05 Jan Conversation Is Gold
A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly states: “Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early learning system we have.” Since my whole orientation is conscious conversations, this article struck a chord in my heart. I believe that pumping kids full of facts and making them do rote exercises only builds their content knowledge. What is important is the context of what they are learning.
Like the article’s example of a preschooler who is force-fed the vocabulary of ocean terms but does not have a sense of the sea, we can relax into the idea that our simple songs, carpool discussions and dinner time talks are building brains that truly understand the world.
Here are some simple tools for creating context instead of content.
1. Reflective Questioning
One of the simplest and most effective tools highlighted in this article is reflective questioning. Asking a child, “Tell me about your drawing,” is open-ended and lets our kids show up as they are, bringing out their own ideas. This is opposed to “That is a beautiful house you have drawn,” a dead end comment.
Instead of giving labels and answers, provide a space where their responses don’t have to follow a straight line.
Family conversation is a great place for open-ended questioning. You’re probably already doing this without having named it, and the more you practice, the more opportunity you give your child to form independent responses. At dinnertime, I consciously avoid expressing my judgement or changing the conversational landscape with my semi-related story, but stand back and let my kids expand their own experience.
(Try doing this with your peers as well and see what new directions your adult conversations can go!)
The article encourages us to use a “loose Socratic” method. Allow topics to unfold without jumping in with the answer. Let your child make their own logic stream and simply witness and evolve the topic. Where it ends isn’t important; it’s the connections they make along the way that create a flexible and creative intellect.
Screw right answers; the more important part is the exploration.
2. Let Them Take the Lead
One of our family friends gave us valuable advice on how to get teens to talk: “Let them talk first.” Simply be silent until they initiate. It creates space for them and openness. So, we have literally sat in the car with our daughter and not spoken for 20 minutes after school until she says, “Guess what happened in math class?!” It has been so valuable. Instead of us drilling her with the dreaded “How was school today?” she shares her world and what she cares about without our framing it for her.
Take the role as the active listener with any age child and enjoy the world your kids share with you.
And finally, since you are providing space for your child to describe their world to you, reinforce this by:
3. Immersing Them in Descriptive Language
Reading aloud to your child at any age gives them the rich experience of being immersed in a world of words. I remember reading the highly descriptive Little House on the Prairie stories to my kids. These books have pages of descriptions of how Ma prepared the butter and Pa repaired the house. Each word helps build the story of the household and work load of the settlers. This is far more effective at giving a child the context of life on a homestead than having them write a list of “20 things you’d find on a farm.”
Exposure to more words supports the Journal of Child Development’s findings that “use of sophisticated vocabulary” in the early years improves reading comprehension and knowledge later on. I keep Garfield cartoon books around in my practice for kids to pick up. These books have very high-level vocabulary; Garfield uses words like “pretentious” and “innocuous,” showing much more sophistication (of course) than his human companion. Kids identify with Garfield and that gives them more inspiration than a prescribed vocabulary worksheet.
And finally, describe how cozy your blanket is, how your cup of tea tastes, and how your body feels after a hike. Take the time to set the scene, share the experience and highlight your sensations. Your kids will follow your model, and you might find yourself surprised and delighted with glistening, solid, radiant lump of gold in your child’s imagination.
Does your family have a favorite gem of children’s book that’s highly descriptive? Share it below — I’d love to hear what you’re reading!
P.S. My short list includes: Charlotte’s Web, Garfield, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh and one of my all time favorites, The Little Prince.
Want to know my story? Check out the About section to learn more about the education and life experiences that inspired me to start a health revolution.