Our recent and well-established Junior School comedy revue, simply entitled A Bit of a Laugh, has just played to two full houses and brought the beautiful and joyous sound of laughter to autumnal evenings. It is always great fun to be reminded of what makes children laugh and how this changes with age and emotional growth. We left for home, happier and united. It’s widely acknowledged that laughter causes the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and that these promote a sense of wellbeing that we crave. So it has been that this experience has prompted me to consider the critical role of laughter in schools.
Ask any child about their favourite lessons and respected teachers and reference to laughter will never be far away. The best teachers will bring humour and fun, alongside rigour and purpose to learning. Humour will bring topics alive, keep discussions invigorating and pacy, while also making key facts and concepts memorable. Good humour will leave children comfortable with one another and with the teacher, give them confidence and encourage involvement. Lessons and learning can quickly fade from memories but those with laughter are recalled for years to come.
As with lessons, assemblies should contain a healthy dose of laughter. Such a tonic will unite us, put us all, teachers and children, at ease and give us shared memories and expressions around which a wider school ethos and culture are built. Laughter requires shared points of reference and an understanding, respect and empathy for one another. Healthy laughter happens with others rather than at the expense of others; it often involves self-deprecation and modesty and has the power to welcome and embolden.
More informally, it is laughter that one hears amongst the children’s chatter in the corridors, on the playground and at the school dining table; it is why teachers need their moments in the staff room and together at breaks and lunch to unwind and to relax and it is why the drop off and pick up are such important moments for our parents and carers. Laughter offers us all a brief respite and distraction from everything else that is happening in our busy lives, it provides perspective and helps us through the day. It is as important to us adults as it is to the children.
Even the very best endeavours of remote education with shared lessons and assemblies on Teams or Zoom could never compete with the inter-personal connectivity that being together in a classroom or hall can offer and the laughter that ensues. Of course, we will take positive legacies from the online learning experience of the COVID pandemic, yet perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned is the importance of physical togetherness in defining our school communities and it is laughter that so often binds that community together.
So, whatever the next few months might bring, let us never forget the life affirming joy and importance of laughter in our schools.
Simon Severino, Head of Junior School
Main image: scene from the Junior School comedy review 'Bit of Laugh', 8 November