Literacy Learning The “Fastway”

When we drive on the expressway my children close their windows. It’s been a longstanding guideline in our family. The basis is a perception that rocks and other small objects have the potential of being scooped up by tires attached to the cars and trucks in front of us, and consequently that these rocks and other small objects have the additional potential of flying into our open windows, were they open. Thankfully, due to this longstanding guideline, they’re not. While it’s fun and even kind of exciting to watch flying rocks fly, none of us want to be hit on the nose by a scooped up one (or any other scooped up, flying object for that matter). We think that might hurt.

The kids take the initiative.

When they think there’s a chance we’re headed there, they ask, “Daddy, are we going on the expressway?”

If the answer is “yes” they roll the windows up.

Yesterday, on our way downtown, my six-year-old asked, “Are we going on the expressway?”

The answer was “yes.”

The window closed. Then something else happened.

He asked, “Why?”

He wasn’t asking why we were going on the expressway, of even why the window needed to be closed, but rather, he was asking about language. He was asking why this particular road is called the “expressway.”

I told him that the word “express” has the same meaning as the word “fast.” I told him that people drive on the expressway so that they can get to the pace they’re going faster than they otherwise could.

He thought for a minute, and then told me that is should be called the “fastway.” Decent point.

He suggested that more people are likely to know about the word “fast” than the word “express.” I suppose he’s right.

Regardless, his expression of curiosity and reasoning made me think. It made me think about language and about speed.

We (adults) might be using language that kids don’t completely understand. In fact, it’s likely we are. Part of what kids are doing all the time is learning (like us, but even faster). Part of what they’re learning about is language. It’s one aspect of literacy learning. One that is ever present, no books, worksheets, or multi-media presentations required.

When I talk about the expressway with my kids they understand that I’m talking about a road on which cars move faster than they do on other roads. Until now, however, this one didn’t get why it’s called that.

That’s ok. In fact, it’s natural. Kids don’t know as many words as we do. Ironically, this experience has me visualizing words like the rocks and other small object that have the potential to be scooped up and fly into open windows on the expressway. Words come at kids really fast, and they have to learn about them bit by bit, with intentionality.

If we’re genuinely attentive to language learning, and thoughtful about our communication with kids, we can give them cause to think carefully about language, and when people think carefully about language their communication tends to be enhanced.       If we pay attention to our interactions with kids around language, we can act as windows, keeping fast flying language from hitting kids in the nose while allowing it to be seen and considered by them as it leaps, dances, and even sometimes flies by them.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem terribly significant that kids know specific details about words that they get the general idea of. However, let’s consider the possibility that communication, and even literacy at its very core might be heightened with every layer of depth we add to their understanding. My kid can now contemplate “express” lanes, “express” washes, and even explanations that are given “expressly.”

He can practice making connections with the word “express,” and making connections sometimes feels like solving puzzles, which is fun.

He can use the word express in stories he writes or tells. He can share his newfound knowledge and sophistication around language with his siblings and his friends. When he reads the word “express,” a light bulb can go of over his head, he can shutter with excitement, and he can exclaim, “Express means fast!”

He can take pride in being somewhat of a linguist.

Let’s not talk to the kids we serve about language because we want them to be able to use fancy words, but rather because we want them to enjoy, and be excited about words in general.

Let’s dig in with them and take time to fulfill their language curiosities because it’s fun and exciting.

Let’s take every opportunity as initiated by them, and let’s also provide opportunities by striking up dialogues and asking questions about language that we find interesting, or that we think might be interesting to them.

Let’s model curiosity and care around and about language.

Language doesn’t cost a thing and there’s plenty of it to go around. Let’s make it as fun and exciting as it actually is to those who discover it’s innate influence on our lives, and let’s make sure that the kids we serve have every opportunity to maximize their potential to use it for good.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks!

2 comments

  1. Teresa Simonetti

    Children’s natural curiosity sure help us unravel the joy of language better than any linguist can! Wonderful blog Seth!

    • Seth E. Berg

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your insights, Teresa! I agree! When we tap into their natural curiosities we tap into their ability to engage, to learn, and to grow! I appreciate the kind words! I hope you’re having a joyful summer so far!

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