School is fun! Reading is fun! Math is fun! Teachers often try to convince their students that school, their subject, and learning, in general, are fun. Sometimes though, the kids aren’t buying it. Unfortunately, telling someone something is fun doesn’t really make it so. If you head to the dentist for a root canal and he enthusiastically tells you: “ Open wide! This is going to be so much fun!” You probably aren’t going to suddenly become excited about your procedure. Luckily for teachers, learning, while challenging, actually can be fun. Especially if you add in some humor.
It seems that school today is more stressful than fun. Ask a kindergartener if they like school and they usually will reply with an ardent “‘Yes!” By mid-elementary (and sadly, sometimes sooner) most kids start to fake sick, ask for a day off and whine “I don’t want to go to school!” Why is this? Is it because the subject matter increases in difficulty as students age? Arguably learning your letters and learning to read in the early grades is just as difficult as it is to learn trigonometry in high school. And since when did something being hard discourage a child who was really interested in their subject? Kids who are interested in something will stick with it until it’s done. Have you ever seen a child build an intricate building out of legos? Talk about focus and hard work!
Is it really important to have fun at school? Leading experts say yes. In an interview for Edutopia magazine, Ed Dunkelblau, former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor said, “In the present environment of high stakes testing, budgetary challenges, increased demands on educators and competition for students attention, everyone in the school benefits when humor is part of the pedagogy. Humor builds a learning relationship through the joyful confluence of head and heart.” Students that are in a safe, comfortable, positive environment feel much more comfortable taking risks and this helps increase their learning.
So, how can you establish a fun, positive, humor-filled classroom? Read on for a few suggestions that will have you smiling in no time.
Take Care of Yourself
Seriously. I know you don’t have time. I know you have papers to grade, that parent to call, those behavior trackers to fill out and the school psychologist just gave you a packet of papers so long you’d think you were applying for a mortgage. The truth though is that you cannot give what you don’t have. Get enough sleep. Eat some nutritious food, (but don’t get rid of that chocolate stash in your top desk drawer!) Read a book. Take the weekend off. Spending all your time working can very quickly kill your love for that work. So genuinely take care of yourself, ok?
Make it a Game
Teacher vs. Class, boys against girls, red team vs. blue team: A little healthy competition can fire up interest in learning very quickly! Almost any subject (and even behavior) can be turned into a game, so get creative!
Laugh at Yourself
Remember that time you wore your shirt inside out and backward? (No? Just me?) Well, instead of rushing off to the bathroom and discretely fixing it, announce it to the class with an “Oh my goodness! Look what I did, haha!” Students of all ages appreciate seeing that their teacher is human and makes mistakes just like they do.
Props are so easy to incorporate into the classroom in our highly digital world. A funny hat, a magic wand, or some silly glasses can grab a child’s attention. Electronic ‘props’ also work well. Gifs, short videos, etc. related to the content you are teaching help break up the monotony of tasks like learning new vocabulary or spelling words.
Jokes, Riddles and Maybe Even a Trick or Two
Jokes and riddles are great language learning tools and can get kids laughing. Find a funny comic strip to share or tell a great joke related to your content area. Simple, funny pranks (nothing mean here!) on days like April fools can be a fun way to bring some laughs into the classroom as well.
You don’t have to be a clown, but you do have to genuinely have fun yourself. If you aren’t having fun and enjoying yourself, kids will see right through it. When you model your love of learning for your students, they will learn to love it also.
Tell Your Stories.
You know you have them. So, maybe your life has been a little ‘boring.’ It’s ok to embellish a little and chances are good that the most mundane thing will be highly interesting to your students (remember, some of the younger ones think you live at school and are flabbergasted when they see you at the grocery store!) Students love to hear about your life and laugh at any funny experiences you’ve had along the way. Again, it humanizes you which helps create that positive relationship that is so conducive to learning.
Let Students Share their Humor
Edutopia suggests encouraging students to bring in jokes, funny books, and even to create their own jokes. You might have to fake it until you make it on this one, as a 9-year-old’s jokes may not be quite your style, but you can usually at least muster a chuckle for their effort.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to humor in the classroom. A simple Pinterest search can be a black hole of ideas. Just remember to find your own joy in the classroom so you can pass that joy on to your students.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.