There is nothing in the world that sounds as sweet as a child's laughter. And by laughter, let me clarify. I mean the real, true kind of laughter. The kind where your eyes twinkle and crinkle. The kind where once it starts, it's hard to stop. The kind that, when you hear it, you want to join in.
Being a third grade teacher, and therefore surrounded by eight year olds the better part of any given day, I can honestly say, that there is much laughter around me most days. And I can also add, that last year (a.k.a. my "year of positivity") I effectively sought out both laughing more and creating more laughter in my classroom.
Now, when you interact with kids every day, there are endless opportunities to cause laughter and have fun, even while you are sparking their brains with state mandated curriculum.
During the first couple of weeks back in school, I always gather the students on the back carpet once a day and share with them some of my daughter's favorite books when she was younger. On Friday I read one of my daughter's favorite books that always got her giggling, The Dumb Bunnies, by Dav Pilkey.
All I had to do was read the title and I had hooked all twenty-four of them. It's not every day your teacher reads you a book with the word "dumb" in the title. Let's just say we had so much fun reading it and laughing at all the silly parts, that I heard most of the teachers in my hallway close their door. Sorry about that!
Later that same day, we were reading and discussing a Scholastic News. I had called their attention to the "Words To Know" section before we began reading. They could tell me what artifacts and ancient meant, no problem. A few even explained to me that someone like their Grandma was old, or ancient, so I quickly moved on before someone compared me to that word. But the third word was the word "port". They could all say it, but when I asked if anyone knew what it might mean, most cocked their heads to the side or suddenly looked very interested in a spot on their table. A couple brave ones hesitantly raised their hand.
"Is it like a court?" asked the first. [sidenote: in little kids brains, they sometimes try and make connections to a word by using a rhyming word. In this case port:court. Notice I did not say this is a good strategy.]
I pursed my lips. "Ahhhh.... no." I made a funny face so as not to deter them from guessing.
"Is it when you pour something?" asked the second. [sidenote: this student was using sounds of the word and finding another word like it. port:pour. A better strategy than one above.]
"I think I know," came the third, before I could reply to the prior student.
"Super!" I told him. "What do you think the word 'port' means?"
"It means to port!" He had a huge smile on his face. Totally makes sense, right?
After discussing for a few more minutes about how ships arrive "in port" and "leave port" and trying to help them make connections from being on a cruise ship or something they might be familiar with, I figured they were good. Until one little one said, "Yeah, port is when you come in to go to the bathroom!"
"Say wh-at?" I asked him, saying the word as two syllables. "Silly! Ships/boats have bathrooms on them. You don't need to come back to shore!" Several nodding heads agreed.
Later, I probed a little bit more with him one-on-one to see what he was thinking. Come to find out he had a smaller boat pictured in his head; he had never been on a large cruise ship. And when he needed to go to the bathroom, his Dad had to come back to shore.
On the way home Friday, I was thinking about relationships and the importance of building trusting, caring, and respectful relationships with each and every student in my classroom. I put in a lot of time in the initial weeks of school getting to know each child and helping them get to know me. I want them to feel safe in my classroom. Safe to ask questions and take risks. Safe to say what they think without fear of ridicule. Ready to enjoy the moment when you want to laugh.
The first few weeks of school, more than any other of the year, it's important to take advantage of the times we can laugh. To share and show a sense of humor. To keep smiling.
Because it really is true. Laughter is indeed, the best medicine.