July 14, 2010

Learning to communicate should stay in fashion

As published in The Erin Advocate

I was reading some on-line forums, in which people post comments in response to news stories, and was surprised at the poor spelling and grammar displayed by many contributors.

Not that I think the comments should be edited or censored – poor spellers have every right to engage in public debate. But if you are going to present your words to thousands of people, why wouldn't you read them over, or at least use the spell-checker before submitting?

When I encounter poor spelling, it alters my view of the writer. Do they lack education or they are too lazy to express themselves well? This is undoubtedly unfair, since intelligence can be quite independent of communication skills, and everyone makes mistakes, but that is my reflex reaction. Today, when I see people with poor writing skills rise to positions of influence and authority, I wonder if I am just old-fashioned and out-of-touch.

Still, I think all parents want their children to be competent at writing, because they want them to be confident, persuasive and have many choices for study and work. There are many things parents can do improve kids' literacy, especially during the summer when the regular academic stimulation is missing.

I encountered a new word last week: palaver. It was used in reference to my column, so I had to look it up. I was shocked to discover that it means "prolonged and idle discussion". Well, at least the columns are short.

The point is not that people should learn lots of obscure words, in hopes of impressing others. But if kids see their parents using a dictionary or computer to check on a word, it sends a strong message: the accurate meaning and spelling of words really matters.

Parents act as role models when kids see them reading books, or the local newspaper. Literacy involves many things, from reading maps while on vacation, to navigating with signs and billboards.

"Reading is like a muscle – if you don't use it, you lose it," says Margaret Eaton, President of ABC Life Literacy Canada. "It's important for parents to encourage children to read over the summer to keep their minds sharp. All it takes is 15 minutes a day of reading or engaging in a fun literacy activity."

Other ideas include writing postcards to friends and family while on vacation, or playing word games while on the road. Outings to places like the zoo can lead to useful reading. So can following a recipe or playing a board game.
Naturally, local libraries have many books and events to stimulate young minds.

There's the Bug Safari, a mix of bug games, crafts, collecting and identifying, in Hillsburgh July 15, at 10:30 am, and in Erin August 11, at 2 pm. The African Drumming workshop will be a boost to musical literacy, today (July 14) at the Erin Branch, at 2 pm. There are Jungle Family Storytimes, Toronto Zoo presentations, clay mask-making sessions and a model tree house building contest.

Call or visit a branch to register for events, or for the TD Summer Reading Club – this year with a jungle theme. Last summer, more than 2,000 Wellington kids read over 33,400 books through the club. There is also the Teen Summer Reading Challenge, with some nifty prizes.

Now there's a word you don't hear much any more – "nifty". My on-line dictionary tells me it means skillful, as in "nifty footwork", or stylish as in "a nifty black shirt". After 150 years, the word has fallen out of fashion. Perhaps it is just as well.