Using Our Words….In Ways That Help

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Originally published 4/11/16

I’ve been thinking a lot about communication lately, primarily about the kind of “teacher shorthand,” as Carol Garhart Mooney calls it, that I hear being used so often in child care settings. 

Things like saying, “cross cross applesauce” instead of “please sit with your legs crossed like mine” (Why do we need to even sit that way? That’s another blog….)  or “inside voices now” instead of saying, “we’re inside now, and your voice is too loud.”

I think we use these terms to sound “teachery” and because they are culturally learned and absorbed. But I also think they can be very unclear for children. We assume they know what we are talking about, because it seems perfectly clear to us. We forget that children process language and ideas very differently than we do. 

Have you seen the video that made the rounds on Facebook a few weeks ago, showing a baby in a high chair, cracking up laughing each time his mom sliced a banana? That was a good example for me as I thought about this teacher shorthand. It makes no sense to me, as an adult, that a simple action like slicing a piece of banana would be that funny. It made perfect sense to the baby, because we think very differently. 

I think it’s the same when we think our “teacherese” is making a concept or instruction clearer than simply saying what we want to see happen. 

“But, Heather,” said a classmate of mine, “it sounds ‘teachery’ because we ARE teachers. It’s our job to sound teachery.” No. It’s our job to teach. And if our shorthand is not working for the child, we need to let it go.

I thought about all of this again today as I told a 4 year old he needed to get control of his body before leaving the bathroom to go to his cot. I thought it sounded nice and teachery and gentle and helpful. In reality, it was unfair. I sent him off with vague instructions….and a wish to do right and please me. 

I can do better. We can do better. And then our children will do better.

I’d love to explore this topic with you, share your thoughts, questions, and concerns in the comments.

Heather hosts the That Early Childhood Nerd Podcast and contributes articles to the Playvolution HQ website. Connect with Heather for personalized Skype workshops, book studies, consulting and more.

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