Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver."
How can parents encourage children to enjoy literature, speak effectively, and become influential leaders in their adult life?
One way is by teaching them to interpret literature, an activity that children can develop at a very young age. Each of my children had a specific storybook he or she memorized as a 2- or 3-year-old. The Foot Book, Alice in Bible Land, and Go Dog Go! were some favorites. The child would eventually "read" the book to me as I would turn the pages. They would do so with the same voice intonation and emphasis I did the hundreds of times I read the book to them. This is the first example of interpretative speech.
As our children grew into speaking age, Bible memorization became an integral part of our home. As Psalm 119:28 says, "Strengthen thou me according to thy word." Even the youngest child is implanted with the words of God and led by the Holy Spirit in the simplest ways. The following are some simple verses even a 2-4 -year-old could put to memory:
- "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
- "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
- "He who hath the Son hath life." (1 John 5:12)
- "He who believeth in the Son hath everlasting life..." (John 3:36)
- "...The Lord is my helper..." (Hebrews 13:6)
- "Trust in the Lord, and do good..." (Psalms 37:3)
When the child learns to read between 5 and 7 years old, longer verses are added, such as John 3:16 or John 10:10-11. By the time the child was ready to perform, having the entire 23rd Psalm, the Lord's Prayer, or the Beatitudes memorized was common. Because "all scripture is God-breathed," as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, God has been breathing His Word into our children as they put it to memory.
Choosing Interpretive Pieces
When your child matures, he or she will be able to memorize a specific piece of literature and recite it. In fact, child psychology shows that the preteen age group is the most ready for memorization of important literature. This is the ideal age for AWANA, Bible clubs, or Sunday schools that teach children Bible memorization.
My daughter Cynthia performed Dr. Seuss's Mr. Brown Can Moo, one of her favorites, at age 7. Dr. Seuss is a popular one, and Shel Silverstein (Where the Sidewalk Ends), Mercer Mayer (Little Critter books), Norman Bridwell (Clifford books), P.D. Eastman (Are You My Mother?), and Phil Vischer (VeggieTales books) are just a few authors.
Your child may be ready for a more developed piece than Mr. Brown Can Moo. In fact, I saw a 7-year-old give an interpretative speech of Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention. Wow, that kid would burst out "Give me liberty, or give me death!" with so much spunk that she touched the hearts of everyone there! Do not hesitate to broaden your children's horizons and challenge them with more advanced pieces.
Take note of the literature your child is reading in school. Choose a part of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie or C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to recite. Aesop's Fables, Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm's Fairy Tales are all filled with classical pieces that can be cut for a child's performance. Work with the child to find the piece that fits. You are the teacher, and you know your child best.
When the child has a solid grasp of the piece, he or she can begin the tiring yet necessary task of memorization. I have found that breaking the piece up into sections can be an effective way to organize the speech into manageable bits. Depending on the age of the student, parental assistance and encouragement (heavy on the encouragement) may be necessary.
Here is a good time to learn a memorization technique that can be applied any time someone needs to memorize something. Most new things are easy to memorize if a ridiculous visual is associated with what needs to be remembered. With Mr. Brown Can Moo, Cynthia started with a cow as the first sound Mr. Brown did, and then moved on to the buzzing of a bee. Cynthia pictured in her mind a giant bee mooing like a cow (versus a cow being stung by a bee, not so ridiculous). This was followed by the popping sound of a cork, so she pictured a bee being the actual cork in a bottle. Turn the page and you read the clopping of horse feet, so Cynthia pictured a horse doing a balancing act on glass bottles. All these mental images are associations to the next thing memorized.
As your child memorizes literature, you will find he appreciates it more. Encourage your child to put in a facial expression, a motion of some sort, or an emphasis in voice to add to the piece's interpretation. Use the memorization time to elaborate on its performance. The intricacies of the author's word choice will come into view for the young child, and an understanding for good literature will develop.
Little pleases or impresses grandparents more than the performance by their grandchildren. Holiday gatherings are great opportunities for the children to perform their piece and receive all the praise from relatives. The child will look forward to friends visiting so that she can perform her piece.
While choosing, reading, and memorizing, a piece may be done slouching on the couch or lying on the floor, but performance needs to be done in a specific posture. Performing is the time when the child needs to be conscious of the audience. Make the performing time nothing but performing. This is not the time for criticism or suggestion. If the child messes up or doesn't do as well as he or she did in previous practices, make a note to cover it in school. Do not give suggestions in front of the audience; save it for later. Besides, some in the audience may give the criticism anyway, so your child doesn't need to hear it from Coach Mom. If anything, praise, praise, praise the child's willingness to perform, and flood the child with encouragement. Such praise will encourage the child to try harder in practice to do a better job in performance next time.
Raising a Generation of Communicators
Of all the skills in education -- math, grammar, foreign language, civics, and so on--which is the most important? Most parents would agree that it is communication. Building a family of communicators instills children with an understanding and appreciation of real life. Incorporate speech activities into you home, and you will see how the actual "teaching" becomes natural.
Chris Jeub is the author of numerous speech and debate textbooks. This article was excerpted from Jeub's Complete Guide to Speech and Debate. He and his wife, Wendy, have 11 children--two of whom are homeschool graduates. Cynthia, who is referenced in this article, is now in her first year of debate. You can find more about the Jeub family's ministry at www.trainingminds.org.
Copyright 2005. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com