The great Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that his children and, in turn, all children would be judged by the content of their character; that their voices would be heard and resonate. Louis Pasteur, inventor of pasteurization, said, “When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments – tenderness for who he is and respect for who he may become.”
As a young child, I learned early to behave in a way that would keep me safe and make others happy. As I grew older, I learned how to take on other people’s colors in order to survive. I didn’t truly develop a sense of self and project a voice until I was an adult. My greatest wish for my grandchildren is that they know the power of their own voice – that they speak up and out for themselves and for those without a voice.
As grandparents, we are able to be present to the growth of our grandchildren’s voices and help guide them. Finding their voices means they have the ability to recognize their own beliefs, develop their own colors and find the strength and courage to express them.
“Voice” may be expressed in many ways, including singing, writing, drawing, dancing and always play. Children communicate their voices through self-directed activities and negotiating relationships. When children are very young, like my own grandchildren Copeland and Jack, we are literally helping them find their voices by encouraging them to build the vocabulary they will use to meet their needs and express their opinions. Children also gain their voices through primary relationships and communication with their ever-growing world. They use communication to request, to inform and to protest. It is in these early stages that our grandchildren start to design their own rainbow. The particular shades of the colors they choose will define them.
Children are born ready to share their voice with the world. That first triumphant cry signals their entrance, “I AM!”
Many of their first words relate to specific motivating situations, items and activities. It’s no surprise that first words are usually “mama,” “dada, “nana,” “cat” and “dog.” Children are social creatures, so “hi” and “bye” also appear early.
Our grandchildren also understand much more than they can say. They take in the sights and sounds of the world around them and store this information. They will reflect back on all they hear. A good place to start introducing voice is through play and reading.
Play motivates children from deep inside. Through play, they learn to manipulate the world around them and to express their feelings. It teaches them they can design their own world and influence others. It is their pleasure, their self expression and their reward for simply being themselves.
Like play, reading helps children expand their imaginations and social awareness. The more we read to our grandchildren, the larger their vocabularies will grow. Make the stories come alive. This helps keep their attention and reinforces social and emotional development. They will understand the world and their place in it.
Also importantly is repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition helps children anticipate and try on familiar phrases and roles. Your grandchildren will act out stories during play and become the heroes. Trying on different roles is important practice for life skills such as empathy. Playing also rehearses anxiety-provoking situations, such as going to the doctor or expecting the arrival of a new baby.
At 2 years old, Copeland and Jack are already master play negotiators. As we play and interact, their voices are adamant, from organizing the play areas to guiding my play. “Me do,” rings loud and clear from Jack. Copeland quietly helps set up the train track and then recreates whole “Thomas and Friends” episodes with new stories. As they tentatively start to play together, they borrow strategies from well-rehearsed roles. Into these integrated themes, they are starting to weave their own colors.
Through initially reproducing, then recreating, our grandchildren will use their imaginations and explore situations beyond their everyday experiences during play. With each interaction they will develop the hues of their voice, continually motivating them to speak their own personal truth.
Sharon Cole lives in Delmar and is a licensed speech-language pathologist and proud grandmother. Her goal is to enhance children’s lives through love, laughter and language. She can be reached at [email protected] or www.facebook.com/britishnannyslp.