Archive for the ‘Language Development’ Category

Jokes And Riddles

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Mieja sits on her chair, holding FUNTIME RIDDLES ( by Marilyn Helmer and Jane Kurisu ) and with 150% focus reads:

What ship do prize winning athletes sail on?

What is common to a cake and a baseball game?
They both need a good batter.

Why are basketball courts wet?
Because all the players dribble.

Why are football stadiums always cool?
Because the seats are filled with fans.

She is very calm, very composed. There are no pauses and no laughs. Because she does not understand. Heck she can’t even read! She repeats entirely from memory, from what she has recorded away in her brain by listening to what her older sister has read to her. Its hilarious to watch this child read a jokes and riddles book like some one reading SUN TV news.

BTW the riddle book is good. Do check it out.

Chula understands the jokes, I can tell. She is at a stage where she understands both slapstick as well as the subtle semantic/phonological jokes. We also picked up from the library SILLY KNOCK-KNOCKS( author Joseph Rosenbloom, illustrated by Steve Harpster ) and all of the jokes are subtle phonological ones and go right over my head, but Chula gets it. I will give you a sample:
Who’s there?
Canoe who?
Canoe please get off my foot?
( Ammmmaaaa… *some serious eye rolling* it is just like CAN YOU please get off my foot. Did you even think about that? *sending more attitude my way* ) For my part, I irritate her further by saying that I understand the wordplay, but what is so funny in a knock-knock joke?

Tell me folks, is it a cultural thing? I don’t get it. Probably will never, because I did not grow up with it?

PS: Recordings of Mieja “reading” books.

PPS: A riddle for you all. Who can jump taller than the tall mountain? ( Clue: If you are a Dora enthusiast or have one at home, you will know the answer. )

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I reckon that national poetry month just got over. I had been meaning to add my two cents….but better late than never. So here it goes.

Let us play word association. What comes to your mind when you say poetry? This is what comes to my mind:

Glum. Melancholy. Daffodils. Sad. Rote. Wordsworth. Memorize. Exams. Marks. Simile. Metaphor. Hate. Struggle. Depth. Inadequacy. Puzzled. With-reference-to-context. Robert Frost. Complex. Forgetting-and-leaving-a-space-hoping-that-the-word-would-come-to-mind-before-the-exam-bell-rings. Mnemonic.

I know I am not doing justice to the genre of poetry. Especially when early childhood education has nothing but good things to say about poetry and its benefits in language development in young children. I feel that my poetry learning was associated with probing to check for understanding rather than focusing on exposing the beauty of the language and it soured my experience.

I am reading some poetry with my children and at school. From my observations, I feel that poems with a strong cadence are a huge hit with all children. So far I am yet to come across anything that beats Mother Goose in its strong rhythm and cadence. Some of the content in Mother Goose, I feel, is culturally irrelevant, sexist and makes my eyes roll, but I must also say that it is the adult perspective. Children are oblivious to it and are mesmerized. Also from my observations, at around four years children start enjoying nonsense verses. The next in the natural progression is enjoying poems with clever word play. At home we are heavily in to nonsense verses and considering that it the highest level I will ever reach in poetry, we shall remain at that stage for a long time :)

I am sharing some poems that we like at home

My Name Is… By Pauline Clarke
Book: The 20-th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury
Selected by Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Meilo So
Additional Information: I sing it to the tune of “My name is Madhavi, I am from Allepey” (Karadi Tales)

My name is Sluggery-wuggery
My name is Worms-for-tea
My name is Swallow-the-table-leg
My name is Drink-the-Sea.

My name is I-eat-saucepans
My name is I-like-snails
My name is Grand-piano-George
My name is I-ride-whales.

My name is Jump-the-chimney
My name is Bite-my-knee
My name is Jiggery-pokery
And Riddle-me-ree, and ME.

Eletelephony by Laura E.Richards
Book: The 20-th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury
Selected by Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Meilo So
Additional Information: It so happened that Chula and Mieja’s teacher also read this poem at school. Need I say how thrilled they were?!

