Creative Use of Humor in Education by Stephen Kissell

Adults average 15 laughs a day.  Children laugh 400 times a day.  Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose 385 laughs a day.   - Allen Klein

Our first grade class was heading for the cafeteria where we were to sample to day's surprise cuisine. 

"Mr. Kissell?" said February (yes, that is her real name. . . guess what month she was born)  sounding distressed. 

"Yes?" I replied, in a hurry to beat Mrs. Anderson's class to lunch. 

"Mr. Kissell, there are ants in my lunch box."  Ants in her lunch box?  OK, probably just a few.  I'll just brush them off, and we will be on our way, right?

Wrong.  Opening her lunch box, I was greeted with an insect collector's dream.  An entire colony had found a home in this precious girl's lunch.  I quickly rinsed the ants down the drain, unable even to save her drink. Tiny tears flowed down her cheeks as she gazed up at me for a solution to her problem. 

"February," I said, "the lunch box is all cleaned out.  When we pass the office on the way to the cafeteria, you can slip in and ask for a charge slip."  About midway in the sentence I began to aggressively scratch my back, legs, and stomach. 

"What's wrong?" February asked.

The itching increased.  "I don't know," I said.  "I think I have ants in my pants."

As you might guess, I really didn't have ants in my pants, and February no longer had a disaster on her hands.  I had used laughter to reduce her doubts and fears, not to make fun of her dilemma, but to alleviate her anxiety.  The ants were disposed of; lunch was solved with a charge slip; and humor provided by the presence of ants in the teacher's pants.

Many times each day, teachers encounter similar problems in their classrooms.  Often, a kind word and a bit of wit provides a simple solution.  This can teach a child a valuable lesson not found in any textbook - the lesson of using humor to help out a stressful situation.  We need to teach children that it's all right to laugh at our daily problems.  In fact, it's healthy!  Laughter is the great communicator and stress reliever.

If adults laugh only 15 times a day and children laugh 400 times, what's happened to the other 385?  Perhaps they've been lost in such statements as "You must take your job more seriously!" And let's not forget the ever popular "Firing will continue until morale is raised."
Statements and attitudes like these really do affect our morale, and ultimately, our teaching ability.  Let's face it: a happy teacher is a productive teacher!  That's why it's so important to insert humor into as many lesson plans as possible.

I remember one student named Tory who was frightened by books.  He could not make any sense out of these strange things that decorated our kindergarten classroom.

After lunch one day, I prepared for that favorite event - story time.  I reached behind me for the book that was customarily there and found, to my surprise, that it was gone.  Not wanting to lose any time searching, I reached for and picked up an imaginary book.  "Today's story is about the invisible book."  The children sat in disbelief as I read the title and began to turn the imaginary pages while reading.  Several of the students had the strangest looks on their faces, looks of surprise and confusion, looks that seems to say, "Mr. K has finally gone off his rocker."

After I completed the story, a boy spoke up.  "No way, Mr. K! There was no book there!"

"Really?" I replied. "Tell me, what was the name of the book?"

"The Invisible Book," he answered.  "What was the name of the author?"  He even remembered it.  I asked the others the names of the characters, the plot, the problem, and how it was solved.  They knew all the answers.  Why?  Because they had to rely on their imagination to see the cover, pages, and the pictures.

When we completed the discussion, I set the imaginary book on the chalkboard ledge and told them that during center time they could take turns reading it to each other, but no fighting over the book.  I couldn't believe that they actually started to fight, each wanting to read the imaginary book to each other.

Tory eventually had his chance, and to my delight, sat perched on a stool singing and sharing the book with the others.  He made up an entire story with pictures while the others sat in amazement.  They were entertained by his newly acquired skill as a master storyteller.  Later, to my surprise, Tory's lack of anxiety about the imaginary book was transferred to real books.  He found that he could recognize several works from time to time and talk on them.  I believe that humor played a key role in his reading development.

Laughter does not have to be limited to the classroom.  In our school, humor has spread into the administration office.  Lou Page, our assistant principal, gives a typical example of counseling two students involved in a fight.  The aggressor was discussing what had started the fight.  A student said something offensive to this child, and in retaliation he began physically assaulting the other child.

"I want you to say, Mr. Page, you have a big nose," said Page.  The child sat in confusion.

"Don't be afraid to say it; you won't get into any trouble," Page assured him. The child reluctantly whispered it.

"I want you to yell it at me."

The student did. Page then asked, "Am I mad?  Am I hitting you?" As the discussion progressed, the student realized that words can't really hurt and that there were other ways to respond than with violence.

Humor can also be shared with the faculty as well.  In our lounge each month, I placed an enlarged cartoon mounted on cardboard with the caption removed. At the top of the poster I attached a marker and place a title: Write Your Own Caption! Teachers had the opportunity to express their creativity. Many times their captions were much better than the original. We have great fun with this activity.

Faculty members have discovered that there are many humorous activities that can lighten up the educational process. One teacher had a day set aside for "Show and Smell," a time to bring fun and smelly things in a zip-lock bag. The entire hallway radiated with pleasant smells.  Throughout the day visitors were drawn to the classroom like bees to a flower.

Another teacher assigns the students to bring in funny or happy newspaper articles. Still another uses knock-knock jokes as a writing assignment. The students write, edit, rewrite, and present them to the class orally.

Our faculty lounge is used during lunchtime for a "Did I tell you the one about . . .?" or "One of my students said the funniest thing." Do you have a lounge filled with complaints and negative comments? Change it into a fun place to be where you can get your batteries charged instead of drained. If necessary, you may want to have a table set aside and labeled NO GRIPING TABLE.

As educators, working in classrooms filled with children that suffer from every problem imaginable, we find ourselves needing our sense of humor renewed and fed each day. Using laughter in the classroom and with the faculty will brighten your day as well as that of those around you. The learning climate will be enhanced and the retention rate of the students increased. Laugh a little - and learn a lot.