Yesterday, in my place of work, I found myself astonished by the sight and sound of a mother silencing her child.
Allow me to contextualise the situation for you. I work in a restaurant located in our City Centre. It is always busy with guests coming in for the first time, the second time, or coming in for their weekly order. So yesterday, work was extremely busy and therefore the noise levels were expectedly high. However, I could not ignore what I heard one woman say.
I allowed my eyes to glance across tables and they stopped on one table in particular. At this table sat eight guests who had come in together and going by first judgement, they were a family – made up of what I can only presume was two brothers, around three and five years old, along with their parents, grandmother and perhaps other relatives or failing that, family friends.
Now, in my place of work is one huge stone oven which does not ignore the flames that provide it with a warm glow and extreme heat. The boy, of about five years of age, sat at the table and was staring at this oven in absolute amazement. Of course he would be – it’s an enormous oven and most definitely is not your standard oven in your kitchen at home. He was amazed. It was something new to him. Something wonderful and exciting.
He turned to his mother with absolute excitement lighting up his face, wide-eyed and open-mouthed and said,
“Look! Mum, look at that!!! Our pizza is in that oven, look!”.
At that moment lay an opportunity for the mother to endlessly discuss the most exciting thing this boy had discovered – the oven!
Instead, she turned to him, ignoring the subject that provided him with such amazement, and silenced him with,
“Sssh, be quiet.”
I was in shock. You may be wondering why I was left feeling shocked and quite simply empathetic towards this boy. You see, this child should be immersed in language. Engaged with language. Not silenced when something is open for discussing, explaining and being interested in. His mother could quite easily have turned to her son and described the oven, asked him questions about it, used language to indicate a sharing of excitement and amazement about what her son had sighted.
I am fully aware the oven is not the most exciting thing for an adult to lay eyes on. However, as teachers, parents, educators or caregivers, it is crucial that we recognise children’s learning is embedded from a young age, they are learning all the time; and that is what we need to get right – we need to identify the gaps for learning and fill those gaps with knowledge, vocabulary, insights and perspectives. With language, there are a mass amount of opportunities to do this.
It is moments like this when children are surprised, amazed and intrigued about something at which it is necessary to capture this interest and go with it. Silencing a child when they show interest in something can only teach them not to display signs of true hysteria.
Celebrate this, engage this, and most importantly ask questions. Be involved by talking, discussing and conversing using your language skills and understanding, in order to facilitate the child’s learning and awareness of language. Show emotions with language and use words the child will question the meaning of; use terminology to challenge the child appropriately and broaden the vocabulary of the child.
As cited in The Really Useful Literacy Book (3rd edn.), it is suggested that children learn by understanding and remembering, which is essentially achieved effectively by ensuring application and regular revision (Martin, T., Lovat, C., Purnell, G., 2012). I agree with this and I suggest that in order for children to learn, understand, remember and progress language skills, it is profound that they are immersed in a language-rich environment,
The focus of this reflection is not about the oven. It is about spoken language.