Words and Stuff Like That.

August 22, 2011

In recent weeks my sons’ language has exploded.  Here’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few months now, an appreciation of making much out of less. 

I love toddlerhood.  I love their insatiable desire to explore, experiment, and hurl themselves, clumsily, toward independence.  But perhaps the thing I enjoy most is watching them acquire and experiment with language.  It fascinates me to see them learn new words, and I always beam when they discover yet another one  to add to their electic vocabulary. But what I find most inspiring is watching them find creative uses for the words they already know.

Take the phrase “all done,” for example.  It was one of the first baby signs they learned, and it wasn’t too long after they caught on to the verbal phrase.  “A–da,” they’d say when they were ready to get down from the table and run off to play.   They soon learned to use it to convey that they were done being held or done with a bath.  Despite its many obvious applications, I’ve been surprised at how many uses they’ve found for that phrase.

First they learned to use it as a question/plea.  When they’re bored in the car and ready to get out, or They are bored in the store and ready to go home, they’ll look at me with pleading eyes and say,  “All da?”   If I say, “No, net yet,” they’ll be sure to continue to ask me every minute, on the minute, until we’re done with the task at hand. During long car rides it becomes a lament.  “All-da” they’ll say over and over, as if willing away the miles.

They also use it as a kind request.  When they’re ready  to take off their shoes, for example, they’ll point to them and kindly say, “all da.”  Sometimes they even use the phrase to communicate with their brother.  G will go up to E who is happily playing with his trucks and let him know that he’s  “all da” with those trucks and should come play with G instead.  It’s beyond adorable.

My favorite creative use of this phrase, however, took place when we were at a dear friend’s wedding several months ago.   There were several other kids running around playing and one the them was pushing himself around on a  little toddler-style scooter.   E really wanted to play with that scooter, but we told him he had to wait until the other little boy was finished before he could have his turn.  He tried waiting patiently for a moment, but that was just too hard.  Before long he went up to the little boy,  tapped him on the shoulder, and informed the little boy he was “all da ” and then proceeded to try and get on the scooter himself.

I let E know that wasn’t really the best way to handle the situation, and I made it understood that, despite his clear request, he’d still have to wait his turn.  But I couldn’t help laughing inside. I was so impressed with his creativity and his ability to use what little vocabulary he had to make his ideas known.  Now that, I thought to myself, is what communication (or life, for that matter) is about: creatively using the tools we have to interact with the world around us.

I don’t want him to learn to go around pushing kids off of scooters, of course.  But I hope he always builds on this ability to make extensive and creative use of language and never loses his willingness to find new and creative uses for the skills he already has.

Now, of course, my children are not the only ones who creatively use phrases.  It’s a very normal toddler behavior and millions of children everywhere are doing the exact same thing.  But it’s a normal behavior I think we should all find completely amazing and to which all we should all aspire.   After all, this normal toddler behavior is at the root of the most astute of problem-solving skills.  It’s all about using the skills you have to interact in new ways.  And that seems pretty amazing to me, and it reminds me that, to a large extent, we’re born with the ability to think creatively and make use of what we have.

I don’t want to discredit the importance of learning new skills.  After all, learning new words and having an extensive vocabulary can be a wonderful and incredibly important thing, and that fact should never, ever be downplayed.  It allows all of us, regardless of age, to name and understand the world, and adding to that language is key development that deserves all the attention it receives.  But that’s just one part of the equation.  And all the words in the world can’t make up for the inherent toddler trait of creativity.

In watching G and E attempt to communicate with me and the world around them, I have come to believe that creativity and fearlessness with limited language  is a highly underrated skill that needs much greater appreciation.  So as a mother, I’m adding that to my own personal list of milestones.  After all, what ultimately makes for a good communicator is not how many words you know but how creatively and effectively you can use them.  And I think that’s pretty awesome.

What creative words and phrases do/did your kids use?

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3 Responses to “Words and Stuff Like That.”

  1. I worked with toddlers for many years and it’s my very favorite age. It’s so fun to watch them learn something new every day about the world around them, which inherently teaches them about themselves. They learn how to communicate their feelings in a totally different way – with words! It’s all very cool to watch.

  2. samantha said

    I’ve enjoyed studying for my masters in English as a Second Language and raising a toddler at the same. So much of the research comes from first language aquisition. Eliza used “shoes” to convey so much with her limited vocabulary.

  3. […] may remember a post a while back about my son’s love for the phrase “all done” and my own fasci…  I recorded an audio version of that commentary for KUAF’s Ozarks at Large program, which […]

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