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use a telephant-
No! no! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone-
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)

Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee-
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

From school: The primary teachers do a cool circle time game in which they sing, “Willaby Wallaby BAY, an elephant sat on JAY. Willaby wallaby BACK, an elephant sat on JACK”. The idea is to rhyme a nonsense word with a child’s name. Once the kids are familiar with this routine, they sing, “Willaby wallaby MALICE, an elephant sat on______”, they pause and the children chorus “ALICE” – they pick a child’s name that rhymes with ‘malice”. If the children are rained in, they are sure to play this game, it keeps them engaged for a long time.

Book: Gasa Gasa Para Para Author: Jeeva Ragunath. Illustrator: Ashok Rajagopalan
Book: A-vil yirundhu Ak varai Author: Jeeva Ragunath. Illustrator: Nancy Raj

Publisher: Tulika

Alliterations, onomatopoeia, funny alphabet pictures, nonsense verses. What is not to like in these books?!
A-vil yirudnhu is about the vowels.
Gasa Gasa Para Para focuses on the consonants and the letters emerging when combined with the vowels. My children like to look at the books and identify the tamil alphabets.

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What Does One Learn From A Book?

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I mean any book.

Subject matter.

If so, why is it suggested that parents read to infants? Do infants really ‘get’ the subject matter? Definitely not in the adult sense.


Hmm…. Kind of yes. But again not in the adult sense.

From a book, over many many reading sessions, a child slowly realizes

-Print symbolizes language.
-Words symbolize objects and/or actions.
-Letters symbolize sounds.
-Thought process can be communicated either verbally or through print.
-Print holds knowledge.
-Print follows a certain pattern, some ground rules. For example, in many languages books are read from front to back, top to bottom, from left to right.
-It prepares them for an adult life where print is used to acquire/disseminate knowledge and to communicate ideas.
-Reading loudly to a child creates phonemic awareness and phonic awareness. This later leads to reading and writing development.

If a child can learn so much from a book created by another person, what can she learn from a book that she creates? Is it possible for a child who cannot read to make books?

In Montessori they have a wonderful work material called definition books. These books are approximately 3inch X 3inch, spiral bound, with about 5-8 pages, on subjects such as mammals, parts of the root, parts of the leaf etc, with simple illustrations on one side and a 2-3-sentence explanation on the other side. It is perfect for a young child to hold and use. A Montessori teacher uses these books in her classroom in various ways depending on the stage the child represents.

I am not going in to the philosophy and the exact use of these books in a Montessori classroom, but FYI, the progression roughly follows: reading the book to the child -> asking the child if she wants to make a book -> taking the child to challenging stages depending on the child’s fine motor control+ability to focus+ periods of concentration+child’s ability to come back to the same work and continue from where she left off -> finally helping the child to assemble her hard work in to a book that is a replica of the definition book on the work shelf.

Sometimes children do one book or at times half a book and move on. Some children do a few books till they get the fundamentals mastered. Chula being a specialist, has made all the definition books that are present in her classroom. After she did the first few books she declared that her goal is to create a library with her books that contain her own illustrations and handwriting. So we have about 21 of the books she made. The first book dates to the beginning of 2009 and the most recent book shows the date Feb 2010. As a result of these wonderful books, I now have the opportunity to look at her progress in writing.

The first book is devoid of any letters, she had just traced the pictures. The next stage, she had traced the definitions and I can see plainly that the she had done the tracing blindly driven by the challenge of following the cursive in the definition books. In the stage that followed she was able to read what she was writing and she shows control over the script. A recent time stamped book from this collection is a poem book. The title of the book is Caterpillar by Christina Rossetti. She has done a front cover, back cover, no tracing, but she has copied the poem and I was said (by her) that she has been working with her teachers on ‘POEMS’ and she made this book. The most recent book is a book on ‘FROOTS AND VECHTUBLS’. She said that she made observational drawings of the life sized fruits and vegetable models they have in their classroom and captioned it without any help. In this book the author and illustrator has presented to us belle peper, aplle, lemin, oringe, graip, sraberee :)

I am very much enjoying her progression from just doing the work given to the stage where she takes ownership of her work and creates. And to add to this Mieja has started to bring her books home. The first book on Animals of Antarctica was proudly presented on Feb4, 2010. She had traced a few Antarctic animals and her teacher captioned the animals for her. The third and the most recent book is a complete definition book on the ‘Parts of the leaf’, pictures, front and back cover and tracing of definition included. I can’t wait to see what this one has in store for us :)

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Language Development IV

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Part I here.
Part II here.
Part III here.
Part IV here.

