Monday, April 18, 2011

Humor and Fun: Essential Elements of Creative Thinking

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Unknown

“Play is the highest level of child development. It is the spontaneous expression of thought and feeling … the purest creation of the child’s mind …” Friedrich Froebel

Young Rembrandts has been posting tips on their Facebook page to encourage creativity in kids lately. This week they suggest that we “encourage ingenious humor.” This is a fine fit with the theme of the work we have been doing in class this term – cartooning.

WHY: Research on humor and play in everything from National Geographic study of animals in the wild, to studies of highly gifted and successful adults in business point to the same idea – laughter, combined with learning, promotes creativity, complex thinking, positive social interaction and increased self-esteem. Laughter in the classroom (or family room) has a way of diverting attention from difficulties, reducing stress and promoting well-being. Laughter relaxes kids and helps them feel at ease. A classroom or home environment that encourages humor and inspires kids to view and show the world through their unique perspectives is a place that stimulates creative expression.

So, cartooning is not only an opportunity to learn new drawing skills, but also a way to encourage kids to think about story structure (characters, place, situation), and to consider the possibilities … what might happen in the next drawing? Most of all, drawing cartoons encourages an essential element of creative thinking … humor (and its sidekick, fun). As an added benefit, cartooning also provides a way for kids to strengthen relationships and self-confidence through play and laughter.

Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, would define kids who love to draw as Visual/Spatial learners. They are responsive to the visual/spatial world and are often able to recreate it. (One look at their drawings makes it clear who these kids are.) This type of learner enjoys making art and loves to have access to art materials (paint, pens, markers, clay, scissors, paper in many colors, glue sticks, etc.) This kid may also be a map maker. So, if you have a visual/spatial child, encourage her to draw what she sees, and, create maps of the places she has been.

Of course, many of the kids I work with show multiple abilities, including Verbal/Linguistic intelligence (kids who like to play with words and language. Jokes really appeal to these kids, even when told without words.) I also see lots of kids with Intrapersonal and Interpersonal intelligences, characterized by the ability to understand emotions and what makes people “tick”). That is why they “get” what is going on in the cartoons with just a glance.

It is because of the diverse abilities I see in my classes that I am so delighted to be teaching cartooning. Creating a series of drawings is, as Elizabeth (age 9) point out, “making picture books with only pictures.” So, when we draw cartoons, we not only create characters and establish a setting, but we learn to show motion, emotion, and story arc - all without writing a word (unless you are like AJ who adds thought bubbles to every scene.) Best of all - we laugh. One of my favorite parts of every class is posting the pictures we are going to draw and asking, “What’s going on?” I love that even my shyest kids giggle at the pictures. I also love listening to them talk about what’s happening, and watching them enhance their drawings with their own ideas and jokes, most of all I love how they share their ideas, and make the other kids (and me) laugh. Simply put, cartooning is fun.