“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” -Pianist and humorist, Victor Borge
We have all heard it…that wonderful sound of a child’s laughter. It can brighten your day and change your mood. We know the power of changing the mood of a difficult situation with kind humor and a touch of silliness. Now with recent brain research we are finding the many benefits of laughter and children.
Here are a few interesting facts: Laughter increases learning and the retention of idea. This means that children pay attention to an activity when it is fun or even funny. And because they are enjoying themselves they will remember the information more easily. Playing with a concept is much more successful than drilling children.
Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain, thus enabling children to understand a message or thought faster and to remember it longer. In activities that encourage laughter, children actual use both the creative and the critical thinking of both sides of the brain. This balanced combination creates the perfect learning environment even for very difficult topics and calculations. It also has been found that laughter stimulates the nervous and respiratory system. Have you ever found yourself in a deep belly laugh and feeling out of breath? A good laugh gets the systems moving and working together in coordinated symmetry. And of course, laughter encourages children to think in creative ways and use their imagination to solve problems. When we say something in a silly way or make a mistake we open the door for the child to think in new ways. This is the essence of school success! You can use this chart to think about all these benefits:
When a child… He or she is…
laughs and giggles… releasing tension
plays with words… developing language
tells a joke… using rules of conversation
repeats a rhyme… reproducing language patterns
sings a silly song… playing with absurdities
shares a funny story… building social connections
Humor Builds Interest
Recent studies on the importance of “building interest” in young learners point to humor as a factor in creating interested learners. If children get bored with activities that are not energizing and invigorating they start to loose interest. Repetitive skill and drill activities can be deadly for interest level. Humor keeps children involved as they pay closer attention to the activity and stay longer and work harder too. Make a silly mistake with an activity to see if the child can correct you. This actually is an effective learning strategy that helps children make connection between old and new knowledge.
Humor is Food for the Brain
When a child (or anyone) laughs, the flow of blood increases to the brain. How do you feel after a good laugh? Usually we feel energized and alert. If you are working on a challenging task with children… take a break and do a silly round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” or some other fun song to break the tension and sharpen the mind. Humor can set the stage for learning by helping children release tension and focus on the task at hand. Just a touch of humor, silliness or surprise can actually increase the brain’s receptivity to learning. I have been known to put the book on top of my head or start to read it upside down. It works every time to get children’s attention and interest.
I’ve Got a Joke
Most young children are not very good at telling jokes but that doesn’t stop them from trying. They love a joke that has a pattern such as the simple “Knock, Knock” jokes. Don’t expect the “punch line” to make sense. Most young children will just say anything for the “who is there” part and then breakout in rounds of giggles. Sometimes children will pick up on a patter of riddle and use it in a joke such as “What did the cat say to the dog?” Often they won’t even wait for the answer.. they will just start giggling! Children’s use of humor tells you a great deal about their cognitive and linguistic (language) abilities. They know enough about words to be able to manipulate them! When children play with jokes they work with language and this is essential to reading and writing.
Read Humorous Books
How do you include more humor with children? Start by reading books with humorous stories. Children love to hear stories about animals that do unexpected things or a child who keeps making mistakes. Very popular are the “Amelia Bedelia” books by Peggy Parish or the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. My current favorite…and a book I read in most of my keynote speeches and a workshop…is called “The Book Without Pictures” by B.J. Novak. Its playful approach to using language has everyone giggling! Remember to have children join in the reading. Perhaps there is a silly sound effect that can be made or a word or phrase that can be repeated. Whenever you empower children to participate in the story telling you are building the connections in the brain.
Young children are great at “slapstick” type of humorous movements. They love to make up a silly walk, or run or a silly hand movement. Sometimes they will use these to cover a mistake or to get your attention but don’t worry… these are all normal behaviors that young children use to explore humor and their bodies. The use of physical humor shows that children are actually acquiring enough motor control and coordination necessary to purposefully “appear uncoordinated”. Plus they are seeing how movement can create a response!
When you look at all the thinking, speaking and moving skills to use humor you can see why it is an important part of children’s learning experiences. So the next time a child makes you laugh, thank them for thinking!