Logo Homeschool World ® Official Web Site of Practical Homeschooling Magazine Practical Homeschooling Magazine
Practical Homeschooling® :

Laughter and Movement: Fertilizer for the Brain

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #60, 2004.

Pin It

Jessica Hulcy


If 100 random people were assembled and asked to draw a picture of a "school" setting, every picture would have students sitting at a desk either reading or writing, because those two activities represent school to the vast majority of Americans. But you can bet there would be another common denominator between all the pictures, and that would be serious faces on all the students going about their work in silence. Yet, current research shows this typical school setting is not the best way to enhance learning and retention.

Memory Blockers

The latest brain research has identified cortisol, the hormone released in the brain during stressed or agitated states, as the one brain chemical that prohibits information from sticking in the memory areas of the brain. Cortisol is released during times of stress and anxiety into the brain by the adrenal gland. Cortisol functions as God's protection to keep one from having bad memories following a stressful encounter by blocking memory, but it acts as weed killer to learning. A mother who dashes into a burning house to pull her baby from the flames may have no recollection of going into the house at all. When asked to describe her heroic feat, she may respond, "I don't remember."

Cortisol is also released into the brain when children are trying to learn under stressful conditions. If a mother calls her daughter to breakfast with a light, cheery voice from the kitchen by saying, "Lisa, time for breakfast!" Lisa will happily and confidently dash in to the kitchen for her morning meal. On the other hand, if she calls through gritted teeth in staccato tones, "Lisa Ann Hamilton, come here this second!" Lisa immediately discerns anger in her mother's voice. Adrenaline is dumped into her body and cortisol is released into her brain. Her eyes dilate, her muscles tense, and her heart races. She sorts through her memory trying to recall a forgotten chore, an incomplete school assignment, or a problem with a sibling. She is torn between "facing the music" and tearing out the back door to save her skin. She is in "fight or flight" mode.

The same physiological episode occurs when a mother holds up a math flash-card with 7 x 7 on it and quietly asks, "Tommy, what is 7 x 7?" If Tommy cannot think of the answer, even though he has been practicing his 7's for two weeks, he starts to get a little bit anxious. When she asks again through gritted teeth, "What is 7 x 7, Tommy?" his rising anxiety level senses the teacher's displeasure. His system dumps adrenaline into his blood-steam and cortisol into the brain. Cortisol blocks brain activity and thinking as Tommy downshifts from the logical, thinking part of the brain called the cerebral cortex to a lower level of the brain, called the limbic system. The limbic system houses emotions, and fear has taken hold of Tommy's brain. Very little rational, cognitive thought occurs in the limbic part of the brain. At this point, Tommy can no more remember 7 x 7 = 49 than the heroic mother can remember saving her baby from the burning house.

Movement + Laughter = Brain Fertilizer

What can turn this scene of non-learning to a scene of learning? Laughter and movement. Brain research documents that simple movement which breeds fun and laughter releases the amino acid GABA in the brain which then acts as a neurotransmitter. GABA, gamma amino butyric acid, is our natural Valium acting like a sponge, soaking up excess adrenaline and cortisol leaving the body relaxed. GABA seems to drain tension out of the body and brain thus giving students a sense of well- being which, in turn, fosters learning. Without the adrenaline and cortisol, the brain and body are ready to learn.

Homeschooling is a daunting task for any mother to undertake. The key to stimulating learning is a stress-free environment filled with smiles, laughter, and movement. Movement and laughter create an atmosphere in which kids love the learning process and willingly read more about the topic and write more about their experiences. As good teachers and concerned parents, we want our children to be lifetime learners who enjoy the education process. We want them to feel like learning is fun, not drudgery. We want them to be excited and anxious to find out what cool thing they are going to study next.

Is your school filled with laughter? Are your kids excited about learning new things each day? Does your curriculum help you to be a great teacher who makes learning joyful, exciting, and fun? It is time to start releasing fertilizer, not weed-killers, in our children's growing brains!


Was this article helpful to you?
Subscribe to Practical Homeschooling today, and you'll get this quality of information and encouragement five times per year, delivered to your door. To start, click on the link below that describes you:

USA Individual
USA Librarian (purchasing for a library)
Outside USA Individual
Outside USA Library

Time4Learning University of Nebraska High School

Articles by Jessica Hulcy

How to Avoid Mindless Unit Studies

Make Drama Part of Your Unit Studies

Do Your Units End with a Bang or a Whimper

Costumes Add Color to Your Unit Studies

Safety First

Columnists Face Off - Unit Studies

Politics the Homeschool Way

What Are Unit Studies All About?

Multi-Culturalism Replaces History

High School Unit Studies Prepare Students for Adulthood Interaction

Picking Curriculum Carefully

How to Give Your Child a Theistic Worldview

To College or Not to College

Brotherhood Begins in the Heart

Education vs. Regurgitation

The Importance of Mentoring

One Word of Advice: Balance!

Teaching the Basics with Unit Studies

Study Units or Unit Studies?

Thanks for the Memories

99¢ Feather Duster or $90 Warbonnet?

Co-oping: The Very Best of Both Worlds

The Key to Exceptional Co-Op Days

Meeting True Heroes Face to Face

From Living Room to Front Lawn: Performances

Co-oping Younger and Older Students Together

Co-op Field Trips: True Three-Dimensional Learning

The Ultimate Field Trip... Europe

The Making of a Master Teacher

Laughter and Movement: Fertilizer for the Brain

Popular Articles

The Charlotte Mason Method

Teach Your Children to Work

The Benefits of Cursive Writing

Montessori Language Arts at Home, Part 1

Narration Beats Tests

Interview with John Taylor Gatto

The Charlote Mason Approach to Poetry

Don't Give Up on Your Late Bloomers

University Model Schools

Montessori Math

Critical Thinking and Logic

A Homeschooler Wins the Heisman

Phonics the Montessori Way

Advanced Math: Trig, PreCalc, and more!

What We Can Learn from the Homeschooled 2002 National Geography Bee Winners

How to "Bee" a Spelling Success

I Was an Accelerated Child

Saxon Math: Facts vs. Rumors

Myth of the Teenager

Joyce Swann's Homeschool Tips

Discover Your Child's Learning Style

Teaching Blends

Getting Organized Part 3

How to Win the Geography Bee

Art Appreciation the Charlotte Mason Way

Shakespeare Camp

Columbus and the Flat Earth...

The Equal Sign - Symbol, Name, Meaning

What Does My Preschooler Need to Know?

Bears in the House

Character Matters for Kids

The Gift of a Mentor

Top Tips for Teaching Toddlers

Getting Organized Part 1 - Tips & Tricks

Combining Work and Homeschool

Who Needs the Prom?

Can Homeschoolers Participate In Public School Programs?

A Reason for Reading

Getting Started in Homeschooling: The First Ten Steps

Give Yourself a "CLEP Scholarship"

Patriarchy, Meet Matriarchy

The Benefits of Debate

Top Jobs for the College Graduate

Whole-Language Boondoggle

Laptop Homeschool

The History of Public Education

Why the Internet will Never Replace Books

AP Courses At Home

Start a Nature Notebook

Classical Education