A big benefit that comes from children learning philosophy is that they learn how to express an opinion and provide reasons to support it. But even before they can do that, kids need to learn how to describe what they experience. Being descriptive will help kids better express themselves but this doesn’t always come naturally.
When A 3 Year Old Describes
Frequently a conversation with my 3 year old will go something like this:
- 3yo: Can you get it for me?
- Me: What can I get for you?
- 3yo: That. [points into the distance]
- Me: The Minnie Mouse cup?
- 3yo: No, the other one.
And this goes on for another minute before I realize that she wants a doll necklace sitting on the counter. It also reminds me that my now 8 year old started talking early but around 3 started getting verbally lazy and used the made-up word ‘dahba’ to refer to pretty much anything. Instead of asking for another carrot, she would say “more dahba please.” When she said, “dahba went home” referring to her grandmother, we knew we had to start encouraging her to use real nouns that better expressed what she meant.
Kids will form habits and sometimes those habits include taking verbal shortcuts. Because of this tendency, a little practice is in order. Kids can get better at describing things with a little extra attention and coaching during everyday conversations. The better they are at using words to describe, the better they will be able to express themselves, share an opinion and argue a point. And all of this will build confidence.
Short Exercises For Kids To Practice
Here are a few things to try with your kids:
What Does Salt Taste Like?
This sounds ridiculous but have your child pretend that you have never tasted salt before. Have them describe some of the following:
- What it tastes like.
- How salty things make them feel?
- What goes well with salty things?
- What is terrible with salty things?
- What types of food are salty?
As an alternative, have them pretend that you cannot see colors. Have them describe what the color ‘red’ looks like.
- How does red make them feel?
- Does red associate with certain emotions?
- What types of things in nature are red and what does that mean?
Encourage them to use specific words and complete sentences. This is practice but it can also be fun.
Describe Emotions of a Memory
Pick a memory that you know includes some positive emotions for your child. For example, perhaps your child was afraid to do something but eventually had the courage to do. Have them describe the details: how they felt and how they look back on it now. When they use general words such as ‘big’, ‘fun’, ‘sad’, etc., encourage them to give more description.
How To Make a PB&J
Everybody knows how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, right? Here’s a good exercise in being precise with instructions. Have your child give you step by step instructions on how to make a PB&J (or some other sandwich if you don’t like peanut butter). Follow their instructions literally and don’t assume anything not said. For example, if you are told something unspecific like “open the peanut butter jar and put it on the bread,” you can open the jar and place the jar on top of the bread. This activity can be fun (also potentially messy) and quickly highlights the importance of being specific when describing instructions.
An alternative is to have your child look at a picture or painting and have them describe it to you while you draw it. You can have a good laugh at bad art skills (unless you have some skills) and see what small or big details that can often be overlooked when describing something. An example piece of art is “The Moneylender and His Wife” by Quentin Metsys (1514).
Identify an event that either took place in the child’s life or something in the news (something fun is probably better than a tragedy).
- Talk through the event with your child and have them fill out the questions that a detective might make in a notepad.
- Start with a short description of what happened. This can be one sentence that comes to your child’s mind.
- Answer the questions of who, what, where, when, why and how.
- Finally, have your child write again what happened but this time they should include all the answers from the detective’s notebook to establish a full narrative. Have them use complete sentences in this final summary.
- Talk about how the top and the bottom descriptions change and why.
I used the example of the copy of “Girl With Balloon” by the artist Banksy which was sold at auction on October 5, 2018. Banksy is an anonymous street artist known for his occasional pranks. After the winning bid at Sotheby’s, the canvas began to self-destruct through a paper shredder that had been built into the frame by the artist. It took the crowd by surprise and led to speculation that the value of the painting would increase actually increase.
Here is how we filled out our detective’s notebook:
A painting self-destructed after an auction.
|Who was involved?
An artist named Banksy.
|What was involved?
The painting “Girl With Balloon”
Shredder built into frame
A remote control trigger
High profile venue for a prank
|Where did this happen?
Sotheby’s auction house in NY
|Why did this happen?
Pushing the boundaries of art creation
|When did this happen?
After the winning bid
|How did this happen?
Careful creation of a frame that shreds
Using a remote trigger
No inspection of the frame before the auction
On October 5, 2018, Sotheby’s in New York auctioned a framed copy of Banksy’s “A Girl With Balloon.” After the final bid, someone remotely triggered the frame to begin shredding the canvas. It is speculated that Banksy organized this to take place during a high profile event to create media publicity. His motivation might have been to push the boundaries of how art gets created and valued, or maybe he just wanted to play a good joke.