Dust off your funny bone and shine up your sense of humor. January is a great time of year to enliven your daily diet of attendance, calendar time, and group discussions with laughter and fun!!

DID YOU KNOW that the root of the word humor comes from the Latin word humor, which means fluid or liquid? That is exactly how humor works: It loosens up people and gets them "flowing" together. Humor creates ripples of communication that can positively affect everyone involved - it's contagious! So get ready to renew and build on group feelings with playful interactions and a shared sense of fun.

What Makes Children Laugh?

Injecting humor into your group-time sessions and meetings doesn't mean that vou have to become a stand-up comedian. Jokes are just one small part of humor. Young children actually prefer surprises, absurdities, silly words, pictures, and motions more than punch lines. "Peek-a-boo" and its sophisticated variations are a hit with all ages. A puppet peeking out of a bag or book stimulates excitement, curiosity, and participation. In fact, that same surprise puppet can also introduce a story with a silly riddle, speak in a funny voice, or even do the calendar entirely wrong so that children have a chance to correct him!

Nothing Beats Fun!

Piaget once said, "The process of learning is the process of making mistakes." This statement truly applies to humor and learning. When you feign confusion or a memory lapse, children delight as they sense the fun of incongruity. When you pretend to say names backwards or give the wrong directions for a son they are flabbergasted and experience the good-natured joy of setting you straight! Try saying good-bye as you welcome children to group, hang a chart upside down, start reading from the back of the book - anything that invites their scrutiny mixed with lots of giggles!

But be prepared. Children catch on quickly and will start returning your joking behavior as they try to fool you. This is thrilling, of course, because it means they've taken a major developmental stride in cognition and communication. For children to recognize something as "wrong" or "funny," they first have to know what is real or "right" and then understand the discordance between the correct way and the funny way: not a simple process but a complex higher order of thinking.

Where's You Sense of Humor?

What is funny to some is not necessarily funny to all. To the youngest children, physical and visual humor seem to be more funny than auditory, linguistic humor. They also love visual absurdities. So, without calling attention to what you are doing, try dressing funny. Be subtle - wear something inside out, upside down, or backwards. See if children notice. You might also try a great observation game based on this concept: Invite a visitor to stop in (unexpectedly) during group time for just a minute. Ask your guest to dress and act oddly. After she leaves, ask children to describe what they noticed about the surprise caller. Not only is this a lot of fun, but it's great practice in looking and listening skills! Other times, invite children to take turns being the "guest."

Can There Ever Be Too Much Laughter?

It's so important to be aware of the fine line between good-natured fun and group chaos. Try to balance your use of humor with gentle activities that bring children quietly back to the group. A fingerplay that involves the body as well as the voice gives children a focus and helps them tune in. Or, you can try fighting fire with fire. If your group is totally lost in the humor of a situation and talking all at once, try making a silly sound, even a compilation of what they sound like at that very moment, to get their attention without totally changing the positive mood.

Sharing a Laugh With Toddlers

Gentle surprises, peek-a-boo games, and self-determined celebrations are a great source of humor for toddlers. Most important: Experience the joy of laughing and silliness together!

Read a "lift the flap," "pop-up," or "peek-a-boo" book. Use great exaggeration and you'll have an instant group time filled with laughter. Just remember to keep groups small, because toddlers want to touch and feel. One way to handle this is to have two caregivers share these kinds of surprise books in different areas of the room. This way children can go from one to the other without overcrowding or shoving.

Delight toddlers, who always want to know what is inside or under something. With the surprise of a peek-a-boo scarf, mystery box, pop-out puppet, or jack-in-the-box, you'll pique curiosity Activities of amazement and discovery like these can (and will) be repeated over and over to squeals of joy and laughter.

Remember, for toddlers celebration come in all sizes. Walking up a ramp for the first time, learning how to clap the beat to a song, pouring juice, and painting a picture are all causes for celebration and laughter. Shared joy in these events creates a "flow" of good humor that pervades all aspects of your day.