by Kari Diane Pike
The thumping of feet running across the front porch set off our ever watchful, Brittany Spaniel security alarm. As I stood to hush our trusty hound, the door flew open and the first of the visiting grandchildren greeted me with a giant hug and a huge grin. I stepped outside to greet my son and the rest of his family. By the time I reentered the house, 2 1/2 year old Gideon had already located the kitchen drawer that houses my Bosch mixer and other baking tools. The bowls had been placed on the floor and the appropriate attachments put in their place. Gideon can name all the parts and tell you what they are used for. As I entered the kitchen, he opened another cupboard and pointed at a container of flour.
"Bosch!" he said, pointing at the flour.
I laughed and said, "That's the flour. Does it go in the Bosch?"
Gideon nodded and said, "Eggs."
The light went on in my head. "Yes! Flour and eggs go in the Bosch. What about sugar?"
Gideon threw his arms in the air and did the happy dance as he yelled, "Cookies!"
A kid after my own heart--and one smart cookie!
Later, I thought about how often I underestimate the ability of children to understand the things that are happening in the grown-up world. So many times, just because they lack the ability to communicate, I forget they watch our every move. I remember the summer I spent in France trying to learn the language. I could understand a lot more than I could say. Sometimes I would pretend I didn't understand just so others would speak more freely around me. I learned a great deal by just listening.
This chain of thought led to a conversation with my son Kenny about child development and language. (I promise this all ties in together!) One of the challenges he is facing as a parent is finding good books for his children to read that not only challenge their comprehension but are still age appropriate. He has a 5 year old who has a 7th to 8th grade reading comprehension, but still loves to read about the same things other 5 year olds love to read about: super heroes, fantasy creatures, etc. He likes picture books, but the language of most picture books is very simple.
When I have to look up the definitions of words in my scholastic pursuits, I usually discover that the author uses that particular word because it is the most efficient. The use of layman terms would require a couple of sentences to replace the one word. Where do we draw the line between using more efficient "big words," and a greater variety in your vocabulary and writing for "the public?"
When we write, defining our audience is critical. We are told that when writing for the adult general public, we should write at an 8th grade level of comprehension. When writing for academia, we write on that level. Children's books have been assigned a specific level as well, but I think that we have been led down a "read/write to the lowest level" road far too long. I think there is a niche out there just begging to be filled. I realize it's not a huge niche, but it exists, nonetheless. We need more children's stories written in rich prose and accompanied by beautiful illustrations. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are encouraged to read the scriptures to our children from the day they are born, even though they obviously lack the cognitive skills necessary to understand what they are hearing. They become accustomed to the pattern of the language and as they grow and we discuss the meaning of our reading, their comprehension increases.
In a fast world filled with fast food, movies on demand, and fast moving video games, what would happen if we slowed things down by reading well-written books with our children, marveled at the imagination of both writer and illustrator, and then discussed the ideas presented in them? Little Gideon knows all about the Bosch. He sits on the kitchen counter every Sunday and helps his mom bake cookies. He can name all the basic ingredients of a cookie recipe. And he understands how it all works, even though he's only 2.