December 8, 2010

"A word fitly spoken..."

Using flashcards and workbooks to try to expand a child's vocabulary is a colossal waste of time.  That may sound like an audacious declaration to some of you, considering the overwhelming volume of vocabulary-related educational materials available, not to mention the extensive research that goes into their development.  I don’t have hard scientific evidence to back up my claim, but I do have four well-spoken children who don’t use vocabulary flashcards or workbooks.  No fancy, expensive homeschool program brought about their ability to express their thoughts succinctly, accurately, and creatively.  And I’m not using today’s post as a foundation to sell you my own contrived and expensive plan.  I’ll hand this tidbit out for free.  Ours is a simple approach with three basic components: talking, reading, and watching TV.  And no, I’m not kidding about that last one.
From the time they were born, we have spoken to our children like they are the intelligent human beings God created them to be.  In our family, no one has ever had a “boo-boo.”  We refer to it as a "cut."  They aren’t born knowing our language, but they have the full potential to, and are soaking it in from our example long before they can participate verbally.  We use a softer and sweeter voice when speaking to an infant than a teenager, but the word bank from which we draw is the same, as is the complexity of our sentence structure, more or less.  When our kids don’t understand a word we’ve used, they either piece it together from context or they ask its meaning, and we clarify.  It’s really that simple.  Equally as elementary and obvious, we also believe we need to converse with our children constantly; the more often we speak with them, the more they get to practice their language skills and model themselves after the adults around them.
Reading is the second essential part of this plan.  We read to and with our kids, but we also taught them how to read independently by age three or four.  Our primary goal in teaching them to read is so that they can read their Bibles on their own, and be able to judge what people say about the Lord against what He says about Himself.  But a fringe benefit to them being able to read both the Bible and the plethora of books we have around is that they learn new words and develop all of their language skills in a way that isn’t boring, falling headfirst into a good story.
And now for the hard sell: TV.  I know that some of you who read this blog aren’t big on it; that’s a discussion for another day.  But I am here to attest to the fact that SpongeBob has taught my children words and expressions more effectively than any worksheet ever could.  It matters to them, so they listen.  They want to understand what their favorite yellow square-panted friend is saying, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching that magnificent-if-not-annoying show, you’ll know that SpongeBob speaks like an adult.  He has an irritating voice, but a normal vocabulary.  His friend Patrick Star is another story, but even in his evident stupidity he teaches our kids; they know he’s a moron, and not someone to emulate.
Watching TV together, seemingly catatonic,
but as absorbent as SpongeBob himself
The goal of expanding your children’s vocabulary shouldn’t be to impress your friends and family with how bright they are: it is to free your children to communicate effectively the thoughts in their mind to the world around them.  It’s to give them a vital tool they need to thrive in this world, just as with everything parents teach their children.  In our view, teaching our kids how to express their thoughts well is a necessary skill the Lord expects us to give them.  It’s important to remember that He designed us with an ability to acquire language naturally and use it in both oral and written form.  Why would we tamper with His perfect design, removing language from its natural experience?  That is what those militant, monotonous, and dreary vocabulary flash cards and workbooks do.  It’s unthinkable.  Give us a good conversation, a good book, or a good episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

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