When children start talking they generally begin with sounds, then words, then phrases. Slowly building up to the mighty sentence. Often when they start, the words they attempt are mere representations of themselves and I am sure that parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and grandparents amongst us can remember funny or unusual attempts at language that smaller people around them have made.
Were it not for gestures and a particular pair of socks it would have taken us much longer to decipher that the word ‘Zu-Zu-Zaw’ in our two year old’s newly forming repertoire was in fact the embryonic stages of what would later grow and become, ‘Dinosaur’.
As teachers, my husband and I are great champions of learning and the power of communication. Indeed we both delighted when our son was able to say the word Dinosaur and share with us what he wanted us to know.
Yet Zu-Zu-Zaw sounds like a much more interesting prospect for a story or a poem. Where is the Zu-Zu-Zaw now? Banished and replaced with a dictionary approved and widely recognised noun.
I recently read an article about four year old Nadim Shamma-Sourgen whose poetry is being published next year after it was posted on Twitter and caught a net full of hearts and minds. He writes as a child should and can write – with innocence and yet astounding depth of feeling and knowledge, which children acquire so quickly whilst learning about the world around them.
All children are poets because they do not know of, or care for, literary restraints and linguistic taboos. They are free from the knowledge of a correctly constructed and punctuated sentence. These things are, of course, important in written communication. There is an argument that we must have the ground work in place, the foundations of structured language, which enable us to then start breaking it down, moving it around and playing with its form and tone to create a poem.
Yet children learning to speak seem to skip this vital step and speak firstly in poetry.
The other day our three year old declared he couldn’t get ready for bed. When asked why he announced, “Because I haven’t got a yawn.” Something an adult would never say. What would we say in its place? ‘I’m not tired?’ – It hardly sings as a response does it? Because poetry should sing, it should dance across the page and flow and ebb like music.
Whether they are possessed with natural talent as singers or not, very little stops children from blasting out a song they like or making up songs to tunelessly repeat. Often the first experience children have of written texts is stories in verse, nursery rhymes or nonsense poems. Is it any surprise then, that with a diet of delights such as Dr Seuss, the confidence of professional singers and the lack of structure in their language, that children are the natural poets of our world?
The greatest children’s poets and writers have the ability to capture the essence of childhood and the voice of a child. They are silly and playful and creative with language and allow themselves to boldly declare they are singers and artists. They throw caution to the proverbial grammatically correct sentence and they let their words dance across the page. Most excitingly, they are not afraid to use words which no-one else knows yet.
Let the Zu-Zu-Zaw be extinct no-more – it’s time to hear her roar.