Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Family Musts: Humor, Shared Passions, Family Time

I am reading and reflecting on the book The Power of Play by David Elkind.

Chapter 8 - Lighthearted Parenting

Chapter 8 is focused on parents and families. But as I read, I could see some applications to the community in the classroom, the "class family." David Elkind even mentions teachers a few times in this chapter, making my thoughts about application even stronger.

David advocates what he calls lighthearted parenting. What is that? In this family, "parents make an ongoing effort to integrate play, love, and work into their child-rearing practices." How? Through using humor, sharing passions, and spending time together.

I really enjoyed David's discussion on humor. I think it's the longest in this chapter. (At least I took the most notes on this part of the chapter!) "Humor is a form of play because it always involves a new, unexpected experience." When something happens that is different from the expected, we laugh. This is true of children and adults. A child's expectations (and humor) change with his development. Younger kids laugh at things that are silly--an animal wearing sunglasses; parent wearing a strange hat or wig; a lot of clowns coming out of a small car. They expect adults to be coordinated and laugh at pratfalls. They are learning language so nonsense words are funny. As children get older, they stop laughing at these things (because they are now "mature"). But they enjoy riddles (unexpected uses of language and violations of logic) and word play and jokes.

David Elkind also suggests using humor as part of disciplinary strategy. Make an exaggerated comment about consequences when kids forget to clean their rooms or put out the dog. A simple act of humor can defuse your own anger, help you focus on the big picture of what's important, and teach kids how to deal with emotions in more constructive ways. "In using humor as a disciplinary technique, we are bringing play, love, and work into our parenting. The joke or humor is the play part; the deep affection that is our reason for using humor is the love part. And the social learning, which is the outcome, is the work part."

Humor is important in the classroom, too. Not demeaning or derogatory humor. But using riddles or jokes to warm up the day or using a humorous comment to defuse a situation can be very helpful. John Spencer has a lot to say about humor and fun in the classroom. Here's just one post: Just Humor Me. When I taught second grade, we laughed a lot. Many times we laughed at my dancing ability or something odd that I said. Sometimes I would even fall for those age-old jokes. ("Mr. Wiley, what's under there?" "Under where?" Hahahah.) A few weeks ago in my church kindergarten class, we were playing a matching game. A card with a boat fell off the table. "Oh, no," I said, "the boat is sailing away." The girls kept laughing and laughing at that comment. (It wasn't that funny - well, to a 5-year-old I guess it was.) Sometimes I make a silly mistake or use the wrong word. Hilarious. Humor helps us build a comfortable classroom and a fun atmosphere.

Other parts of this chapter:

  • Sharing passions - talking about things you enjoy and doing things you enjoy so kids will see adults playing.
  • Doing things together - making family time a priority regularly and playing as a family.
  • Sharing experiences - reflecting on things that happened to you and talking about them - both adults and kids.
I see parallels of these things in the classroom, too. Teachers should allow students to see what they enjoy doing, what they like to do just for fun. Classrooms need to have fun experiences together (like field trips or fun days or parties or whatever). And teachers should talk about things they remember from the past week (or things they've done in the past) and encourage kids to talk about their own memories or reflections.

David Elkind brings the aspects of lighthearted parenting back to his philosophy triad--love, play, and work. Humor and family play together are the play; building strong family connections is the love; developing important social skills is the work. I see these three things echoed in ways we build classroom communities, too. So now I'm going to think about lighthearted teaching and what that means for me.

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