Friday, April 16, 2010

Decoding Language

When children can't make sense of a word they hear, they will often substitute a different word that does make sense to them. But, let’s admit it, we all do it. Song lyrics leap to mind. We hear a catchy melody and want to sing along, but we’re unsure of the words, so we might mumble some consonants that faintly resemble the singer’s phrases, or we fill in a seemingly logical alternative.

One of my favorite examples in literature occurs in Bette Bao Lord’s novel, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, when 10-year-old Bandit Wong emigrates to the U.S. from China and has to recite the pledge of allegiance with her classmates. She says, “I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America, and to the wee puppet for witches’ hands…” Even children born in this country are uncertain in elementary school about the words “allegiance” and “republic.” What exactly are we pledging and to whom?

According to an interview with author-artist Keith Baker, the idea for LMNO Peas came from hearing kids say “L-M-N-O-P” whenever they said the alphabet, as if these letters made a word. “I was sharing this with some teachers who taught pre-readers, and they said that kids don’t understand that L M N O P are actually five distinct letters,” he adds. In his book, the pea
characters work and play among the letters, emphasizing the individual letters’ shapes and sounds. Your youngsters build confidence as they master the alphabet, but all the while they feel as if they’re just being entertained. What an ideal way to learn.

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