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 I kept 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 guiding them to 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!