Children and Idiomatic Language

The discovery of some new reading material reminded me of a very funny incident that happened at camp this past week.

One of my first graders had some definite problems with his manners. We spent the better part of the week trying to introduce “please” and “thank you” into his vocabulary. (His mother has been working on the same dilemma.)

At one point, one of the fourth graders helped save one of his projects from being completely ruined, and he said nothing to her. I prodded him to thank her, so he did. Trying to help him see why gratitude is so necessary, I said, “It’s always good to say thank you, because when you say it, people will want to help you again down the road.”

Now you have to understand, this is a very sweet boy who unfortunately wasn’t the brightest light bulb in the world. He looks at me and says, “But what if I’m not driving?”

I must have just been incredibly dense that afternoon, because I couldn’t figure out why he was talking about driving. About five minutes later, trying to figure out why we were suddenly talking about driving, he said, “But you said, ‘help you again driving down the road’!”

The rather dim light bulb in my own mind suddenly went off and I told him, “No, ‘down the road’ is just an expression. It means in the future.”

His little face lit up, and he said, “Oh!”

We had a great laugh over it.

It’s important to remember, especially when dealing with younger children, that many of them are not exposed to idiomatic or metaphorical language early in life. There are dozens of children’s picture books that use this to their advantage rather well. Many stories that fall under the “kids say the darnedest things” often stem from this lack of understanding of this indirect language form.

Fortunately, kids are pretty resilient and clever in their own right and figure it out fairly quickly.


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