Say the BIG words
By Teresa Tallman
As grandparents, we are in a unique position to teach our grandchildren. And we just need to talk. Toddlers imitate words they hear. First words include colors, joyous calls for mama, dada and science and math terms. Say what? That’s right. Along with common everyday items, kids should begin to hear math and science lingo, including statistics in their early years. Complex terms, or what adults think are complex, should be included as a normal course to what children hear.
Learning starts from hearing. A child is a blank slate. She learns because a parent or grandparent starts labeling things. Car. Flower. Pretty. My two-year-old grandson, Josh, is just beginning to learn his colors. I ask him what color something is and he says blue. Regardless of what the color actually is he says blue. I correct him sometimes, but it’s going to take him a few months to associate different colors with their name.
It’s the same thing with complex ideas. Youngsters should hear those names too. Not learn them, just hear them. Along with apple, pony and sky kids should hear gravity, maximum, gene, and permutation. They’re not going to understand what the words mean any more than my grandson understands what blue means. He hears the word. It’s a game. He repeats that word. Eventually, he’s going to understand what blue means. And yellow and red.
The goal with hearing advanced terms is simple. We want the child to hear them. Let’s use statistics as an example. Few people enjoy it. Many cringe when they hear standard deviation or sample size. One reason is because we don’t learn about statistics until we’re well into school and it is usually built on a solid math background.
My first exposure to statistics was in high school during the sixties and I was traumatized. I clearly remember the teacher trying to explain probability by flipping coins. I had no clue what the point of flipping coins was. Through my four years in engineering college, whenever I heard anything to do with statistics I froze. I suspect I’m not so different than many people. The concepts are sprung on us too late in our learning careers. Some don’t feel confident in their math skills to understand. Some just can’t relate.
The idea of exposing children to scientific terms like statistics at a young age has roots as easy as hearing the word blue. Hearing the word breeds familiarity for learning about the term later. Rather than being apprehensive, when they hear the term vary or probability for the first time, somewhere they’ll remember that they’ve heard the word before and it’s not such a scary deal.
There are many examples of mean and variation in nature that don’t require numbers. It’s better to get the understanding before they need the math. For example, mean is an average. Averages are mixing paint together. Blue and yellow make green. Green is the mean. White milk and chocolate make chocolate milk. The mean is in the middle. There are lots of examples of things in the middle.
Think about it. Many families have a family profession or career. My family doctor’s father was a doctor. His daughter is a doctor. We have a lawyer friend who has a son coming into practice with him. Teachers beget teachers. Actors frequently had famous parents. For me, my dad worked in a factory. As an engineer,I felt comfortable being in a manufacturing plant.
Children grow up hearing words in casual conversation, around the dinner table and in the car. The words are familiar. At 2, 3 even 5 and 6 the child doesn’t understand what the adults are talking about, but somewhere in the recesses of their minds, the concepts start to take hold. Familiarity with the terms fosters comfort.
It’s okay to say big words to kids. They’re going to remember that they’ve heard them. Don’t try to explain any more than what they comment on or are curious about. Just sneak the phrases in while you’re talking with your grandkids. The important takeaway is that they’ve heard the word.
Next time, when you’re struggling with how to simplify something for your youngster, go ahead and say the complicated terms and ideas too. You’ll be amazed at their acceptance and trust. They may just listen. Don’t be surprised when they put the term into words they understand and start a discussion with you about it. So go ahead. Say the BIG words!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – TERESA TALLMAN
I graduated in 1975 from Iowa State University with a degree in Chemical Engineering. I worked for 35 years for a major manufacturing company. During my career, my view of statistics grew from apprehension to love. It is my sincere wish that people begin viewing statistics in a more favorable light. I believe that begins with educating our youngest. Many parents may not feel comfortable themselves talking about statistics, so I’ve begun the Hear the Word series…Fun with Statistics.
Contact Teresa Tallman firstname.lastname@example.org
Author of Fun with Statistics books for age 3-5 Available on Amazon.com and Paloma Books