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Want to Help Kids Learn? Find the Humour.

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Apr 20, 2016

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To most people, the words “board exams” bring back memories of rubbing sleep-deprived eyes, staring blankly at walls of text, and sweating from nightmares of being the only kid in class to fall in the dreaded “70 percenters.” Not exactly things we think of fondly. Or humourously. It’s hard to find the joke amid pages and pages of words and numbers memorized verbatim.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and in fact, it shouldn’t be. Humour is one of the best learning methods. Here are a few examples of how a little laughter can not only brighten up the mundane, but also help in understanding and remembering the complex.

Humour literally preps the brain for learning.

A sense of humour isn’t just a river in Egypt. (Bear with me.) But it does have a location: It’s a 2cm by 2cm spot on the frontal lobe that fires up every time you hear a joke, get it, and laugh at it. Guess what else the frontal lobe controls? Cognitive thinking, problem solving, memory, language, judgment and more – all of the brain functions needed to learn, understand, apply and remember.

Humour can help make complex topics more accessible.

LaughGuru (2), learning methods, humour, laughter, biology, anatomy

School is really just 18+ years of making sense of increasingly complex facts and concepts. (Addition is like scaling Everest for a 7-year-old, and unfortunately, maths don’t come with helpful Sherpas.) But humourous learning methods can make this a little easier for young minds.

A study that used humorous cartoons to teach mineral and rock concepts to a group of sixth graders found the group improved test scores and increased motivation above and beyond the control group, which was taught through traditional methods.

There’s a reason for this. One theory of humour is about incongruity, that the inappropriate mixing of categories and meanings makes us laugh. This very same mixing can be used to make a complex topic simpler and more accessible.

Humour helps kids think critically.

The world has left rote learning methods lying somewhere at the back of an old cupboard with old Barbie dolls and patriarchy (even if school systems aren’t yet keeping up). And humour exercises kids’ critical thought processes. While the joke may be used to teach an economics or biology or language concept, your child’s brain must decode the humour in order to make sense of that concept. And that process of decoding is what exercises critical thought, especially when a joke relies on incongruity.

Don’t believe us? Just look at the number of acclaimed comedy writers with degrees in big-thought fields.

Humour can make it easier to keep trying.

People generally quit trying to do something after they’ve failed enough times. It’s human nature, particularly for the current generation of kids who have moved beyond fearing things like The Dark and onto worrying about the P-word: performance. In fact, stress actually inhibits the brains ability to learn and remember.

But one thing that can alleviate this is humourous learning methods. According to educator and researcher Mary Kay Morrison, in her book Using Humor to Maximize Living: Connecting With Humor, humour can help relieve stress, be used as a coping skill, and build trust – all necessary aspects of fostering a resilient attitude in kids and establishing a positive learning environment in which they feel comfortable trying and trying again.

Of course, sometimes kids quit trying when they don’t find a subject interesting. Which brings us to …

Humour can keep kids engaged. 

LaughGuru (3), learning methods, humour, laughter, attention

This is an obvious one, but no less true for your kid than it is for you, as you yawn your way through a boring systems training: If something is funny, people are more likely to pay attention.

Humour can help kids retain all of this, longer.

LaughGuru (1), learning methods, humour, laughterWhile there is some debate within the academic community around whether it’s the joke itself, the emotion or mood it provokes, or a combination of both that assists long-term recall, the point is humour will help kids remember what they’ve learned for longer.

In fact, a joint study between a Yale University doctoral candidate and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, found humorous learning methods in the form of audio visual content was 30% more effective than regular audio visual content when it came to 7th graders’ long-term retention of content.

Humour only makes education better and more effective. So let’s give ‘mugging up’ a pie in the face and give kids a chance to really understand their world – and enjoy it.

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Written By Antara Telang

Antara Telang is Director and Content Head at LaughGuru (http://laughguru.com), where she writes jokes to help children learn. She is a gold medallist from St. Xavier’s College, and has worked with Network18 in the past.

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