Is there anything more adorable in this world than a baby’s laugh? Even the most hard-hearted Scrooge will crack a smile when faced with their unabashed giggles and round shaking bellies. Laughter is catching, no doubt, especially when it comes from a sweet cherub, but is laughter essential? Other than adding some fun to life, do we need laughter? Does it help us in any way? Most importantly for teachers, will laughter help our students learn?
The answer is yes. Laughter is hard-wired into us from soon after birth. No matter the culture or country a baby is born and raised in, by three months old that baby will be giggling. What’s more, before their 1st birthday babies try to get others to laugh, becoming little comedians right from the start. If laughter is a universal part of the human experience and it is hard wired within us, it must be necessary. What makes it so valuable? We know when a baby cries her purpose it is to get her basic needs met; but what does laughter do for us as individuals and as a species?
What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear! (Lucy, age 4)
When starting a speech, going out on a date, or meeting a new friend, people often use humor to break the ice. But why? It turns out that laughter is a social experience. In a synopsis of studies on laughter, Gina C. Mireault mentions that babies were found to laugh not only at things they believed to be funny but also to laugh at things that others reacted to as funny (Mireault, G [Scientific American Mind]. 2017 May/June.) In turn, their parents repeated those hilarious actions or sounds, and it became a beautiful cycle of laughter and connection.
The implications for the classroom are huge. In class we work together, we play together, and we learn together. Each class has its own personality. While each child has their own personality, so does the class as a whole. The bond of shared experiences creates a classroom culture. Have you ever shared an inside joke with a friend? One of you says “Remember the time….” You and your buddy end up laughing until you can barely breathe while everyone around you looks at you with no idea what could be so hilarious. That feeling of camaraderie between you and your friend is useful in a classroom as well.
What is black and white and has 16 wheels? A zebra on roller skates! (Allie, age 11)
Abraham Maslow, a prominent psychologist, created his famed ‘hierarchy.’ His theory claimed that if someone’s basic needs were not met, they could not respond to their higher needs. If you’ve taught a kid that is struggling with issues in their home life, you’ll recognize how important it is to meet a child’s basic needs before they can learn. Beyond basic needs for food and water, our students need to feel safe, loved, and positive about themselves in the classroom. Incorporating humor into the classroom assists in meeting meet all of these needs. Laughter helps us relax and can move us out of ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ mode. Laughter helps us build our relationships, making the classroom a place where students feel loved and feel that they belong. When students get their needs met, they can learn at an astounding rate. Laughter is a powerful tool that aids in this process.
What did the mother buffalo say to her baby? Bye son! (Hannah, age 9)
Laughter takes some skill. Researchers found that babies would often laugh at things that were different than what they were expecting. Comparing and contrasting situations, objects and other items is a skill that children need to apply across subjects in their school years. Learning to read, do long division, or memorize the elements of the periodic table is much easier (and much less tedious) with some humor. When we laugh, it helps us remember things. It creates an emotional component that is key to building memories. For example, who doesn’t remember Bill Nye the Science Guy from their primary years? And why? He was funny! He made jokes and did all kinds of silly experiments. When we are having fun, we remember it, which makes laughter an important component to incorporate when teaching.
Laughter is a critical part of who we are. It is an innate part of our species that shows up in babies very early on. Laughter enriches our lives and helps us learn. Humor and laughter are essential. Include some humor in your classroom, get your students laughing, smile, and enjoy the funny things and you will have a classroom full of learning and laughter.
Amy Curletto has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.