I’ve sat on this post for a while, but it has such a good title that I just had to publish it before the year was through. There are some topics that kindergarteners find particularly intriguing. Number 1 on the list is anything to do with the bathroom. As adults, we want kids to leave the bathroom words in the bathroom, but the forbidden nature of these words and the grossness factor, makes toilet talk the best kind of talk for three- to five-year-olds. My teaching partner, Paula, and I try to stop a lot of this talk, but we also ignore some with the hope that it will go away on its own. If not, a sign always works well. 🙂
And number 2 on the list is bad words. I’ve learned over the years that these words can vary depending on the students. I’ve been told that hate is a bad word. Understood. Other kids have seemed to create a scale of bad words. Many years ago (and a few schools ago), a kindergarten child came up to me to tell me that a friend told him to, “Sh** Up!” When I called the child over to find out what happened, his first words to me were, “I did NOT tell him to F*** Off!” Good to know. He did own up to the words that he said — and why he said them — but he certainly knew that his words were not the worst ones that he could have uttered.
I would like to believe in the innocence of young children, but in a world that includes YouTube, social media, and adult conversations (trust me: kids will always hear and remember the one thing that you don’t want them to), most kids have heard a variety of swear words by the time that they come to school. Some have experimented with saying them. I’ve heard stories before of the two-year-old who hears the F Word, and has to say it to every person he/she meets, regardless of the embarrassment that it might bring to parents. It happens. Live and learn. Kids learning where and when to use different vocabulary is important. Think about media literacy and a focus on audience. We need to be aware of the people in front of us and the choices we make. As kindergarten educators, part of what Paula and I do is help students understand this audience component … and words that belong at school and those that do not.
Keep all of this in mind then for my little story. We were heading outside one wintery morning with the class. Paula went at the front of the line, and I was helping a few stragglers get their mittens and hats on at the back. When we got outside, I had already missed the excitement … if you want to call it that. A child took one look around, glanced at a few friends, and said, “What the f***?!” Oh my! Thankfully the words were uttered quietly enough that just a couple of children in the vicinity of the child, heard. Paula got kids off to play, and then called the child over to talk. She asked, “Why did you say that?” The student replied, “Because look at all of that snow!” When the kids came inside this morning, it was just starting to snow, but a few minutes later, the back playground was covered in it. A surprise … and the word choice was indicative of this surprise in the student’s mind. Paula went over with the child some other things to say instead, like, “Oh my goodness!” or “I wasn’t expecting that!” They spoke about the importance of not uttering these other words at school, and the problem was resolved.
The interesting thing about this is that the friends that overheard the comment were less focused on the statement and more intrigued by the spelling. What?! Paula overheard these kids talking about how they might spell “f***.”
- “We hear the /k/. Is it with a C?”
- “Maybe it’s a K.”
- “You know those words that have a C and K together. Could this be a CK word?”
To think that group of four- and five-year-old boys were chatting about spelling rules. I’m not suggesting that we make our next inquiry about profanity or even extend this kind of spelling, but it’s interesting to think that their interest was around word formation. Could all of our signs, writing, and reading be making a difference? Quite possibly! I kind of love how this became a mature chat about writing, even if it’s not the kind of mature chat that we’ll be extending anytime soon.
The message is still out there not to swear, and this child never did so again, but there’s this little unexpected rainbow in the midst of the rain. How might classroom and home learning positively present itself in some unexpected circumstances? Paula and I are all about finding learning in all that kids say and do. I just didn’t expect a swear word to lead to literacy learning, but you just never know. Do you? As school begins again in another week, listen closely. What might you hear and see? Kids, like adults, are always learning.