Take back our power in language

Play with words

It’s about time we take back our power in language. We are not controlled by Mrs. Cox, the ghost of public school past sitting on our left shoulders. We are free. We are at home. Let’s figure out how to make writing a freeing, liberating, sparkly experience, shall we?

You know how we let our kids take apart an old phone or toaster to see how it’s made, to learn how to use a screw driver, and to have the satisfaction of working on a “real” household item? That’s a great thing, isn’t it? Little screws lying on the ground, bits of wire, the metal tray, the coils that heat… It’s amazing to see it in pieces and to marvel at the fact that someone knew how to put these bits of metal and wire together to make a tool that burns our toast! Taking the toaster apart is more effective to teach us about the toaster than studying it in a book or even making toast, right?

Some of us have rooms dedicated to art exploration—a similar freedom to discover. We might keep an easel, paints and brushes available any time, a tray of pastels or colored pencils, and stacks of scratch paper.

Still others of us will collect musical instruments—percussion and piano, recorders and flutes, and two kinds of guitars! Or maybe we’re the kind of family who has a whole slew of balls, frisbees, hockey sticks, hoops, and goals available to practice a favorite sport or to learn a new one.

We know that play and exploration produce learning.

By contrast, we’re reluctant to play with, take apart, explore, and mess with language. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the grammar hangover from school where teachers are more about accuracy than inspiration.

Flip the script.

What if your house had an accuracy-free play-zone for words? What would be in it? How about a variety of writing utensils (gel pens, fountain pens, markers, sidewalk chalk, calligraphy quills, crayons, lipstick)? How about some unique writing surfaces (butcher paper taped in a big sheet to a wall, dry erase board, chalkboard, clipboard, various sizes of lined paper, cards, notecards, postcards, an iPad, a mirror, colored paper)?

How about making a stack of notecards with all the words you like—a whole big mixture of words you collect for a week, one per card?

How about putting individual punctuation marks on notecards (a comma card, a period card, an exclamation point card, a quotation marks card, a question marks card – or several of each!)? Then use your word notecards to make a sentence and lay the punctuation marks where you want them to go. Walk around the room and lay them out on the floor. If you want, you can use big poster boards rather than tiny notecards.

Begin by punctuating it all wrong, first. See what happens when you start a sentence with a period or an exclamation point? What if you put one in the middle of the sentence?

What new uses of these marks can you think of?

Are you getting the idea? Language is not meant to be treated like an antiseptic vaccine. It’s a toy! Play with it! See what happens. Discover how the pieces of language and writing work together to create meaning and joy, communication and inspiration.

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Top Image by Virginia State Parks (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

4 Responses to “Take back our power in language”

  1. Jerzy says:

    Oh my! Was this a revelation for me or what?! I’m gonna break out of my institutional mode and do some word-violence! Whoopeee!! But be vewee quiet, my gwammawian mom might be weading!

  2. Nanci says:

    Love it!
    So happy that this blog has encouraged me to keep on doing things that we love (my children keep notebooks full of word games, things they’ve made up, etc). Before I got Writer’s Jungle, I wouldn’t have “counted” all those things.
    I love these ideas. I’m breaking out the index cards today 🙂

  3. Erica says:

    We have a game called Bubble Talk. It consists of many different photographs, and the idea is to use the deck of cards to find a great caption for the photo. The other day I taped one of the cards to the center of a dry erase board and put a couple of markers with it, and left it on the kitchen table. I told the kids we were having a Caption Contest! My always reluctant writer was the first to grab a marker and write something! All day the kids and parents returned to the board to add captions. 🙂 It was fun. We have a new photo on the board today. 🙂 You inspired me to come up with this idea. Thanks!

  4. Julie Bogart says:

    How great is that? Thanks for sharing Erica!