Stroke Victims and Kids: There’s No Such Thing as “First Grade” Word

I brag on my daughter a lot; I can’t help it, or at least, choose not to. I waited until I was 37 to have a child (actually it was my wife who did the “having” part) and I find that my buttons are popping almost daily as I watch her grow…and damn it, I’m gonna brag.

When she started in pre-school, I often heard teachers talking about words as though they were in age related categories. Like there were “kindergarten” words, “First grade” words etc. I knew better. While my graduate degree and doctoral work is in the area of psychology, my bachelors degree is in elementary education. I love teachers, I respect teachers; the patience required is unthinkable, and I have been nothing but happy with the teachers my daughter has had. They are a rare breed.

What I was not impressed with, while getting my education degree, and remain less than happy with, today, is the unimaginable “cookie cutter” teaching structure that the powers that be demand these teachers to use. One such concept that I see used, is this idea that once a child has learned a “simple” “kindergarten” word; they can progress to a “first grade” word. Garbage!

My daughter was using the word “mellifluous” (which means “smooth”) when she was 4 years old. She used it, largely because of the fact that I used it, when talking to her, and she attached the meaning of “smooth” to it, just as easily as she would have an “easier” word.

New research with those who have had a stroke gives us further insight in this area. When the brain has been damaged due to a stroke-and the person experiences aphasia, or difficulty speaking and understanding language-they progress much faster when they are required to start with hard words, instead of “simple” words.

The reason for this is simple, really. Your brain stores information in a way that makes the stuff we need access to most often, very easy to get to. Material that we don’t need or use as much, is far less easy to reach and access. Think of it like this; when you have socks you have not worn for a long time, but need today, in the bottom of the sock drawer, you will have to go through all of those on top, to get to that one pair on the bottom. If all you do is grab a pair on top, each day, though, you only notice or touch THAT pair.

The brain, then, when given a harder word to learn; one that won’t be used that often, will be stored at the “bottom” of the “sock drawer”. Then, each time that word is practiced, you’ll have to sort through all of the more frequently used words in the top of the drawer, making your recovery with those words more effective, indirectly.

So, does your kindergarten child know “Dog”, “Cat”, and “Barn” etc. already? Good…now start with “sophisticated” “rudimentary” and other “non-kindergarten” words like that.  I can tell you this much, you will be surprised to discover how easily they assimilate words like these, and the connections they will make to the more basic words in their vocabulary is nothing short of amazing.

Yes, it may sound weird to others, when they hear me talk to my daughter about the “delicate intricacies of a sophisticated pocket watch”, and I have no desire that she use words of this nature when talking to me (although she sometimes does), but I know that doing so, causes her to sort through, many more times each day, the more basic words for children her age, and will help her build a rich and colorful vocabulary.

 After all, the words we have to describe the world are what place the limits on our experience of the world. Want a richer experience of a vacation in the mountains? Develop a more diverse vocabulary for that region. Because snow is such an important part of the life of an Inuit in the Northern regions, they have as many as several dozen words for snow. Because they have more words for snow, they notice more things about snow than people who simply have “snow” as the sole word to describe the white stuff falling from the sky. In short, the richer the vocabulary, the richer the experience and the more nuances noticed. It’s really as simple as that.

So, coming full circle, back to “levels” or words, take this out into the world and find out for yourself. American adults often say “Chinese would be hard to learn”, and yet, millions and millions of Chinese babies, learn it with ease. They are simply sounds…sounds that translate into labels for experiences, and with words, then, we name and recognize certain experiences.

Your child is capable of so much more; let them show you how easy it really is.

© Copyright 2010-Vincent Harris-All Rights Reserved.

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