I was reading Crown Hill 3-5’s Cooperative Preschool parent Monkey’s Mama’s blog post yesterday about “Preschool Humor” and it got me thinking about what an incredibly effective tool “silliness” is.
As a man planning to enter this female dominated profession I met with North Seattle Community College Instructor Tom Drummond to pick his brain, the only other man I knew at the time in the early childhood education business. He said, “We need more men teaching preschool.” And I asked the classic preschooler question, “Why?”
Tom answered many noteworthy things, among them being, “Men are more likely to bring silliness to the classroom.”
At the time it seemed like a minor point, and while I won't comment on the gender aspect of the comment, I've since learned that silliness is, in fact, the most versatile tool in our belts. As Monkey’s Mama points out, it doesn’t work once the “tears have begun”, but in most other instances it’s worth a try. You have nothing to lose but your dignity, and as an adult living with preschoolers, you lost that long ago anyway.
It seems like at least once a week a child will say to me, “You’re silly, Teacher Tom.” And I always answer, “That’s a compliment. Thank you.”
Essentially, silliness is anything you do or say that defies expectations. For instance, mixing up words. Monkey’s Mama reports that Billy Bear is uproarious when he says, “polli-lops” when he means “lollipops”. Classic. I’ve called Harry Potter, “Pootie Hooter”. I’ve mistaken Butterflies and Flutterbies. And indeed, I’ve said “polli-lops” when I meant “lollipops”.
Sometimes I’ve forgotten how to jump.
Sometimes I speak without making a sound.
Sometimes I confuse top with bottom, on with off, or open with closed.
Sometimes I fall down for no reason at all.
Sometimes I insist that all the healthy snack food is candy.
I often use silliness to focus or re-direct a child’s attention. For instance, if you can tell that a child has boarded a train headed for a meltdown, there’s nothing like a little goofiness to derail it. When something strikes us as out of whack or unexpected, we must put whatever we're doing or feeling on hold for a moment to make sense of things. It’s in that moment that the possibility of a new destination opens to us. And when it comes to silliness, that moment usually ends with the kind of “ah ha” that causes laughter, which is an opening into a whole new emotional world.
Silliness can defuse a tense situation.
Silliness can lift a child out of sadness or ease one through shyness.
Silliness can inspire dramatic play, art, and scientific discovery.
Silliness can encourage critical thinking and listening skills. (Hey, that’s not right!)
Silliness is a way to demonstrate warmth, caring and love.
Silliness helps put things in perspective.
I often employ silliness as a means by which to bring a group of preschoolers together. And in my book, just about anything kids do together is a good thing. If I start running wildly around the gym, for example, just about every 2-year-old in our Pre-3 class will start running with me. When I fall on a mat, they all fall too. It may not be true parallel play, but it’s good practice for when they are developmentally ready to play together.
In the 3-5’s class, I like to deploy "preschool humor" to kick off Circle Time when the kids are a little too pumped up. There is nothing children this age enjoy more than laughing together, and group laughter is a great way to concentrate their attention where I want it at the start of Circle Time -- on me! I have a song about sitting in broken glass, thorny roses, and sharks’ teeth that works almost every time.
Once our Woodland Park children are in their Pre-K year (4-5 year olds), they don’t need Teacher Tom any more. They can use the tool of silliness all by themselves. There is nothing more hilarious, for instance, than the silly knock-knock jokes they tell each other:
And believe me, they have a million of them.
It’s that easy. Try falling down for no reason at all. You too can be the world greatest children’s comedian.