Utilising giggles in the classroom

Julia Sharman

Julia has over 30 years’ experience working in the education sector as a specialist and advisory teacher for SEND and mental health. Previously a Local Authority Coordinator leading on educational projects and community learning in the public, private and voluntary sectors and freelance writer. She is a specialist teacher for children with dyslexia and an Advisory Teacher for children with mental health issues and medical and health needs.

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Laughter can be a powerful agent of education. Here, teacher and SEN guru Julia Sharman examines why giggles in the classroom are not to be dismissed, and that a child’s fun-loving nature ought to be embraced.

There’s nothing like the sound of children’s laughter. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are up to no good; it means they are happy and having fun. If you hear the sound of laughter coming from a classroom when walking down the corridor, you’re almost compelled to find out what they are enjoying so much. So, are ‘giggles in the classroom’ a positive thing?

It’s a rhetorical question of course. Undoubtedly, it is a positive thing unless the class are out-of-control and it’s causing behaviour issues. Laughter is contagious. It makes learning enjoyable. Think back to your own school days… we all remember the great lessons, the engaging teacher and things that were funny. A great lesson makes pupils feel good. They’ll come out of class talking about how good it was.

Humour and laughter can play a crucial part in learning and make significant contributions to a child’s development. Paul McGhee (2002) reports that, ‘humour is a form of intellectual play’. It helps to develop imagination, vocabulary, creative thinking and social interaction. When bringing humour into the classroom, we need to ensure that the level of humour is appropriate and matches the child’s developmental level. This changes significantly as the child gets older. Laughter is infectious. It brings pupils together and helps strengthen relationships.

The importance of helping children learn in a safe and enjoyable environment is paramount. Give them worksheet after worksheet they quickly switch off, become bored and disengaged. How can you develop a child’s imagination if they’re faced with a dull lesson? If you’re not enjoying it, they’re probably not either. There have been infinite studies over the years of how children learn and different styles of learning. It’s a sure thing that happy children learn. A happy learning environment can help children build foundation skills to overcome negative feelings such as anxiety, depression, anger, panic, jealousy, guilt and shame, to name a few.

Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress and pain. It helps to provide good mental health by promoting an improved self-esteem, self-confidence and a general sense of well-being, giving them skills that help them learn to approach and cope with difficult or challenging tasks. It also gives them a sense of belonging, improves mood, enhances resilience and releases inhibitions

If you can make a child laugh they feel comfortable with you and you’ve got them on your side. Having their confidence also means they are more receptive to constructive or positive criticism, and are more likely to view this as you helping them. Be mindful of when humour is not appropriate, e.g., if the humour demeans a child’s self-esteem or the humour is at the expense of a child.

Incorporating humour into the classroom must complement and not detract from the aim and learning objective of the lesson. Humour alone cannot save a poorly-planned lesson! Making learning fun motives children to learn. It increases interest, motivation, attention, excitement and interaction between teacher and pupil, and participation. It can bring a class together. Provide opportunities that pique children’s curiosity. Children generally love games, gadgets and competitions. Instead of the typical ‘Friday test’ tell them you’re having a quiz… same questions but they’re more likely to rise to the challenge! Humour can be overdone. It is best if it is interspersed otherwise pupils will be waiting from the next gag rather than concentrating on the content of the lesson.

There are physiological benefits to laughter as well, but that’s another study.

Do you use humour as a part of your lessons? Let us know in the comments below.

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