I was very interested to read the article by Gill Worrall about joke books for children in the recent online newsletter and was prompted to respond with some of my own Coram Beanstalk experiences using jokes. 

Since 2018, when I first started as a reading helper, I have used joke books as a very effective aid when reading with children. I nearly always end each session using a selection of joke books where the real fun is trying to guess the correct answers or even coming up with suggestions which are wrong, but nevertheless funny.  

There's no doubt in my mind that the easiest way to get a reluctant child to start enjoying reading, in a way they do not necessarily associate with formal reading, is by using humour. This always leaves the child with happy thoughts in their mind and maybe happiness in their heart when our time together ends. 

Soon I found they were bringing their own jokes to the sessions which gave them more involvement with choosing what to read. It increased their confidence to express themselves openly and in an appealing way - and also to realise that many words sound the same but have different meanings.  

I have found jokes that play on words are particularly useful to children as it teaches them both consciously and unconsciously to understand words and how to use words in an interesting way. They have to think about what they are reading. Above all it is fun to do! 

For a while I had a child with me who I was told was quite difficult for the teachers to manage in regular school lessons. He often created disruptions in the classroom and was sent out of the class ‘to cool off’. He attended a special school two days a week as it was thought this would help him. 

I continued helping the child with two half-hour sessions twice a week and found that the jokes were so successful in engaging him that I made it a longer part of the session. I really felt as though he enjoyed coming for his reading time with me. 

His behaviour and attitude to our reading sessions gradually improved, even to the extent that one of the teachers from the special school he attended came down to the school to observe me working with the child. 

It is my belief that encouraging a child through jokes and helping them explore language in a fun way is always beneficial and often enables them to enjoy reading more formal books, whether they be fact or fiction. 

I have found many children who have problems with the meaning of written text can actually read the words reasonably well but the meaning can all too easily go in one ear and out the other, as the saying goes.  

Of course, there are many different ways to help children with their reading and these need to be tried as well. However, to help children get an initial grasp of words and their meaning, the fun of jokes can help a child improve their understanding of language and increase their reading skills in a relaxed way and have they can have fun while doing so.