Saturday, June 21, 2008

Big Words for Little Children

Sanctimonious. Eau de toilette. Commode. Frappe. Hideous. Banshee. These are not the kind of words we would expect many children to know — or spell. (I myself had to crack open the dictionary to check “commode” and “frappe.”) These very words, however, were heard in the first fifteen minutes of Casper, a cartoon I sat down one Saturday years ago to watch with my sons. This program was rated “Y” which meant that it was suitable for children under 7.

I watched this cartoon from a rather different perspective than my sons. Not only did I wonder about the propriety of them watching ghosts being frappeed in a commode, but I also wondered what was going on in their minds since they hadn’t the slightest idea what such words meant. Did they come to associate these words with what they saw — or did they pass through one ear and out the other, making no concrete connection with the glassey-eyed, mezmerized gaze into the boob tube?

Schools in general have been dumbing down the curriculum for the children. The latest thinking in the elementary education field is that children should be given only five vocabulary words since studies have shown that most children can’t remember more than that. And there are scores of Christian education pundits who would dumb down the liturgy and hymnody of our church, espousing children’s sermons and musical ditties with the belief that such childishness is appropriate for children. It is not.

Our children may run into some big words in our hymns and liturgy which they don’t understand. We need not feel compelled to present an etymological lecture about every word encountered. A passing attempt will suffice while our children are growing into their vocabulary. In time, they will be taught what such “difficult” words mean instead of being programmed to avoid the big words, letting them fall into the oblivion of disuse.

Words can be received and stored up before the meaning of them becomes known. The subsequent knowing, especially regarding the words of faith, will not be achieved solely by experience, intuition, or rationalization. If they were, there would be little left for the Holy Spirit to do. We might well prefer that our children not learn words by associating them with the antics of animated characters, but by having them associated with the living Word of God. Thus they will come to know and love “big” words — words judged to be big not because of the number of syllables, but because of the wealth of meaning and life conveyed therein. Justification. Expiation. Incarnate. Propitiation. Christocentric. Forensic. Sanctification.

P.S. If you find yourself wishing to recall the lyrics of Casper the Friendly Ghost theme song or have other cartoon trivia in mind, check out Toon Tracker.

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