by Sue Stephenson

Dear readers: I’d like to tell you something about my book Kidding Around, which I believe can help educators create more joyous, happy and high-achieving schools. I think this best way to do this is by sharing several excerpts from the introductory material. PS: In Canada we put another “u” in humour when we spell it. The extra “u” is a reminder to include yourself!

We need to get happiness, laughter and humour back into kids’ lives.

In our 21st century world, media, particularly social media, guarantee that today’s children are bombarded with serious and even frightening issues that they need help navigating. Bullying, gangs and even terrorism were unimaginable for most of today’s adults when they were young. Yet, those of us who deal with kids on a regular basis tend to focus on these matters to the exclusion of things that make life lighter and provide balance.

Kidding Around-COVER_Layout 1The ideas and resources in Kidding Around will help you teach children and teens about the benefits of happiness, humour and laughter in their lives, as well as how to deal with those days when they’re angry, sad, or just stressed out. Learning more about having a positive outlook, and everything that goes along with it, is a lifelong skill with significant physical, psychological and sociological benefits—including doing better at school and in life.

Happiness is just one of many emotions, all of which are valid and have important lessons to teach us. This book will focus on happiness, but this does not mean that other emotions are not equally important. There are no good or bad feelings—all feelings have a place.

Happiness in Three Parts

The book’s three main parts contain information, practical activities and resources for adults to use with children—and even themselves.

Part One: Put on a Happy Face

Part One traces the Happiness Movement and positive psychology around the world. After introducing the Happiness Line (used throughout the book), Part One explores sources of intrinsic and extrinsic happiness, explains feelings of sadness and unhappiness and provides strategies to help kids cope with unpleasant feelings.

Part Two: LOL—Laughing Out Loud

Part Two uses the Laughter Ladder to explain the range of laughter. It identifies 21 benefits of laughter and organizations that help continue the laughter, along with activities to get kids laughing.

Part Three: Loosen Up Your Funny Bones

Part Three introduces kids to the funny bone and its role in a playful attitude in life. This part outlines stages of humour development, explains differences between humour and comedy and includes a detailed description of both writers and performers of comedy. It also addresses bullying as an issue to face when teasing becomes more serious and shares strategies for kids who observe bullying or experience bullying, in addition to ideas for families and kids to find help and turn around kids who bully.

At the conclusion of each part, you will find implementation suggestions at three levels: (1) testing the water, (2) getting your feet wet, and (3) jumping in the deep end.

I hope that the book will be a learning experience for adult readers as they try the activities before sharing them with children. Imagine the possibilities as you merge your own philosophy and experiences with the content and activities introduced here. We are never too old to be happy, have fun and reconnect with the child in all of us!

“All over the world, when asked what they want most from life—and what they want most for their children—people answered that they want happiness.” —Gretchen Rubin

The Companion Activity Guide for Kids

As a supplement to this book, there is a Companion Activity Guide for Kids at www.suestephenson.ca available free to download and print.

Educators, parents, grandparents and other care providers such as camp counsellors, social workers, psychologists and nurses can use the information in the book and the activity guide with kids of all ages. Use it with children at camp. Use it for a hospital recovery. Use it on trips in the car.

The Happiness Line

The Happiness Line is a graphic organizer that gives us an overview of a range of emotions. This book is aimed mainly at the upper half of the Happiness Line—the happy part, although there are suggestions included for those times when we don’t feel happy. This focus is based on the belief that we can benefit from a more positive outlook, find more balance, experience a feeling of control and learn to be happier, no matter how old we are.

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For Moms, Dads, Grandparents & Care Providers

Every child is born with abundant creative potential for laughter, fun, play, happiness and love. Any restraint on any of these has an adverse effect on the child’s growth and development. Therefore, instead of growing out of the child, we should grow with the child.” —Robert Holden

Have you ever noticed that your teenage daughter doesn’t smile very much or that your grandson seems to worry about things that other kids his age ignore? Or perhaps you are caring for a child who has to spend a lot of time alone. This book is meant to be a flexible resource that will fill a gap in mainstream parenting advice. The ideas and activities are not rigidly sequenced. Dip into it in whatever order or intensity you want.

The activities in the book focus on three areas of child development:

a) Social/emotional development and mental health issues
b) Speech and language development
c) Cognitive development

Parents have the toughest job in the world, and it’s one that comes with no instruction manual or formal training. They learn to parent on the job, facing high expectations and a long list of responsibilities—more than they ever bargained for—but no chance of promotion. Parents are a child’s first and longest-lasting teacher.

Every child is different, even within the same family, each having unique strengths and needs. As parents guide children through all the stages of development, moms and dads learn so many lessons, sometimes the hard way. While they are surrounded by messages in the media to be perfect super moms and super dads, parents are only human. They will make mistakes along the way. A sense of humour and the ability to laugh at their mistakes and learn from them will play a large role in their success as parents.

The ultimate goal for all parents is to nurture their children’s individuality, independence and pride and help them be more resilient to become the best people they can be and to bounce back from those inevitable terrible days. When kids learn about trust, hope, optimism and confidence they are more able to cope with stress and resist depression.

Many grandparents also jump in to help out with grandchildren, giving parents support and encouragement. In some extended families, the grandparents live with the family in one house.

