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My Word!

January 26, 2016
By Heidi Maness Hartwiger - Natural Parent, Natural Child , OVParent

Everyone celebrates! A healthy baby arrives safely in this world. With the baby comes new parents' competition. Whose baby does what first? No sooner has the baby accomplished the major physical feat, the rollover, than the parents begin anticipating vocalizing that sounds like a word. Mama? Dada? Oh, the parental machinations urging the sweet baby to make sounds we want to hear! We urge the baby who is contently making delightfully merry sounds to cross over into our world and say something resembling a word we can recognize. Although the baby has no idea of the meaning, it soon learns that by repeating the sound, the big folks are all smiles and chuckles.

Maybe this is where the power source for words develops. Know what word to say and when to say it. The dark side is the possibility that we learn early on to tell the people what they want to hear to keep them happy.

This is in no way an expert analysis on language development but merely observations from personal experience. Babies understand tone of voice long before they understand the words. How many times have you seen someone kiss a baby's feet and in a jolly voice say "You are such a little stinker?" What's this? Fast forward. The child is now 3 and, having learned that tone of voice is everything, calls you a stinker!

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Little kids use big words, and marveling adults are convinced of a child genius rather that acknowledging parroting skills at work.

Do you know the term when genuine understanding of the meaning words happens? Vocabulary!

Whether it is old favorites from childhood or new picture books, most parents have read-aloud books they hope their children will embrace. Kids will develop their favorites. How wonderful when the favorites intersect. Such was the case in our house of four kids. Richard Scarry's "The Best Word Book Ever,"(Little Golden Books) became our family favorite. My local children's librarian indicated recently that although it has undergone several revisions, "The Best Word Book Ever" is still one of their most popular check-outs. Not only is this book of 70 pages colorfully illustrated and filled with named objects, but each page offers a specific category such as Toys, A New Day or The Alphabet.

One of our favorite pages with the quirky named pictures was "At the Supermarket." As my kids connected the words with the pictures - developing their vocabularies - they made up stories about the figures and items on the pages and about imaginary grocery shopping trips. Grocery shopping with kids was easier for me because we carried the shared experience as we made reference to what they learned. They kept their eyes open for the objects and items, and feeling empowered, they eventually spelled the object name.

Although the days of reading aloud to the lap sitters eventually end, the powerful value of words continues. Vocabularies grow. Kids experiment with words, sometimes creating words simply because they "sound good." They discover words become powerful tools to build or destroy.

When the kids begin flexing their verbal muscles, as they will, a "Thought for My Day" box is one way parents can help themselves as well as the kids maintain a reflective balance. It helds develop vocabulary as well as emotional intelligence.

Arrange a family brainstorming session to select 10 or more words for the box. You might consider words such as: smile, encourage, laugh, create, show patience, listen, share, appreciate, forgive and pray.

Cover a box with colorful paper, perhaps scrapbooking remnants. Have a child title the box. You could change "Thought For My Day" to "Word For My Day." Cut 10 or more 3-inch by 2-inch mini cards. On each card, place one of the selected words so that by the time the kids finish, they have 10 word cards to decorate as they choose. Tuck the words into the box.

On the inside of the box top, paste the following directions: Each morning select a word for the day. At night, ask yourself these questions, using the day's word.

1. Did/was I ... ?

2. Did I miss an opportunity to ... ?

3. How can I create more chances to ... ?

Select a new one every day. Add more words so you have a two-week rotation.

What better time to embark on a family word adventure than the long, dreary days of winter? Not to become the grand inquisition, this could be dinnertime sharing or a bedtime chat.

- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of six books, including her most recent, a novel titled "Fire in Progress." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.



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