Considering how I acquired language and how I grew up, my brain is very bilingual and it adapts to the environment I am in. While in India, I found myself reading more Tamil, speaking more Tamil, hearing different dialects of Tamil and thinking more in Tamil. I remember hitting road blocks while trying to do creative writing in English. My vocabulary tank hit empty often and I confuse tenses. Presently the case is reversed. In my case, I feel my Tamil is just dormant and will come back with immersion.

My parents are with me right now, which makes me focus on something interesting. My dad was educated in Tamil medium till he completed high school. English was just one of the subjects. But he studied his history, geography, math, science, for that matter even English, through Tamil. He started formal English medium in his undergrad. He later acquired three masters degrees and a PhD in organic chemistry. He says that he struggled quite a bit for the first couple of months in undergrad, but it was smooth sailing after that. I find that his English is REALLY good. Much better than mine! We are talking about the person, who represented Annamalai University in the National Level and received prizes from Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr.Radhakrishnan for his creative writing in English and his mono act as Shylock. This is not totally out of context, because this article triggered my train of thought.

Now to the challenges I face as an immigrant parent. Both my children started as very fluent in Tamil. When they started preschool, they could follow simple one sentence directions in English, but couldn’t talk other than yes or no. It was a silent language receiving period for them for the first two months of preschool. After that they started code switching. Now it is English all the time. Initially I thought that the fascination of the newly acquired language is making them talk in English all the time and that they will change. After two years, I feel that they have successfully converted me!

Most of the bilingual studies in the United States, I feel, cannot be applied to the unique case of the Indian immigrant. In the States, the focus is more on ‘ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE(ESL)’ learner. An ESL learner, is very fluent in his/her mother tongue, is introduced to English after the home language is mastered and continues to get her home language immersion at home, from relatives, peers from the same cultural background, entertainment media and books. Where as the development of home language in children of Indian immigrants is precarious. The children switch to English after they enter school and their level of home language immersion is not that great, owing to a great deficit in the dosage of home language they receive.

As a resident of the state of California, I am in a better shape when compared with my peers living in some remote city in the States. Here we have The California Tamil Academy, a Tamil school that we can send our children to. Not that an one hour a week, Tamil school is a cure all wonder, but in the worst case, one can at least hope that the children pick up some basic Tamil for survival. I volunteer to teach Tamil for a small group of ten year old children. I have to say that these children are pretty good. They can read, write and understand Tamil. They can talk, but are extremely self-conscious.

As a teacher how do I bridge the gap between spoken and written Tamil in my classroom? CTA follows the text books from Tamil Nadu text book society. Also the Tamil classes through CTA can count as foreign language credits in certain school districts in the Bay Area. So the text books have to be of a certain format and the syllabus has to meet certain standards. So the Tamil in the text book is appropriately formal for that level. From my observation of the children in my classroom, they do not think that that Tamil in text books are formal or different. They do not recognize the gap, because most of them converse mostly in English. Their dose of spoken Tamil at home is limited. Even if their parents talk in Tamil, an average ten year old gets a total 30 minute talk time with their parents after school-homework-homework related talk-play-extra curricular activities.

This is different from an average child growing up in India, where the child gets quite a bit of regional language from the environment and this language is different from what they read in books.

My aim as a Tamil teacher is to make the children feel comfortable talking in Tamil while helping them to read and write. Some how make them connect Tamil language and Tamil literacy. If at the end of a year, these children can recognize that there is a gap between spoken and written Tamil, I will be happy. Major portion of my 60 minute class is devoted to conversation. Most of the time, we talk about something that they can relate to. So I pick the young adult fiction to talk to them. (May the husband note that I am merely doing classroom research and Y.A Fiction is not to satisfy the child in me that refuses to grow up.) Books like this and this gets the conversation flowing effortlessly for a good 30 minutes. Every one has two cents to add and we help each other when we get struck forming a sentence in Tamil. The wimpy kid even branched off in to areas like right and wrong, about how bullying affects them etc.

