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National Editorials & Columns

Children enjoy conversation about unique things

February brings to mind of course Valentine’s Day, but also patriotic things such as President’s Day, which leads to patriotic symbols. One of my favorite symbols is Uncle Sam. I’m old enough to remember those July 4th parades with someone dressed as Uncle Sam walked on stilts. Those long legs thrilled me as a child.

I remained interested in this symbol. The story goes that it started in Troy, New York with a meat packer named Samuel Wilson, who supplied rations for the soldiers. The label read “E.A.-US”. 

Someone as curious as I wanted to know what this meant. It actually stood for “Elbert Anderson” (the contractor) and “United States” The worker either didn’t know or was making a joke, saying it was “Uncle Sam”, since he knew Sam Wilson.

Most sources say Uncle Sam in 1860 looked like Benjamin Franklin. In the January 11, 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly, Uncle Sam looks more like we picture (except for the lack of a goatee).

My image is the one by James Montgomery Flagg created for “recruitment.” My Uncle Sam is the elderly man with white hair and a goatee wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band, and red and white striped trousers.

Flagg’s image of Uncle Sam was shown publicly for the first time, on the July 6, 1916, cover of the magazine Leslie’s Weekly with the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” More than four million copies of this image were printed between 1917 and 1918.

My point is that children enjoy conversation about unique things such as Uncle Sam.  Plain, old-fashioned conversation does more to develop children’s intelligence than a roomful of toys and gadgets. 

Research by professors from several universities showed that the number of words spoken each hour to children affected how well they performed on intelligence tests at age 3 and age 9. Electronic words are not conversation.

“Those testing at the highest levels had been exposed to more than three times the amount of spoken language than had the youngsters who scored the lowest – 2,100 words vs. 600 words an hour,” said Betty Hart, professor emeritus of human development of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

The key is to begin talking to babies early, according to William Staso, an educational psychologist in Santa Maria, Calif. Start when babies are 1 to 3 weeks old. However be careful to avoid overwhelming the infant.

My prejudice against “baby talk” is strong. Talk to a baby naturally, so they hear the natural rhythm of speech.

By the time the child is 9 months to 1 year old, he will understand the meaning of words said to him. Add signs and gestures when you speak to aid understanding. Babies learn the power of their gestures by our response to them. 

One of the most treasured parts of learning is the “ah ha” moment when we realize that marks on paper, whether we wrote them or someone else did, have meaning. Literacy grows from writing, talking, reading, listening, and responding.

Talking to children sounds easy and fun, but some adults don’t know how to talk to a child. Let the child be the one who guides the conversation. 

Recently, I was in the doctor’s office and a girl, probably close to three asked me my name. I told her and she repeated my name with a big smile. When she told me hers and I said it was a pretty name she beamed.

One of my children was a complete question box. One day she asked the common question, “Why is the sky blue?”  I couldn’t remember the scientific reason, so I asked, “What does blue mean to you?”

She answered, “It means a pretty day.”  So, I said, “You answered your own question.”  We continued to talk about colors and her feelings about color.

I often suggest reading a story with a child. What does that really mean? Look at the title and at pictures. Before reading ask anticipation questions, “What do you think this story is about?” 

Read the story and as you read, stop and discuss the characters or events. Ask, “What do you think will happen next?” Encourage questions. Be happy if you are asked one you don’t know. If you don’t know a word, find a resource.

One fun activity is to read and talk about the story and write a question using the Five Ws and How. Then ask another adult or a sibling to read the story to the child and answer the questions.

Play the “What if” game. What if we went here, what could we do; how could we tell others later about it. Read stories about places in other parts of the world. Suggest a way to record the experience.

Encourage storytelling through puppets or a recording device. Don’t rely on the television and movies to give your children information. Activate thinking through print and the written word as well.

Until next week — Christine Pauley

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