Word Play

Quick--what’s something bouncy that starts with the letter P? Did you think of pigs? Me neither, but my husband and sister both did in a recent game of Scattegories. To play Scattegories you have to fill multiple categories, all with words that start with the same letter. Like many other games Scattegories challenges quick thinking and creativity. It stretches the way we normally think about words and forces us to look at things in a new light. Can’t think of a state that starts with E? How about eccentric -it’s a state of being, right? All linguistic arguments aside, this is the reason games are one of my favorite ways to improve vocabulary and to practice using language in new and different ways.   

Another one of our family’s favorite games is Apples to Apples.  Even my non-readers like this game of “crazy comparisons.” Someone reads their cards for them and we all get a good laugh out of everyone’s attempts to choose the best card to play.  The simple definitions and synonyms on each card are humorous and enlightening.  

Magnetic poetry is another great way to play with language. With a hundred interesting words plastered on the fridge, it’s almost impossible not to coin a phrase or two while filling the water pitcher for dinner. Poetry is a big hit in our house thanks to a tradition called “tea time.” This practice, adopted from the Writer’s Jungle program by Julie Bogart, involves setting the table extra fancy (meaning we get out a tablecloth), pouring some juice, opening a package of cookies and sharing selections of poetry with each other.  My kid’s favorite poets are Shel Silverstein, Jack Pelutsky and Alan Katz. I’ve discovered the library has an extensive collection of poetry, and over the years I have managed to slip in some more “refined” poets. My children are now familiar with the likes of Robert Lewis Stevenson and Robert Frost. They love poetry and have all tried their hand at writing their own pieces.  

Committing stories and ideas to paper can be intimidating for some kids. Oral story telling is a great way to play with concepts and storylines without a glaring clean sheet of paper. Of course not all stories need to be written down, but when it’s time to start writing, fun paper and pens are great motivation. We’ve been studying authors and writing in our home school group. The mom who’s teaching brings unique paper every week for the kids’ projects. Colored paper with lines, computer-generated sheets with graphics and lines, and pages with brightly colored titles all cry out, “write on me!”

Once kids start playing with language it doesn’t take long for them to see opportunities everywhere. On a recent dash through Costco one of my boys spotted boxes of Entertainment crackers. They were joking all the way to the checkout stand about crackers that entertain – do they dance? Maybe they dress up and do plays! Goofy boy humor, yes, but also a clever look at language.  The technicalities of writing, such as spelling and grammar, are an important part of an education, but no one ever grew up to be a writer because they loved spelling workbooks. People become writers because they love language. When language is fun, entertaining, and engaging, writing is a natural outlet for creative stories and ideas.