Parents can make the book’s activities daily discussion topics around the dinner table, on car trips, during family meeting time, on rainy days or at bedtime. When kids are sick, an activity in the book might brighten their spirits and help them think of other things. Moms and dads can send the activity guide with them to camp, a friend’s house or when they visit relatives.

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There’s a Spanish version, too!

Using this book and the activities with kids or grandkids will provide many unforgettable moments. All of the activities may not be funny, but they will open up a way to talk with kids about life more closely and candidly. Kids need to know they can talk with their parents about anything—that nothing is taboo or nondiscussable. Parents know their children the best and can assess when the time is right to introduce an activity or to save it for later.

Even just having these topics close to one’s own “funny bone” will help parents communicate about laughter and humour. Kids may say surprising things about many of these topics. Small changes in the activities and discussions can have big payoffs. Being there and being aware of their kids’ behaviour will produce strong, long-lasting bonds.

Parents may even want to start a laughter journal, blog or video log to record things as mementos. Above all, parents should aim to be a role model for the behaviour they want to see in the children around them.

After parents, teachers have the second toughest job in the world. Both need more in-depth training to identify children’s emotional issues as early as possible. Parents and teachers need to develop strong partnerships and support each other.

Parents don’t discuss mental health issues with their children—though 65 percent incorrectly assume their child will come to them with a problem. —2012 RBC Children’s Health Parents’ Poll

Some Sample Activities

Here are summaries of three activities that are explained in richer detail in the book:

The Happiness Line

The happiness line (shown above) is a 0-10 scale from least happy to most. It’s used throughout the book and gives students a “graphic organizer” to use and they think about how they feel during a day or week — perhaps to share with teachers and parents. For example, they may say: “Today is a 4 for me.” Or “I think tonight I may hit level 1. Please help me with this.” Kids need to express their emotions and not keep them locked up inside. Keeping a Gratitude Journal and a Worry Diary can extend this activity.

The Laughing Ladder

The laughing ladder introduces a range of spontaneous, contagious laughs from slight smiles all the way up to full belly laughs. Seventeen safe laughter exercises are introduced that children can do individually, in pairs, or as a large group to either stimulate their energy or calm them down. This provides a great basis for learning the benefits of laughter to the body, mind and soul.

Stand-Up Comedy Project

This project uses strategies to encourage skills that aren’t traditionally taught and also offers serious curriculum connections. For example:

-Building confidence at speaking humourously in front of others;
-Confronting issues such as body image, anxiety, and perfectionism;
-Learning the difference between helpful and hurtful humor and its nasty cousin bullying;
-Developing language skills (oral and written) and creativity;
-Tapping into children’s courage to take a risk and go beyond their comfort zone;

In schools that have tried this, student blogs and comments have tracked the range of feelings they had as the project unfolded.

Deciding how to fit these kinds of activities into an already overcrowded curriculum requires some tough decision-making. What really is important for kids to learn? What are we already teaching that could be merged with these activities? The activities easily integrate with reading, writing and oral literacy, mental health literacy and well-being in health and physical education, media literacy, character education, and in guidance and career planning.

For Teachers and Other Educators

Schools ought to be naturally happy places by design. A sense of humour has been consistently rated by students as a top characteristic of good classroom teachers. After four decades of being a classroom teacher, a staff developer and a principal working with educators, I am convinced that including lighthearted fun and laughter in planning, instruction and assessment creates the potential to greatly reduce the anxiety felt by students.

Students learn more and enjoy teachers who do three things: teach a rigorous curriculum, demand high standards and have fun doing it. —Stephenson and Thibault, 2006.

In a classroom energized by laughter, students:

  • Are more motivated and attentive
  • Feel a connection to the teacher
  • Are more willing to take risks
  • Have a safe and fun place to learn
  • Are relaxed, comfortable and less stressed
  • Are more creative and divergent thinkers, and
  • Learn faster and retain it longer!

How You Teach Is As Important As What You Teach

“Sometimes to get the “ah-ha”, you need to have the “ha-ha!” —Judy Siegel, writer

kids-from-sue-cvrHumour is a powerful component of a wider range of instructional strategies. Some teachers use it naturally. Discover what’s comfortable for you. When students learn with laughter, they not only feel better and have healthy coping skills for the stress in their lives, their achievement increases.

Helen Johnson, a British educator and administrator, makes a radical case for measuring the degree of laughter and emotional resilience of children in the culture of a school or classroom, in addition to the current focus on what she calls “performativity”—the assessment of performance through test scores of numeracy and literacy.

Teachers and other educators will find that the suggestions in the book easily integrate with various curriculum areas in reading, writing, oral language, media literacy, class community-building, character education, special education, social science, guidance, science, mental health, wellness and bullying prevention. It will complement initiatives such as safe schools, equity and social justice. Educators can consider using it as a unit or theme for a whole year.

Buy the eBook Kidding Around at the Powerful Learning Press bookstore.

SueStephenson-128Sue Stephenson leads a dynamic Canadian company called SueStephenson.ca. Her keynotes and workshops focus on a passion for happiness & laughter and teamwork & trust. Sue holds a Master of Education degree and has over 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal, staff developer, instructional consultant, author and speaker. She has written four books that focus on building trusting relationships and positive methods to cope with stress.

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