(Note-In New Hampshire a Child Care Professional like myself is required to continue their education, 16 hours a year, by attending classes. I find this a bit annoying as I study all the time, but prefer to do so in my own way and in my own time. Recently, much to my delight, the powers-that-be decided folk like myself could fulfill six hours of our obligation not by driving a long way and attending a class we can ill afford, but rather by writing up to six papers. Hopefully this post counts as one hour of research.)
One interesting aspect of watching children grow is how they learn words. There is more mystery involved in this than we like to admit. If you doubt me, google “vocabulary at age three” and see how many different opinions there are of how many words a child has learned, or “should” have learned, by that age. (And then realize Thomas Edison had a vocabulary, until he was nearly four, of zero.) (Modern jargon would have called him a “selective mute”.)
At age two a child ordinarily uses 25-75 words, at age three 200-500 words, at age four over a thousand, and by age six over 2500. But this only includes the words a child can get their mouth around, or their “expressive” vocabulary. Children also have a “receptive” vocabulary, (words they understand but don’t use), and by age six that is an amazing 24,000 words.
The saying, “Little pitchers have big ears” goes back at least to 1546, when a man named John Heywood included it in a book of proverbs. Shakespeare used a version in “Richard III” a half century later: “Good Madam, be not angry with the child. Pitchers have ears.” (The “ear” of a water pitcher was its handle.) The saying simply recognizes the fact children are absorbing more than we can imagine.
So what are children absorbing, these days? These days the average amount of time a child spends sitting in front of a video screen is far too large, and in fact the “average” for an eight-year-old is nearly a full work day (over seven hours). While reading a somewhat depressing first paragraph in an article entitled”What Nature Has Taught Us”, found here:
I came across this tidbit of information:
“…young children can recognize over 1,000 corporate logos, but few can identify more than a handful of local plant or animal species.”
My initial response was incredulity; it seemed the figure must be malarkey. I doubt I could think of 1,000 corporate logos. However, the more I thought about it the more it made sense.
It does seem advertising has made insidious inroads into our private spaces, until now even our undergarments are practically billboards. Race cars have so many advertisements on them they surpass billboards, and instead look like classified ads. Very fast classified ads, I will admit, but speed can’t hide the fact they surpass absurdity into the far reaches of bad taste. I wonder what a race-car driver of the past would think, if he could look into the future, and see the clownish outfits now worn.
I still possess an old pair of skates I found, when my feet grew to their current size back in 1966, in my boyhood basement. They were wonderfully, beautifully made. Where modern skates feel rigid and plastic, like a ski boot, these old skates, from the 1950’s or perhaps even 1940’s, were all leather except for their blades, and while offering some ankle-support they were supple, and putting them on felt like putting on a slipper, compared to modern skates. When I looked to see who made them, I noticed the biggest difference. The maker’s name isn’t emblazoned in large letters on the product. In fact I can’t find a name at all. (There may be one, somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.)
In other words, back then a craftsman depended more on his product being well-made than on indenting the public’s psyches with their logo. Modern advertising has utilized a degrading view of humanity that seems to deem us little more than Pavlov’s dogs, made to drool on command. I think the public is increasingly fed up with this sort of belittling treatment, and is steering away from mass produced items towards local markets. I’ve noticed this in foods, in home-knitted garments, and the last few Christmases I’ve increasingly noticed a rebellion in the world of toys, with some toys advertised as being beneficial simply through having no logo whatsoever. Lego’s logo is being challenged by ordinary, old-fashioned blocks, made of wood.
In some ways a logo is just an identification, not much different from animal tracks or the identifying shapes of leaves. Where cave men looked for one sort of shape, when they wanted to eat, we look for the identifying logo of a fast food restaurant.
In other ways, sadly, logos are used to drain parent’s wallets without regard to the possible harm being done to children. Advertisers are well aware of the power whining children can have on a parent in a store, and seek to increase that misery. When Disney puts out a new movie they fully expect to make a heap of extra money selling toys that are based on the characters in the movie, and their primary motive is greed.
Greed? Yes, for advertisers are well aware it has been demonstrated that the toys they sell limit the imaginative development of a child’s mind, and that childhood is better served by less specific toys that can be a wider variety of people, places and things. (For example, a small cardboard box with eye-holes can allow a child imagine they are a knight from the past or an astronaut of the future, whereas a “Buzz Lightyear” helmet is far more expensive yet restrictive, and only the most imaginative children can put it on and be “Sir Lightyear, knight of the Round Table”.)
Advertisers are under increasing pressure to stop treating the public in the demeaning manner they have found profitable. During recent elections advertisers were widely used by politicians, but the results demonstrated the public is sick of the basically dishonest techniques advertisers employ. Once using the phrase, “For the Children”, with a load of violins playing in the background, could moisten the public’s eyes, but increasingly politicians are getting hit by eggs and tomatoes, and looking back at their advertisers with disapproval.
The primary reason for the success of the little Farm-Childcare my wife and I set up is because we teach no logos to children. We offer no video time whatsoever, and electronic devices are banned. (This is is not to say children don’t surreptitiously sneak them onto our premises, and play electronic games the way I smoked illegal cigarettes behind the barn, as a boy. However, as the gestapo-grown-up, I pounce and seize such contraband, and force the poor kids to sled down hills and make snowmen and snow-forts.) We originally had toys that were based on Micky Mouse or Star Wars, but increasingly we have avoided replacing them, when kids break them (as they break nearly everything), because we have found cardboard boxes serve as well, and a doll made of straw can be an amazing variety of characters, and one of the children’s favorite toys is an object found in every forest, called “a stick.”
Among the activities we stress are all sorts of nature walks, and one thing I’ve noticed which challenges the growing mind of a child is: Tracking footprints in the snow. Recently I started seeing this as learning-to-read-and-write on a very simple and down-to-earth level. I found myself thinking of tracking in terms I hadn’t thought about before. To me it seemed far superior to learning to read a logo. While it is true a fast-food logo does lead you to food, it is always the same food. Footprints in the snow seldom do the same thing twice. They involve a lot more thinking.
If you search, it turns out I am far from the first to have this idea. Back in 2009 Gwen Dewar, Phd, produced a paper called “The Lost Art of Animal Tracking” that appeared on the Parenting Science site:
The more you search the more you find. One common theme seems to be that the grown-ups learn as much, if not more, than the children, simply through tracking footprints.
I can see how tracking might be a challenge (though not impossible) in a Big City, but for people living in the suburbs and especially for people in the country, there is no excuse for not utilizing a resource that doesn’t cost the taxpayers a nickle: The outdoors.
One site I enjoyed visiting was the Rain Or Shine Mamma site. In a good post here:
Linda McGurk did an excellent job of putting many ideas I’ve had in a nutshell:
WHY TRACK ANIMALS WITH KIDS?
- It connects them to nature in a very direct and hands-on way.
- It teaches them to be aware of their surroundings and the creatures that live there.
- It gives them a chance to use critical thinking skills and scientific inquiry methods.
- It gives them a chance to experience nature with both body and mind.
- It’s an incentive for both you and them to learn about different animal species in your area.
- It gives kids a chance to lead and problem solve in nature.
- It’s an incentive to go outside.
- It’s fun!
I can add little to what she suggests, though I am curious about what is going on, in terms of the development a child’s mind, when they look at tracks and not only see the present tense, but look back at what-came-before, and look ahead to what-came-after. I think big concepts are involved. (Vocabulary beyond words.) My only possible criticism is that perhaps Linda’s last bullet-point should be the first.