One of the great privileges of parenthood is observing firsthand the acquisition of language by children. I remember with such fondness my own infants’ first groping verbalizations, those brave attempts to participate in the conversations happening all around.
And so, later, when I encountered the writings of educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky, his assertions that those early interactions and connections are hugely important made intuitive sense to me. I have always enjoyed making faces at babies: the goofy mimicking, replying and encouraging, the eye contact, and my own delight in each infant’s utterances, nonsensical and profound.
This was all in my mind earlier this week as I sat in a classroom at my son D’s school and listened to Carrie Ekey’s workshop presentation about “supporting your child as a writer.” She put up sample slides of children’s preliterate scribbles and talked about the importance of celebrating these early steps towards literacy, emphasizing that we should always ask what the story or picture is about in order to fortify this elemental idea that one can share a message through writing.
D is in 2nd grade and lately there has been a lot of stress from his teachers on spelling and neatness. And getting him to write has been like pulling teeth. Carrie’s slides from kindergarten and 1st grade were familiar, reminiscent of the stacks of D’s stories I have stashed in a folder in my office, flowing and unkempt, inventive, giddy with the newness of writing, illustrated, full of personality and passion.
And then, a slide from a child in grade 2 who had hit a similar wall: Gone was the rambling, brilliant brook of gurgling language. The page on the wall told no story, it did not flow. “The kat is fat” was all it said and there was a big self-imposed X through the “kat,” with the corrected spelling neatly penned above. The magic of writing, parched.
So Carrie’s point was clear: to support our children as writers we should celebrate their voice and the messages they have to share, their inventiveness and passion, their brave attempts at participating in the world of written words, and we should let the spelling be. Those details will come, as long as their love of writing remains intact.
I feel like I owe D an apology – I’m also just figuring this stuff out on the fly. Maybe this weekend we can pull out that folder in the office and celebrate some of his storytelling thus far.