Last week I spoke about how children are often willing and able to embrace complex vocabulary, and I’d like to expound on that here.
Never be afraid to use a long word with a young child. Children love playing with language and long, complicated words can be fabulously alluring.
A class of 7-8 year olds I worked with got hooked on the whole concept of the history of language. It really kept me on my toes. I had to make sure I’d looked up the origin and derivation of any words I thought they might ask me about, and keep my etymological dictionary with me just in case they caught me out. One term, their focus was the Egyptians, so I’d got myself as up to speed as I could on relevant vocabulary, in preparation for my weekly session with them. Sure enough, as soon as I mentioned the Sphinx, the hands went up, and the question was asked, “Where does the word ‘Sphinx’ come from Nikky?” and I dutifully replied, “It comes from the Greek word ‘Sphgix’ meaning To Squeeze*”.
They persisted, “Why?” and I had to confess that I had absolutely no idea why. Then magic happened. One little boy put up his hand and proffered, "Could it be because the Sphinx is two different creatures squeezed into one?” Brilliant.
For me, that is the essence of good learning. The most valid teaching is the stuff they teach themselves, and that is more likely to happen in an atmosphere of playful exploration.
Play is crucial throughout life, and the more we can instigate a sense of play in our children, in a broad range of spheres, the more resilient they will be to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and the more tools they will have at their disposal to problem solve creatively throughout life.
*I didn’t mention that this is also the root from which we get the word sphincter!
We all have memories of secrets hidden from our parents and other grown-ups, of wanting to mark out the territories in our lives where they were not allowed to go. Sometimes these can be physical spaces, whether a private meeting place or a den or the sacred inner sanctum of a teenager’s bedroom, and sometimes the boundaries are more conceptual.
Language serves this purpose beautifully. In the past, youngsters have used back-slang, pig latin and other fabulously creative inventions to be able to communicate in ways that they suppose adults cannot understand (forgetting that they were once kids too!). I have known groups of children construct highly complex language codes which could be spoken and written fluently by the chosen few.
Have you heard about the recent publishing phenomenon ‘The Lost Words’?
The authors wanted to create a beautiful book to revive once-common words, especially those dealing with nature, excised from the Oxford Junior Dictionary - and it’s really taken off. All over the UK, adults are raising funds to gift copies of the book to schools, including every Primary, Secondary and Special School in Scotland.
It’s a combination of glorious illustrations and poems that the authors liken to spells.
As part of the How to Speak Child project, I have been collecting interviews with children regarding how adults communicate with them. In each of a series of articles I'm writing for Teach Early Years magazine, I’m focussing on one prominent theme. For the most recent issue, my article deals with the issue of SHOUTING!!
My thanks to editor Jacob Stow for allowing reproduction, and if you want to know more, details of this and their other magazines and resources are available at: https://www.teachwire.net