As children acquire language skills, they also begin to experiment with different ways of communicating. Exposure to new vocabulary allows them more precision and power in expressing their opinions and ideas.
Our classroom study of new vocabulary words began organically. Early in the school year, we created a “Manifesto” that stated all of the classroom’s beliefs. Rather than creating a list of rules, that can be meaningless (and often negative) to children, the Manifesto was a list of things the kids communally agreed that they believed in; a list of the characteristics they wanted to classroom to be, stated in their own language.
I found it interesting how often the kids would refer to the Manifesto, specifically by name, when there had been any infringement on its declarations.
“He is not following the Manifesto!” they would exclaim. Or: “The Manifesto says ‘use a kind voice’,” Or even: “I made a mistake, but it’s okay, the Manifesto says you can make a mistake.”
Having a label; a big, defining new word – MANIFESTO – for this list of beliefs, enabled a sort of framework for the kids to talk about classroom rules and behavior. It also offered a common language that the entire class understood.
On another occasion, the class was discussing some social conflicts. It occurred to me that what they were really feeling and talking about was lack of respect. It was the only word I could think of that truly captured the sentiments. The kids repeated the word “respectful” and asked questions about what it meant.
“So it means to be nice?” one girl asked.
“Well,” I responded, “Yes, but it’s more than that.” I tried to think of a developmentally appropriate way to define respect. “It’s really about believing that another person is important,” I finally settled on. “And treating them in a way that is important. It’s about taking care to not cause harm to anyone because they are important.”
The class took this in and added this new word to their ever- evolving vocabulary.
The word “respect” quickly became the mantra of the classroom. Everything seemed to be held up to the litmus of whether or not it was respectful. The word, and concept, was so much richer and more powerful than “being nice”. It crystallized and nailed what we were trying to achieve in our community.
“That is not respectful,” I would hear kids say to one another. The class as a whole became much more aware of treating one another in a respectful way, and it changed the vibe in the room and the way we spoke about conflicts.
As children’s language becomes more sophisticated, they begin to play with sounds and love the challenge of saying a complicated new word. My class learned a song this year that had the word “potentiality” in it. The class loved saying this word, pronouncing it over and over. The learned that it meant they could do anything they put their minds to.
When you actually hear children using these new words in the context of their everyday lives, it is poignant.
One day, during a feisty altercation between two little girls where one would not let the other play in a particular game, I heard the other little girls yell: “You are not letting me have my potentiality!”
Language, big and bold in the world of child, can bring power to expression and thought. It expands children’s experiences and brings sophistication to their interactions. The words they choose become the essence of who they are.
This posting again demonstrates what I talked about in my previous comment. Preschool teachers above all other teachers have the potential to scaffold the development of their students in the most powerful way. I am so appreciative of the sensitivity and wisdom of this particular teacher in what she offers the children in her classroom. I hope she realizes what she offers them, and I hope she can in the future can see some of the results. >