning adventure. That's part of our process, too, as we all get to our destination from a different perspective. Jen: "The path that you take doesn't have to be a direct path, and more than likely it won't be, and if you look around and you talk to people you meet, you’re gonna find their path wasn't very direct, either." And that's why it's an ongoing adventure in learning. I love the notion that we're always learning and we’re always building these connections, and no experience is wasted. If you aren't already following Matt de la Pena, he's @mattdelapena on Instagram and his website is full of wonderful information. [43:14] At the end of the podcast conversation, Jen shared a few strategies she's learned over the course of her career. They boil down to:

  • If you're not having fun you're probably not doing it right.

  • Add a soundtrack to everyday life for more playfulness.

  • Explore like there aren't any rules.

I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did. Thank you, Jen Coleman, for sharing so much joy and wisdom on this Adventure in Learning.

If you have voices or topics that you would like to see featured in the podcast, please email me at

Please visit to learn more about how I help early childhood and elementary educators and librarians build connections between STEAM and multicultural picture books for engaged learning. Now booking keynotes, conference presentations, and professional development workshops for the 2022-23 school year. Hey, early childhood and elementary school teachers and librarians -- are you looking for ways to spice up your curriculum, build connections with engaged STEAM learners, and introduce multicultural versions of fairy tales and folk literature? If so, check out my on-demand virtual course, Beyond Ever After. * Affiliate Program: I love sharing news about children's books, and helping families find great books for their kids. It is my passion, and I spend a great deal of time sharing my thoughts on my social media reels, blog, and podcast. I am a participant in's affiliate program as a way to generate a small amount of income from my work. On each post, I also share links so families can find books at their public library and local bookstores. I also support my favorite independent bookstores, Winchester Book Gallery,Mahogany Books, and Books of Wonder, buying personal books there and sending locals to shop.

18 views0 comments


bottom of page