Will They Be Flowers?

“Will they be flowers? Maybe herbs?” As she asked her fingers played with the new leaves on the young shoots. A new leaf came off in her hand, accidently I supposed. She didn’t seem to notice; I didn’t care to comment.

“Flowers. They are coming along nicely, don’t you think?” I admired the growth, hard won over the course of several weeks.

“Yes, very nicely.”

We turned away from the window box and toward the cozy kitchen table. I poured some coffee. “Cream?”

“No thank you, Maria, I drink my coffee black. How long have the flowers been growing?”  We both sat down.

I added a few drops of cream and watched them bubble back to the top.  “I started a few months ago.” I dribbled a few more drops of cream into my coffee and took a careful sip. “A while back I found that big old window box at a garage sale. I fixed it up and brought it up here to the table by the window. The box is filled with a mixture of potting soil and the extra dirt from the front garden, carried up bag by bag. I bought the seeds and began the nurturing. This third floor apartment has the eastern advantage- fresh sun in the morning yet shaded from the afternoon heat. It took a while to find the right amount of water.” I took another sip.

She looked around. “Yes, you did get one of the better apartments here and you are one of my best tenants. But about the water.” She set down her mug. “That is actually why I stopped by. Next week, well, starting tomorrow, the water will be shut off. I have to re-do the pipes for the radiators and that requires the water to be shut off. There is really no alternative.” She took another sip from her mug.

“Seriously?” I paused, taking in the information. “Couldn’t you have given us more time to make preparations? There are 8 families who live here; no one will have water?”

“I am afraid not. You can gather water in buckets or the bathtub I suppose. You could also move out for a week. I’m not really sure what you’ll do and honestly, it doesn’t matter to me.” She stood up with an air of formalness, brushed off her blouse as if it had been soiled by its presence in my kitchen and walked the 5 steps to the to the door.  Without turning around she said, “I just wanted to let you know.” With one hand on the doorknob she turned her head and added, “Thanks for the coffee.”  She walked out.  The door closed with a click.

Stunned by the news, I took a sip of coffee and stared at her unfinished mug. There on top floated one, delicate leaf.

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Speaking to My Children- What Language?

The short answer is: speak to your children in the language you know best.  Oral language is the precursor to all literacy skills:

  • What you can think, you can say;
  • what you say you can write;
  • what you can write you can read.

When parents ask me what language they should use with their children I consistently tell them to use the language they know best.  Most of the time the parents are non-English speakers wondering if they should speak with their children using the little English they know.  “No,” I tell them.

When children are offered rich language in extended discourse they develop amazing vocabularies and complex sentences.  If their caregivers offer them limited vocabulary and limited discourse that is what the children will develop.  Because literacy skills transfer, the extended discourse will transfer once the children have the necessary vocabulary in the new language… but they can’t transfer what they do not know.

  • Speak to your children often and listen to their answers.
  • Have them tell you stories and ask follow-up questions.
  • Ask open ended questions (questions that require more than yes or no).
  • Ask them to explain more or tell you what that means.
  • Give them new vocabulary as you ask them questions and respond to their stories:
    • Child: I used that thing to cut cheese.
    • Adult: Oh, you used the cheese slicer.
    • Child: Yes, I used the cheese slicer and I cut a lot of cheese.
  • When you read with your children ask them questions such as:
    • What do you think will happen next?
    • Would you have done that?
    • How would you solve the problem?
    • Tell me the story
    • Talk, talk, talk!

There is much research about the importance of oral language.  Give your child the gift of language through conversation and story telling.

Literacy creates justice!