No doubt about it: we are experiencing a serious heat wave across America. Millions of people in our nation are living with record temperatures. And heat at this level is dangerous to humans.
The dangers of heat occur at many levels and affect many people. The heat, in and of itself, is harmful to the very young and the very old and those with compromised immune systems. The air quality decreases too. Even short walks are hard. Pets struggle too.
We need to watch out for our two and four legged neighbors, and we need to stay hydrated -- and not with coffee and alcohol.
We also see that people become more short-tempered and crabby than usual in extreme heat. Really. Heat does not bring out the best in all of us. When one is hot and the sun seems unbearable even when in the some shade, we cease to exercise good humor; we don't laugh as much. We get ornery. Our ice-cream and popsicles drip on our hands and onto our clothes, resulting in mini-messes and minor mishaps for those seeking something cold to eat.
We need to watch out for our own emotions so we do not become nasty unnecessarily.
There is one other way in which the summer heat hurts us that often goes unrecognized by folks not involved in education: Our children experience summer melt or summer slip (as it is often called). What that means is that over the summer, in the absence of teachers, students lose academic skills. The loss is so bad it is measurable. And, sadly, summer melt is felt and experienced more by children in low SES families. There are many reasons for this summer melt but one is that higher SES families provide summer enrichment in a myriad of ways --- and those experiences keep kids engaged and learning.
The consequences of summer melt for kids are serious -- perhaps as bad as, if not worse than, actual heat and its melting outcomes. Kids enter the next grade behind before the academic year even starts. Sadly, this creates a cycle of educational failure that is hard to break; each year a student can't keep up and moves farther and farther behind. This is debilitating in a myriad of ways, including an increasing loss of self image. School becomes a place of failure, not success. This has an effect on us all as we seek to educate the next generation. And, this cycle of failure is expensive -- in dollars and cents and in terms of loss of human potential.
One antidote to summer melt is reading. These's a rich literature on the importance of literature. But, let's get real. For many kids, reading in the summer is a chore and is not an enjoyable experience. And, there is the added issue that many kids do not have easy access to books. Some do not use libraries. Some do not have households filled with books; to be fair, some don't even have homes.
Sure, there are kids who have access to books, who adore reading and absorb books like a sponge absorbs water. But, there are also many recalcitrant readers. The idea of a summer reading list and book reports doesn't excite them in the least. In fact, reading is seen as a burden to be managed.
Pause here as I link the above idea to another idea. Recent work I have done on trauma and trauma responses suggests there is a role for humor and laughter. These two topics (trauma and laughter) seem oxymoronic but they are not. Indeed, laughter and humor are ways of easing trauma in the short term; humor and laughter allow us -- even for a moment -- to see a different and more positive world. And, laughter is good for one's body -- it actually releases endorphins and opens pathways to creativity. In short, laughter has health value.
And, this observation allows us to loop back to reading and summer melt. There is a possible solution by co-joining summer melt with humor and laughter --- and this linkage is not oxymoronic or a joke.
Reflect momentarily on a book (7 inches high and 4 inches wide so it can be held easily by kids) that Marc Wine and I wrote: Lady Lucy's Laugh Giraffe Journey. It is a book filled with 75 giraffe laughs, and we created jokes that both kids and adults can enjoy together. And, the book is helped by two things: (1) amazing photographs of our giraffe collection (with 75 giraffes made of glass and wood and beads and bottle caps and ceramics and tile and recycled flip-flops among other medium); and (2) the fact that giraffes are funny to look at with their enormous height (babies are taller than most humans), long thin legs and many odd-shaped spots and off-center smiles and wee fuzzy horns that look like drumsticks.
Lady Lucy's Laugh Giraffe Journey also contains important facts about giraffe (who are often misunderstood). Yes, they make sounds and yes, they sleep. And these amazing creatures face extinction and a portion of the proceeds of the book go to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the only non-profit dedicated to saving giraffe. Fact: there are only 100,000 giraffe left in Africa. Imagine a world without giraffes. So, a joke book does good too.
But, here's the larger and critical point. Jokes and humor can help recalcitrant readers. Jokes are a means of creating laughter and encouraging creativity. Jokes allow one to have fun with words and experience word play --- often without knowing that real learning is happening. Jokes beg for us to think imaginatively, to stretch meaning and come up with a myriad of possible responses. With jokes, there is no ONE answer; there can be many responses, each funnier than the next.
Try an example:
Q: What did the giraffe say to the lifeguard at the local pool?
A: Where's the deep end?
Get it? Are you smiling? Can you come up with an alternative answer? How about this alternative joke:
Q: What did the giraffe say to the lifeguard at the local pool?
A: Why do you only have a wading pool?
Now, to be sure, some adults (teachers and parents) need some help turning jokes into positive, rich learning experiences. There are ways to help kids understand jokes, write jokes and read jokes to their friends and families. The above jokes require knowing that pools have shallow and deep ends. They need to know what a lifeguard does. One needs to know the height of giraffe (two stories) so one understands that even a deep end of six feet in a human pool is a wading pool for a giraffe.
There are lots of ways that kids can engage with jokes over the summer. Start with a joke book. Really. It qualifies as "reading" to read jokes. No kidding. And, those intellectuals and teachers who poo-poo jokes are missing keys to learning. Get a joke book from the library. Go online and there are many kid's jokes there. And, the website for Lady Lucy's Laugh Giraffe Journey, has three giraffe jokes (that will rotate over the summer) where the answer pops up. Website: www.ladylucysquest.com.
Tell jokes at dinner or sitting outside or in the dark or in the light. Tell jokes in the heat. Tell jokes about heat.
Q: How hot is it?
A. So hot you can fry an egg on the sidewalk.
Q: What does one ice cube say to another ice cube in the summer?
A: I'm melting.
There are bookstores with free joke nights for kids during the summer (Joseph-Beth Books in Lexington, KY is one). There are summer camps with joke writing and comedy. And, write a joke and send it to us on the above website and we will release the best jokes.
Here's another real activity -- Lady Lucy's Laugh Giraffe Journey has a blank line next to the photograph of each giraffe so kids can name the giraffe. The names can be fun or funny or serious or factual or clever or interesting or creative. These can be submitted on the website www.ladylucysquest.com, and the best names for each of the giraffe will be released. And, we are also auctioning off the giraffe during the summer (to generate monies to buy books for kids and to donate to giraffe conservation efforts).
As we reflect on summer melt, ponder this phrase: Laugh2Learn. Yes, learning matters. So does laughing. And not all learning has to be hard and painful and difficult. Jokes are an amazing learning vehicle. They help encourage reading; they build an understanding of words; they foster laughter which in turn fosters creativity and endorphin flow and better health. And, in the heat of the summer with all its dangers to kids (and adults), jokes can help. That's no joke.
Here's one more giraffe joke -- which seemed like a most fitting way to end this post:
Q: What did the mother giraffe say to the baby giraffe as the baby was wandering off to explore?
A: Little one, never forget that I will always stick my neck out for you.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.