Monday, July 15, 2013

Mind your language

My daughter (17) is working at a summer camp with kids ages 9 and 10. It's a literacy camp in an impoverished and 'high-needs' area of our city.
She's enjoying it and the kids adore her. She tells me she uses her extensive (and highly prodigious) vocabulary—never simplifying her speech.
Their curiosity is peaked. "They like it when I speak to them using my full vocabulary," she explains. "They don't always get it and I have to explain words. Kids want to know what is going on, they should try and figure things out."
She is giving them that opportunity and they rise to the challenge. There is no dumbing down of the conversation because, "It's the context that matters. They don't understand the words but they get the meaning of what I am saying—or they try to get the meaning."

Berthe Morisot

That's been my approach exactly in raising my kids. No baby talk.
And when it comes to books I am a snob.  Choosing books to read to little kids is a great responsibility (and an honour) which I take it very seriously.
When the kids were young and even into their early teens, I would always go for well written books, books with beautiful language; the poetic, the books that were multi-layered in their stories and that had meaning and scope for reflection. It is not surprising that my teens are all well spoken.

The other day I was at the library looking for books for my three year old nephew. I was really dismayed at the array of books on display: dull, trite material with very limited room for interpretation ('This is Bob. Bob is a builder').
Is this a case of the library buying what the public demands I wonder?

I lament at what has happened to many of the classics—like Winnie the Pooh (the Disney versions)—that have been stripped of all art, imagination and beauty. What we are left with are caricatures of the real thing, a dismal situation that detracts from the meaningful and lively content that the author worked to convey and that children respond to with delight and enthusiasm.

My friend was telling me how her husband was reading Dr. Seuss books to her 3 year old and how they didn't understand any of it.  I asked her why that mattered to her? What they are actually picking up (besides cuddle time with Dad), is the play of language, enjoyment in the spoken word, entertainment and fun.
Stay tuned for a list of my favourite books for young children for my next post.


Anonymous said...

Treating kids with respect-such a foreign concept for so many. Love these books!

Laura Grace Weldon said...

My kids have noticed that their expansive vocabularies are an anomaly, at least out in the general population. Well, they don't really notice until someone points it out to them. But that happens.

Language is powerful. It gives us more exacting terms to describe what we're thinking and feeling. I'm not sure precisely how my kids picked up words that other people don't use. Probably books, conversation, peers of all ages---all providing examples that are nuanced and rich with meaning.

Anonymous said...

As a librarian and former homeschooler, I am dismayed that you were unable to find wonderful books at your library. I, too, love the classics but there are amazing characters, adventures and ideas being written for young people today, too. Ask your librarians for their favorites or tell them you're looking for those special "quality" books. If the library doesn't hear from you, they may not know the desire is there. Hold them up to higher standards (tactfully) and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the response.

beatrice ekoko said...

@Laura-I'm sure you read plenty to them too!

beatrice ekoko said...

@Anon-thanks for this great perspective. And of course there are great books being written today. I personal would like to see more books with diversity representation—people of colour, etc

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