Learning with Laughter
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011




While Mary Poppins espoused a spoon full of sugar to help 'everything' go down, I have found laughter to be the ultimate motivator and catalyst for learning, interacting and for building relationships of all sorts (human relationships, relationships with sports, fears, academic interests, etc.).

Research: A Laughing Matter

  • Laughing is a reaction (often to stress or some cognitive dissonance) which serves as an emotional balancing mechanism.
  • Laughter is believed to be linked with the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that produces endorphins.  Endorphins function as neurotransmitters - sending vital messages to the brain.
  • Laughter is infections.  When shared, it binds people together.
  • Laughter has been shown to: trigger physical body changes strengthen the immune system, boost energy, diminish pain and protect us from damaging effects of stress.  (It's those wonderful endorphins at work).
  • A growing body of research suggests that when used effectively, laughter can improve student performance by reducing anxiety, boosting participation, and increasing motivation and focus on the material (Zak Stambor, Monitor Staff, June 2006, v37n6, p.62 http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/learning.aspx).  
What we can do at home and at school:  Make learning fun, create opportunities to laugh.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Front Cover
  • My husband was introduced to Shakespeare through the Beatles. They sang and laughed and looked at Shakespeares' influence on modern culture.  Then with increased motivation and memory paths, they jumped head first into Macbeth and Much Ado.
  • Tom Lehrer's New Math is a great introduction to long subtraction.  He also has a great song about base 10 and you see the clip above for chemistry and its elements.  Introduce these at home and school - they're fun.  Kids can make their own videos, comic strips, puppet shows exploring these topics further.
  • There are jokes and joke books for everything.  Use them.  Make your own.  Jokes can be fun and silly - the content can come later.  With the humor, you've started kids thinking and from there, there are no limits!
  • Memorize using song, limericks, and jokes.
  • Creating rhyming jokes is a great way to help kids learn phonics, as well as to help them memorize state capitals, math times tables, etc.
  • Create comic scenes and strips depicting the lighter side on the Dark Ages, the life of a Monarch, promoting lab safety (or any safety issues), math gone awry (Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith or How Much is a Million by David M. Schwartz are great examples of humor and math.)
  • There is also the idea of laughing when sad or upset.  That is harder to do when your child is heartbroken or upset, but hugs and simple laughs can go a long way. Once the intense pain is soothed, then talk about it more rationally providing guidance and support.
  • Finally laughter at the dinner table, when sitting at home, walking, driving to school or clubs is worth the time and effort.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.  What are some of the things you do to laugh and learn?  How are you silly with your kids?  Please share it with us in your comments.  Feel free to provide helpful links as well.

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