Having parents of Caribbean descent and growing up in Canada and then living in the Caribbean, I have been exposed to the western and island ways. Both of them have their pros. Both of them also have areas that need improvement. Raising our children in the Caribbean, I am always cognizant of the fact that I need them to be able to function in both societies. I want them to be able to live anywhere in the world, and other than a little culture shock now and then, they should be able to be successful in the environment.
The old time Caribbean way, which many individuals have moved past, is that ‘children should be seen, but not heard.’ Although many of us have moved past this, many of us have not. Although this may sometimes be seen as obedience, this can also prevent a child from growing and reaching their potential. Children are born inquisitive. They are born with a desire to explore. This desire can easily put them in danger or get them into trouble, but as parents, family members, educators etc., we are there to act as the cushioned edges of the learning canal to keep them moving along without hurting themselves.
At Learn and Lead we put a great deal of effort into developing the critical thinking skills of our students. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are essential in today’s society. These skills act as a tool to help you improve all your other skills. We often want employees in the workforce to have critical thinking skills but we forget that these skills begin to develop from childhood. They begin to develop with language.
Some of you may be familiar with the metaphor ’30 million words.’ This metaphor is used to describe the differences in the amount of words in low income and higher income households between birth and three years old. The term ’30 million’ does not refer to the quantity of words, but more so the quality of words. In the first three years of life, parents and caregivers are helping to develop the language of their children and the words that they learn become part of their language vernacular. We know from research that children who are exposed to less words are also often exposed to less complex vocabulary, as well as harsher and more punitive speech. Conversation is less of a two way give and take process, and involves more directives and more one way communication. The language that is exchanged between a parent and a child is actually a window into the parent child relationship.
Research tells us that conversation tells us more than just about the parent- child relationship, but also has a huge effect on literacy, potential in math, spatial reasoning, ability to self-regulate behavior, reaction to stress and perseverance. So if we know all this, isn’t it important that we develop our children in environments full of rich language?
Although there is much that can be said about national agendas to improve language skills and the positive effects this can have in our community, I am going to stick a little closer to home and talk about a manageable chunk…our individual households.
My husband and I put a great deal of effort and thought into the constant language in our household. Whether with our 5 year old or our 7 month old, there is always an effort to have two way communication. I know you are probably wondering how two way communication works with our 7 month old, so I will say this….I am pretty sure he thinks that we understand his babbles when we are speaking to him! Like many of you, my husband and I also lead extremely busy lives and struggle to be able to spend enough waking hour time with our children. One thing that we have started to do, is to make a concerted effort to play language and thinking skills games during car rides to and from school with our five year old. Now, don’t let ‘language and thinking skills games’ make you think that this is a complicated thing to do. This can be as simple as ‘I spy’ or playing rhyming words in the car. This helps us to move away from the standard, “how was your day at school?” question, which is usually answered by “fine.” And then the conversation is done. I often allow my daughter to make up our games. A current favorite, is “Guess the Princess.” We take terms describing a Disney princess and the other person has to guess which Disney Princess is being spoken about. Now…guessing Disney princesses may not be on the top of my to do list, but this game does a number of things: 1. My child feels great joy that she has made up a game which builds her confidence; 2. It allows her to expand her vocabulary with descriptive words, which she will soon learn are actually adjectives; and 3. It allows us to have fun together while developing language and building our relationship.
So parents, please remember that language development is extremely important. We need our children to challenge you with their thoughts and ideas, we need them to understand that they should be both seen and heard, because this is not only what will help us to deal with some of the current challenges in our society, but it will also help us to progress to where we would like to be!