The Plosives

Published on: 30 November 2009 Author: Nii Ayikwei Parkes

The award-winning poet and author Nii Ayikwei Parkes, writer of Tail of the Bluebird, became our second Writer in Residence back in 2009. In this blog Nii discusse early learning and it's effects on poetry.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes

I spend more and more time with my daughter these days and she is teaching me an infant poetry all over again.

She has a particular obsession with what elocution professionals call 'plosives' at the moment, with her favourite sound being the letter 'b'. Her most common word is 'book' and variants of the word 'book'- all I hear some days is book-a-book-a-bok-bok-bok for hours and hours and hours.

But one thing is clear- she appreciates the rhythm of it all; it is all said at a particular tempo and sometimes she claps as she mumbles. So for her, maybe, these are the roots of music and musicality, but I'm sure every parent has a different experience. Some children respond to shapes, some to facial expressions, some to colours... an entire gamut of things- and that diversity of development trajectories is one of the reasons I am always grateful to Georgia Popoff, a US-poet, for sharing her approach to work in school with me when I was just beginning to do run workshops. One of the key tools she shared with me was her alphabet poem (I still use a modified version of it) a 26-page poem which has a word or phrase starting with a letter of the alphabet (from A-Z) on each page. The other thing it has, at the top end of each page is a number that corresponds with the letter of the alphabet e.g. 1 goes with A and 6 goes with F. To use it, it's best to go in early to hide the pages around the room you'll be working in for the children to find and my first workshop with it taught me a few things:

First, arrive early - you can't hide pages for children to find if they are there before you!

Second (and this became evident when the children started looking for the pages of the alphabet poem), children have different approaches to learning so always try to account for that; some of the children looked for the numbers on the pages to help them with finding and ordering the poem, others looked for the letters.

Third, and possibly most important, I noticed that children learn as much (if not more) from other children as they do from a teacher or workshop leader - during the session, some of the more advanced children gave their friends crash courses in the alphabet and numbers.

And how do I use these lessons? I try to arrive early, I always devise activities to account for different approaches to learning and I encourage interaction during workshops. With my own child, having noticed her love for the letter 'b', instead of simply trying to introduce her to words in relation to the books we read her or the things around her, I've been feeding her b-words and you won't believe how fast she repeats them.

Yesterday we did bat, bush, ball and bun (and something close to 'bargain' which she came up with herself!) - very easily; she may not remember all of them, but she managed to say them a lot quicker because they feed into her games with the sound of the b. Now, I don't know how that would fit into the sort of 'ageing' a lot of children's books use, but I suspect it won't. In any case, I've always found that practice questionable, especially for stories; I don't really believe in applying age categories to stories (maybe based on theme but not on complexity of language) although I know it's useful to some. I guess maybe we can talk about that in a future blog.

What do other people think about the age categories on books?

Read more blogs from Nii Ayikwei Parkes

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