Guest blogger Andy Partington is not only the Minister to Preschoolers and Children at First Baptist Minden, Louisiana, but he is also a gifted ventriliquist and entertainer. His tips on using words to keep children engaged are helpful whether you are a performer, teacher, storyteller, group leader or someone who just loves working with children. You can find out more about him at http://www.andypartingtonblog.com
I have this tendency to think faster than I talk. I don’t stutter, but what usually ends up happening is my words tend to come out funny. The first letter of the second word likes to swap places with the first letter of the first and I end up creating an entirely new vocabulary.
As a child, this occurrence bothered me.
As an adult and performer I tend to use it to my advantage.
After all, kids laugh.
Saying it Silly
Now in the grand scheme of things there is a hierarchy of words in the dictionary based on silliness. It may not always be easily seen to the beginner, but years and years of copying Merriam Webster’s big book through disciplinary action has taught me that this is so. Over the years playwrights, clowns, and vaudevillians have always held to the rule that the hard “k” sound is particularly funny. I haven’t the slightest reason to give, but through practice I’ve always tried to include it in my routines. For instance, if I’m picking a random city or locale, I’ll go with “Kalamazoo” or “Kisatchie” as opposed to “Baltimore” or “Springfield.”
Children also respond to their own unique fun words that seem to be universal. “Spaghetti” is a word that usually draws laughs. It’s also one of the favorite foods that kids yell out most often when asked. Perhaps there is humor in familiarity paired with the natural mouth feel and silliness of the word. This is great fun to explore and play around with. During your next message or performance, take a little time to throw in a few new words or try out some of the examples above. Then see if you can find a reason for all the chuckles. If you can’t find the cause, who cares?
Kids are laughing.
Another way to make kids laugh is to use funny names. Go for something meaningless and stupid. It’s always best to stay away from hurtful or descriptive names, because we’re in the business of making laughs, not psychological scars.
At a recent church, I was blessed with two girls named Joyce. I could have easily gone with “Joyce 1” and “Joyce 2”, and that would have resulted in a few smiles. But inspiration hit and I realized that I had one Joyce and a copy… another Joyce…a resulting Joyce…a re-Joyce…Rejoice!
Also, you might have noticed that parents have become increasingly clone worthy in their naming and that you might have a room full of Austin’s, or Hunter’s, or Reginald’s. The common classroom quick fix is to add the last initial to the name..Ex. Austin A and Austin F.
But we want kids to laugh.
How about something completely different?
How about some nonsense?
Austin A and Austin “Potato Salad.”
Okay, first off…it’s dumb, but kids laugh.
The second thing is that I didn’t point out which one was given the silly name. So, it works out that neither of them has to wear a label that they didn’t necessarily desire and they both get to claim it if that’s the attention that they want. (9 out of 10 times they both want to be “potato salad.”)
Mostly Magic Words
I have a lot of props in my act and tend to name them completely off the wall names that, through repetition, help the youngsters to easily identify what I’m doing based on what prop I’m holding and referring to.
A few examples are: My screen remote is called a “flurb.” My puppet trunk is called the “box-o-stuff,” and I often refer to any kind of magic wand or pointer as a “spatula.”
All of which garner laughs with very little mention. Returning kids will even mention these items when I fail to on a regular basis.
This helps us in two ways.
One, they laugh.
And two, they repeat.
Parents are constantly stopping me and asking if I’m the guy who taught their kid this. When parents notice, word of mouth grows.
But most importantly, kids laugh.