It’s never too early to start developing a child’s sense of humor. Babies’ smiles and laughs are so delightful that we often do this intuitively — smiling at them or tickling them many times a day just to hear a chuckle. Babies don’t really understand humor but they do know when you’re smiling and happy. When you make funny noises or faces and then laugh or smile, the baby is likely to sense your joy and imitate you. He or she is also highly responsive to physical stimuli like tickling.

Toddlers appreciate physical humor especially the kind with an element of surprise (like peek-a-boo). One of the best ways to do this is to spend time every day being receptive to many opportunities each child gives you to smile or laugh.  As children develop language skills, they find rhymes and words with no meanings funny and this continues into the preschool years.

As preschoolers explore their world they are more likely to find humor in a picture with something out of whacks like a car with square wheels, a pig wearing sunglasses than a joke or pun. The incongruity between pictures and sounds (a horse that says moo) is also funny. As they become more aware of bodily functions, preschoolers often start delighting in bathroom humor. Preschoolers have difficulty determining when using bathroom humor is appropriate, so you might set guidelines for your classroom.

Kindergartners find basic wordplay, exaggeration, and slapstick funny. By this age they discover the pleasure of telling simple jokes especially, knock knock…, it is fun to be the one who knows the punch line! Jokes are repeated over and over.  Older grade-schoolers have a better grasp of what words mean and are able to play with them — they like puns, riddles, and other forms of wordplay.  Also, be game enough to laugh so the jokes don’t fall flat.

It’s important to keep encouraging humor development as children grow. When you’re playful and humorous with a child, delighting in silliness and laughter, you help him or her develop a playful and humorous attitude about life. Be spontaneous, playful, and aware of what each child finds funny at different ages.