When I first started writing middle grade, I wondered if I should use simpler words for a younger audience. My gut reaction was “no” – I want to use all the amazing words in my head. After all, I came from a family in which my parents talked to us like adults even when we were small. There’s a popular story about my then three-year-old brother telling my aunt something was “intriguing.” That’s just the way we talked in my family.
Now that I have children of my own, I’ve followed that example, and it’s amazing to see how my kids learn new words. My son turned four in February, and he absorbs new words like a sponge. He’ll ask me questions like:
“What does ‘appreciate’ mean?”
“Why does traffic mean lots of cars?”
He wants to know not just what words mean but why they mean that. I can’t always explain a word’s origins to him, but I love that he wants to know.
Aside from vocabulary, though, it’s interesting to see how he connects the dots, particularly with words that have multiple meanings. More than a year ago, we were on the way home and my husband said he was going to run into the grocery store for something. My son’s response? “You shouldn’t run in the grocery store, Daddy.”
Just yesterday, I was amazed once again. We were talking about how I keep my nails short to play my violin. He asked me, “Why can’t I touch your headband after you put the stuff on it?” For a moment, I had no idea what he was talking about. What does a headband have to do with my violin? But then I connected the dots the way he had. I’ve told him not to touch the hair on my bow after I put rosin on it. He couldn’t remember the word “bow” but knew it had something to do with hair, so he substituted “headband.” We then had a discussion about how a bow is used to play a violin, hold back hair or shoot an arrow. Language is a world that gets bigger for him every day.
The English language offers a plethora of beautiful words for us to use. I learned so much of my vocabulary from reading, and I hope my work will do the same for others. I’m not suggesting the use of obscure words for the sake of teaching them – just not being afraid to use a word because you think a kid might not know it. If they’re interested in your story, they’ll figure the word out, and maybe it will open up a new world for them.
Anyone else have an interesting story about how kids use language?