It’s a beautiful late August day, and my family is heading down the shore for what is likely to be our last day trip of summer. As we drive the familiar roads, we approach the small roadside fruit stand that today displays a standing sign boasting Homemade PIES. I can hear my girls begin their plotting in the back. A moment later, the request, “Mom! Did you see the pie sign? Can we stop and get a pie on the way home?” Then the slow and steady chant of PIE, PIE, PIE begins. See, my kids know I am sucker for the word PIE. Not pie itself- just the word. In fact, I don’t care for pie at all. My son, trying to create momentum, adds, “Come on, Mom! It’s the end of summer.” At this point, my husband is getting in on the Pie chant.
Later, while sitting on the beach, I found myself amused by their collective pie chant. I turned to my son and asked, “How do you know I love the word pie?”
“Because you have said it a hundred times! And you usually follow it with a list of all the other words you love.”
“Ominous, zephyr, pedantic, tomfoolery, juxtaposition, smarmy, kismet…”
“Okay, okay. I get it. Do you have any words you love?” I ask, hopefully.
“Of course. Circuitous and plethora.”
I immediately turn to the girls. “What words do you love?”
They reply with their favorites: creamy and the ballet move, pas de bourree.
I could say that I was surprised that my kids knew about my love for certain words and that they were starting to think of words with fondness, but the truth is it was highly intentional on my part. Research tells us that our relationship with words is the result of a combination of factors: language, emotion, memory, sound, and ‘mouthfeel’.
Why we love a word is not really the important thing here, but rather how. How do you foster a love for words?
When my kids were very young, after reading an article on vocabulary development, I was intrigued by the idea of promoting a love and appreciation for words: the sound blends, the precise meaning, the way a word can make you feel. So I began my quest.
Here I have compiled some of the easiest things you can do to build passion for words in your children and students.
- Gush over words. Often in the classroom we gush over good behavior and engagement (keep doing this!) but don’t forget, everyday, to gush over a word you read or hear.
- Be a brave role model. New words, especially big, multi-syllabic ones, can be intimidating. Demonstrate for students how you sometimes have to put in extra effort to say a word and then repeat it several times until it is comfortable in your mouth.
- Talk to your students about purposely building your vocabulary. I have heard people use words and I think “I want to use that word,” but I am not sure how best to start. So I experiment! I find out the meaning, figure out some appropriate situations for its use, and then off I go. Try it with a low- risk group first (family and close friends.) The more you say it, the more it becomes your word.
- Have words that you own. If a child does experiment with a word, you could give them a ‘oh- you owned that word’ high five. Then the whole class knows who to go to if they too want to claim that word.
- Stick with it. Use address labels to print the words your students have used and encourage them to wear them like a medal. Adults around them will know that when they see a sticker coming towards them they should stop that child and say, “tell me about that wonderful word you are wearing.”
That evening, over blueberry pie, my daughter asked, “Mom, how do you feel about the word éclair?”
I think I know where this is going…