‘Happy Fun Time’ Is a Fake-Believe Game Show That Tricks Kids Into Learning

They'll be laughing so hard they won't even realize they're getting smarter.

by Brett Ortler

‘Happy Fun Time’ is a fake game show that’s ‘taped’ in your living-room studio and is designed to trick your kids into learning. It involves a madcap host — that’s you — leading a group of contestants (your kid and partner) in one of the rare activities for kids that’s both entertaining and insightful, at least for a kindergartener. So throw your voice, channel your inner Alex Trebek, and call the contestants on down.

Prep Time: Less than five minutes

Entertainment Time: Twenty minutesEnergy Expended by Child: Moderate

What You Need:

  • A whiteboard and dry-erase markers, or an easel with poster paper and markers.
  • A zany getup/silly hat for the host; last year’s Halloween garb usually works.
  • The material/curriculum you want to quiz your kiddos on; for us, it’s a mix of sight words from Kindergarten and shapes/letters for our toddler.
  • Stuffed animals/items from the toy box to serve as prizes.

How to Play:

Start by making the game board. I usually draw a 4×4 grid of 16 squares, but any number will do. The more squares, the longer the game. Fill in each square with a vocabulary word, a shape, an arithmetic problem, etc. After the kids take their seats in front of the board, choose an absurd name and introduce yourself as a host, as well as the program’s ‘nightly sponsor.’ Then ask the contestants for their names, and if they’re old enough, maybe a ridiculous fun fact about each. They can pick silly names or use their own, but write them all on the board for keeping score. If your spouse/partner is playing, have them choose a name as well, but make a point of garbling it badly (or changing it) and insisting that your pronunciation or the new name is correct. (For example, no matter what name my wife chooses, I always say, “OK, Deborah, that’s great!”).

Now explain the rules: Contestants buzz in by raising their hands, and they get one point for each correct answer. Start easy by asking, “Does anyone know a word on the board? (excluding their names, of course). When the first hand shoots up, let the child answer, and if they get it right you give them a point and celebrate wildly. If they don’t, help them out and issue half points as necessary, so they don’t get discouraged. Cross out that box on the board and proceed to the next child. If you’re only playing with one kid, introduce a plush “contestant” or two and have them give silly answers on its behalf.

Eventually, you’ll arrive at your spouse/partner who should serve as the comic relief. It’s their job to give wildly incorrect answers ⏤ the funnier and more random, the better. My wife’s shtick is to make the words on the board more complicated than they actually are — so ‘can’ becomes ‘candy and instead of answering ‘we,’ she always confidently yells out ‘weirdo!’ Be sure to overreact to these wrong answers in true deadpan, but scathing, Alex Trebek-style and then proceed to give that person negative points. Our kids love when I do so capriciously — “Deborah, I’m afraid you’re at –32.” Once the board is empty (all the boxes are crossed out), tally up the score and issue ‘prizes’ to each person, making a big show of handing them out. Then either play again or have the kids help clean up the paper or erase the whiteboard.

Wrap Up:

‘Happy Fun Time’ is a silly, fun way to get your kids focused on learning. If you play enough and incorporate their actual school curriculum, you’ll be surprised how fast they pick up the material. Eventually, they may want to host. If so, let them — it’s hilarious. And it’s fun to watch them mug for the audience. Not only were we amazed when our kindergartener, who as the host, wrote out full sentences on the board, but his hilariously dismayed reactions when Deborah invariably got even the simplest questions wrong were worth the price of admission.