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Davids, J. (1987). Laughter in the Nursery. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 10(4):307-318.

(1987). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 10(4):307-318

Laughter in the Nursery

Jennifer Davids

The Anna Freud Centre Nursery School provides a facility for a small group of children of disadvantaged families. Many of these families are immigrants struggling with the acquisition of a new language, with the difficulties of settling into new jobs and into an alien culture; others are divorced or single parents striving to bring up their children. The Nursery School has a homely, family-like atmosphere. There is a high staff-child ratio, enabling the staff to gain an intimate knowledge of each pupil.

During my weekly observations in the Nursery School from May 1986 to February 1987, I was struck by the laughter of these lively two -, three- and four- year-old children. At first, these fleeting expressions of gaiety seemed wholly interwoven with their play, but as I listened more carefully I became increasingly attuned to the details of their jokes. I began to discern different kinds of laughter, different situations which triggered laughter, and lastly my own amusement at the children's actions and perceptions.

I have divided the material into categories which are not discrete and overlap to varying degrees. Much of my interpretation must be regarded as speculative. I hope the spirit of the laughter will remain, despite my laborious attempts at analysis!

Laughter to do with words

The sounds of words seemed to evoke much laughter in the children of all ages. Unfamiliar names functioned as powerful catalysts and would trigger situations of what Sherman (1975) has termed ‘group glee’. The following two observations serve as illustrations:

Mrs B is showing all the children photographs of the African nursery school where she used to work. The children laugh at some of the African names, particularly the ones with less familiar sounds.

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