This concludes part IV.

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Part I here.
Part II here.
Part III here.

What started as a comment reply on Tulika’s blog, discussions on Saffron Tree’s yahoo group and my personal blog, grew and decided to become a blog post. It also ties in with the Language development series I am doing, so here goes it….

There are two components to every language – Language part and the Literacy part.

Language is to talk and understand(when spoken to) a language. Literacy is print awareness in that language – to read and to write.

Typically children are experts in the language part by the time they are three, how is a mystery even to experts, but we are not going to go in to theories now. Then they slowly get the literacy part at around 5-6 years. That is what is developmentally appropriate.

I speak Tamil…or rather used to speak Tamil. In Tamil there is a gap between language and literacy and the gap is widening as we speak. If I think abt it, the gap still existed when I learnt Tamil as a second language. But I was immersed in both spoken Tamil and literate Tamil all the time. One of my early memories – writing my 4th std half yearly exams and delibrately spelling out, ‘nadandhu sendrar'(means ‘he walked’) and wondering we would say ‘nadandhu ponaru’ (also means ‘he walked’, but in spoken form), but while writing this is what we do. So it took me 9 years of my life to figure out that there is a bridge between Tamil language and Tamil literacy. But that was it, I never focused on that difference. After coming to the US, Tamil still persevered, through movies, music and books. Suddenly I look back and find that there are huge gaps.

In the past five years, mainly due to the kids, my external sources of Tamil language and literacy dried out. I haven’t laid my hands on any Tamil magazines/books in the past four years. Watching movies has become such a chore that I have to drink tea to make sure that I don’t doze off and the caffeine has been successful only for the first thirty or so minutes, after that Nithra Devi takes over. Tamil music, though mostly written in English, every couple of years YaadaYaada downloads some Tamil songs in to my laptop that goes in to iTunes and I listen to it in the car during my six minute drive to and from work.

So what about the internal sources? After all I did grow up in Singara Chennai and lived there for the first 22 years of my life! All I can say is, it is tough to keep up if one is not immersed. Plus it is so easy to parent in English. I can say to a child who is trying to claw or hit her sibling, “Well, the way I see it, you have two choices. You can use your hands gently and stay with us and have fun or I am taking you to the bed to clam down”. In English, it just flows, I don’t even have to think and construct the sentence. I dare not attempt it in Tamil.

Now language is something that is very fluid. It changes, grows, evolves, assimilates, gets diluted, adapts and waits for no one to catch up. Tamil language is even more fluid than Tamil literacy. I find that there is a gap not only between my own Tamil language and my own Tamil literacy, but also considering that my Tamil was locked in 1999 and became stagnant, I find gaps between my spoken Tamil and Tamil currently spoken Tamil Nadu.

If I paint the picture of a immigrant who has forgotten her roots, pardon me, I have to point out that I am not alone. One look at the survey results, tells me that even people living in India are in the same boat as me. Over multiple generations, this is the trend I see – my grandparents’ generation with about 20% gap between their spoken and written Tamil, my parents’ generation with about 50% gap spoken and written Tamil, gen-YNOT college kids with 60% difference between spoken and written Tamil and the young school going ones with 75% difference between spoken and written Tamil.

Okay there is a gap. How do we deal with it? What are the challenges I face as a parent? What are the challenges I face as an immigrant parent? What do I do in my classroom as a Tamil teacher? Part IV people.

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Language Development – II

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A very old post I wrote on Language Development here.

Now, the poll results.

Number of people participated – 141 (People living in India = 43.9% + People living outside India = 56.02%)

99.29% know at least one Indian language. 30.49% know at least two Indian languages. 24.11% know at least three Indian languages.

