One of the most precious gifts you can give your child is the gift of words. To help a child fall in love with words is to bestow upon him a gift that will permeate every aspect of his life, allowing him to communicate effectively whether he is giving a speech, writing a letter, sharing a poem, or developing a business plan. The best news is that giving this priceless gift is easier than you might think.
Talk to your child even before birth. Sing to him. Tell her how you are feeling, what you are thinking, what makes you laugh. After birth, let your little one be your audience for practicing singing or sharing important information. Change your voice inflections and facial expressions. Recite nursery rhymes. Read aloud (and act out all the parts!). Converse through diaper changes, feedings, early morning just-can't-sleep meetings, and car rides. And don't tell my husband I said so, but a little baby talk thrown in for good measure never hurts.
SHARE YOUR ENTHUSIASM
One of the most effective ways to assure that your child falls in love with words is to be in love with them yourself, and let it show. Children are born imitators. If they see loved ones reading, speaking, and writing a wide variety of effective and beautiful words, they will naturally catch "word fever". There is little doubt in our household that I am in love with words. Being a writer by profession keeps me in front of my computer much of the time, and I make it a practice to share my writing with my children as often as possible. I love asking for their advice on a plot idea, or allowing them to name one of my characters. Their eyes light up when I tell them I have completed another chapter and need their "take" on it. I even submitted some of their cute kid-sayings to a greeting card company recently.
BEYOND THE ORDINARY
Stretch your own vocabulary. Take the time to seek out new and interesting ways to express things. My husband recently took me on a shopping trip and bought me a gift that stole my heart: a matching dictionary and thesaurus! It means the world to me that my husband appreciates my love for words and my desire to share that love with our children. He chuckled at me, standing in the bookstore bright-eyed and excited as I clutched the two paperbacks, but I know he truly understands how much his gift means to me. In much the same way, our children know how important words are in my life, and they frequently bring me a new word or phrase they've picked up, proudly sharing it in their writing or speech, enjoying my delight over the way it is being used.
MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR
Developing a habit of seeking out new words can be a group family effort. Perhaps a Word of the Day game, issuing points on a board for each proper use of the day's word, or maybe a read-aloud, with each family member picking out words or phrases he or she particularly likes. When we come across words and phrases we find interesting or poetic, it only takes a moment to share it with the rest of the family. It isn't unusual to see some of the same "poetry" finding its way into our children's writing. Try setting aside a bulletin board, magnet board, or section of the refrigerator where family members can post treasured snippets and quotes. Start a Family Journal, an inexpensive scrapbook kept on the coffee table, with an attached pen for doodles, drawings, quotes, notes, autographs of family visitors, cartoons, comics, poetry, journaling, and whatever else your family wants to include. These "yearbooks" serve as lasting family mementoes to be shared for generations to come.
MAKE IT FUN
Writing activities can be fun while teaching valuable information on form, style, and technique. A little imagination can take seemingly mundane writing lessons and transform them into delightful activities that will leave your children begging for more. This has been tested in our home school for more than fifteen years, and I can attest to its truth. It can be as simple as writing a word at the top of a page and giving the child five minutes to write whatever thoughts the word brings to mind. Another exercise we love is using a word list, chosen at random (perhaps allowing each child to suggest a word, then compiling the list from the combined words), and creating a freestyle poem from the list words, using one word in each line. Round robin poetry is great fun, especially if Mom and Dad get involved; simply take turns writing one line of a poem each, with each member rhyming his or her line with the line before. Leave notes everywhere. Words can spring to life from bathroom mirrors, steering wheels, kitchen faucets, lunchboxes, pillows, and cupboard doors, giving the recipient a giggle, food for thought, or simply an assurance of being loved.
The highest mission of the Wordweavers Writers Groups, which I established in 1993, is to encourage fledgling writers in their writing endeavors. A well-timed word of encouragement can make all the difference to someone overcoming shyness in sharing writing, regardless of age. I believe this same mission can and should be the aim of every parent. No one knows your children like you do, so who could be better than you at seizing those opportunities to build them up? Children of any age (even us 'teenagers' trapped in 30-something bodies!) are spurred on by encouraging words, particularly in the area of creativity. Nothing works better for removing defenses, calming fears, and tapping into unlimited potential. If you don't believe it, try it right now. Encourage, and watch your child blossom before your eyes.
Of all the gifts we can give our children, love is the greatest by far. Words help us to communicate that love, equipping our children to communicate their thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and feelings throughout their lives. So go ahead and splurge. Give the gift that will multiply itself throughout your child's life. Just don't be surprised if one day you walk up to your bathroom mirror and find a note that says, "Hey, thanks for the words. They fit perfectly."
Lisa Luke Easterling is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer in Florida. Mom to five and "Mimi" to one, she has homeschooled for 16 years. An instructor with the Wordweavers and Heartwords writers groups, Lisa writes and edits articles, fiction, personal essays, ad copy, site content, columns, and commissioned verse and prose on a wide variety of topics including homeschooling, marriage, women's interests, and more. www.lisaeasterling.com