89.36% have at least one language common with their spouse. Only 4.96% do not have a common Indian language with their spouse. Some people did not explicitly specify the languages the spouse knows and there were some unmarried people. That comes to roughly 5.6%

92.19% of us feel strongly(7 or higher on a scale of 1 – 10, one being the lowest and 10 being the highest) that our children must know at least one Indian language. 3.5% rated it at 5 and 0.7% rated it at 1.

In spite of 89.36% of us having at least one common language with our spouse, and 92.19% feeling strongly about their child speaking an Indian language, only 29.07% of us speak to our children in an Indian language.

I am not specifying the % of children who can talk and understand and Indian language because some were very young children and the number would not be a true representation.

Couple of personal revelations:

After this poll, I have a new gained respect to the standardized polls with restrictive choices. I always thought the generic polls are too foo-foo, but hey one learns something new every day-huh?!

Also I underestimated the power of the blogging mommy network, I did not expect such good turn out. I spent a great deal of time parsing and organizing the data.

I would like to thank you all for your time and your valuable inputs.

Keep tuned for more on Language Development in young children.


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How Does Sense Of Humor Develop In Children?

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By observing Chula and Mieja, I have a rough humor development chart.

  • They both laughed for nursery rhymes like ‘Chubby cheeks dimple chin…’, ‘This little piggy went to the market’…. and ‘Round and round the garden’ around 2 months – 4 months.
  • Then they laughed for peek-a-boo, between 7 months to a year.
  • Then the ‘oopsi doopsie’ phase – If I drop something, either on purpose or by accident, it evoked peals of laughter. This started around a year or so. There is a subtlety in this phase. It initially starts with laughing only after the completion of the event and matures to start giggling at the anticipation of the event. Chula and Mieja are now in the latter stage.
  • Kumbal-oda Govinda (Meaning: following the crowd)– Sometime around 20 – 22 months, Chula used to watch Barney and laugh when she hears or sees other children laughing. It would be a verbal joke, and she would still laugh. It was interesting to observe her do this because I was curious what provoked her to laugh. Questioning her did not bring me any clarity because she did not understand what I was talking about. So I concluded that she laughed just to be a part of whatever was going on. It also reminded me of my childhood. Around 6-7 years I used to watch ‘The Lucy Show’ in television. With the American accent and all, I had no idea what they were talking about, but I would still laugh and my parents used to pull my legs. My father would ask me to explain the joke with a twinkle in his eyes and I would draw a blank :) . My mom also observed Chula laughing for Barney and remarked, ‘Just like you did…’
  • Last month we were at a birthday party. The host hired a clown to entertain the kids. The clown had some slapstick routines, every time he bent down to pick some thing from his case, he would make a loud offensive fart noise. And every time he did that my Chula laughed her head off!! The other kids laughed because the noise was socially inappropriate. Chula still does not know that it is not ‘proper’ to make bodily noises in public. She still does not know the difference between ‘pleasant’ smell and ‘unpleasant’ smell. She takes a deep breath, fills her lungs with pleasant/unpleasant odor and says, ‘Hmmmm, ahaaa, smells like good amma’. Then why did she laugh? I asked her some simple questions and the conclusion this time was that the surprise caused by the impromptu action made her laugh. She still didn’t get the adult version of the joke. This was around 33 months of age.
  • This got me quite interested in (1) What is sense of humor? (2) How does sense of humor develop in children? Are children born with it or do they acquire it? (3) What is the connection between intelligence and sense of humor? (4) Can it be conditioned? If so what can a parent do to encourage the child’s sense of humor? (5) Is there a universal pattern in the development of humor in children? (6) How does humor help a child?

    I did a bit of research about this. People like Aristotle and Darwin did quite a bit of research and ended up just touching the tip of the iceberg. So I am definitely not doing full justice to this topic.

    In simple words, humor is the ability to appreciate the unexpected.

    Is humor nature or nurture? My understanding is that humor is acquired. Because, infants simply do not have the verbal and cognitive ability to process jokes. The baby laughing when tickled is just a response to physical stimulation. As they grow a bit, they see the adults laughing and mimic them. Then they see they can please the adults by laughing and they laugh. Then they realize that some thing falling down and the mother making a funny ‘oopsie-doopsie’ or a parent making a silly face is an unexpected action and they laugh in response to that. Humor development is strongly associated with the brain’s ability to process and support the processed information.

    We do not see animals laughing. Nope I stand corrected, apparently it is proven that even rats ‘laugh’ when their ribs are tickled! But that is just a response to a physical stimulation. What I menat is animals do not perceive jokes and respond to that with laughter. Well, I am not counting chimps, they do seem to have a concept of humor, mostly slapstick. So sense of humor must be a sign of intelligence right? Looks like we human beings come with the biological capacity to laugh, make jokes and understand jokes. Our brains are ‘wired to take pleasure from humor and laughter’. There are three different zones in the brain, each with the synaptic information to process different kinds of jokes (semantic jokes, phonological jokes, and slapstick jokes). By correlating this information with the study (if I may call it so!!) of my daughters, I conclude that the zone for slapstick develops earlier. For the other kind of jokes the brain has to be mature enough to grasp the humor. So is a child shows the ability to understand a phonological joke or a semantic joke before she is expected to, it is logical to assume that her brain is quite mature for her age. Also to see through the current disaster, pick the sliver lining and make a joke about it requires complicated brainwork. So I am convinced that humor is definitely a sign of intelligence.

    Yes, humor can be conditioned. Parents with good sense of humor have children with good sense of humor. The more humorous situations a baby is exposed to, the better his sense of humor.
    At the risk of sounding too Baby center-ish here are some practical tips

  • Play with the baby.
  • Laugh with the baby.
  • Plenty of interaction with the father (The logical reasoning behind this sexist statement is that the mother has more parenting responsibilities and is always a serious task master. But the father tends to be the good cop and his mood is more relaxed. For example, when the baby is scooping her peas and throwing it all over the room, instead of worrying about clean up and nutrition, like the mother does, the father laughs and makes jokes.)
  • Listen to your child’s stories.
  • Encourage her to be creative.
  • Read humorous stories.
  • Use humor as an alternative to scolding.
  • A much as I would like to take credit for this humor development chart for children, it is NOT MINE. I found this section on the web. But I misplaced the link and I am not able to trace it. If some one finds this link, I will be happy to give credit to author.
    **Begin quote
    Here are the general stages of development for what makes children laugh. Keep in mind, though, that it’s impossible to be specific about each child’s development, and stages typically overlap.

    6-12 months: Takes delight in caregiver’s unexpected actions. Example: peekaboo.
    12 to 15 months: Graduates from reacting to something funny to initiating it. Example: putting a cup on Daddy’s head and calling it a hat.
    2 years: Makes “mistakes” to show mastery of a subject. Example: You ask her to show you her nose, she points to her knees.
    3 years: Distorts known features of words, ideas, and objects. Example: asking for a dirt muffin and worm cheese; slapstick and potty humor.
    4 to 5: The pre-riddle stage, when they have the form but not the content.
    Example: “Why does the chicken cross the road?” “To go to bed.”
    6 to 7: Riddles and knock-knock jokes.
    End quote**

    This making mistakes to show mastery of a subject is how rubber duckie and donut originated! So Chula, Mieja can’t wait to hear your knock-knock jokes!

    Sense of humor helps children the same way it helps an adult. Every one loves, accepts and are friends with a person with a good sense of humor. Apart from the social aspect, humor helps people get through the dull, boring, hard, hectic, painful, lousy, anxious, uncomfortable, dark phases of life. Jokes, especially phonological and semantic ones, will help cildren understand the subtility in language. Personally I developed my tamil by reading jokes from Ananda Vikatan/Daily Tandhi. Of course, all of us have heard about the bit laughter + endorphins = healthy body/life/mind.

    Some more interesting information:
    Coming back to one of my all time favorite topics, gender differences, sense of humor starts off the same in children of both sexes. Around 6 years or so, owing to the differences in brain development and the way the information is processed, there are certain things that are more appealing to boys than girls and vice versa. Girls like verbal humor, boys like physical, slapstick and off color jokes! Since society accepts boys making physical jokes, better than girls making physical jokes, the pattern gets set.

    (If the full link is not displayed, click here to read the article.)

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