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Vignette 40/52. Words.

“Mom, what’s an adverb again?”

“A word that describes a verb – how something is done. For example, he walked ‘lazily’ is different than he walked ‘briskly.’”

“What’s a good adverb for pooing?

“I need to think about that one.”

As a homeschooler, most people assume everything I plan for the kids has an educational component. But anyone who encourages self-directed learning at home, knows that if the kids even receive a whiff of a contrived activity, they cross their arms and look bored. They would rather be presented with a lesson without any sneakiness. They deserve that respect. But I get a pass with stories. They actually love to try to find lessons embedded in my stories as they get older. They love metaphor.

They also love mad libs.

Mad libs are one of our favourite activities. They all know it’s a teaching tactic. My kids normally hate anything intentionally “educational” like flash cards unless they come up with the idea for “flashy” flash cards like my son created. With mad libs, they don’t mind because they are allowed to use booger and hairy armpits in the same paragraph as writing practice.

I let them download the mad lib app that could be played offline after we ran out of the physical paper pads of mad libs. We have many mad lib nights at home, and especially during the early days of the pandemic. We played with the meaning and context of words. I banned words like “quickly,” “dog,” and eventually, “poo” because of overuse. They were ok when I placed parameters because they knew I was trying to teach them, I really wanted to hear witty writing.

Could we make a whole mad lib paragraph written in metaphor? Could we be completely sarcastic? Could we write in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan terms? And fine, make it gross, but could you make it gross AND clever?

Sometimes Q, Mikey and I would be howling with laughter because we managed to be inventive and use “hairy upper lip” in just the right way. And an educational side effect that I didn’t foresee? Q’s willingness to read and write for the first time.

Because I didn’t intend to “educate” – in that meaning of forcing and coercion – but insisted on playing with them and was interested myself, it paradoxically turned into quite the lesson.

It was a lesson in finding the right words at the right moment; being clear with definitions; introducing metaphor and double-entendre; allowing curiosity and creativity to become more than buzzwords; and finding humour in the most unexpected combination of words even when the rest of the world fell into panic.

When my children look back on reading and writing, they won’t remember phonics books or painful tests, they will remember how they learned the magic and power of words creating through an “enthusiastic burrito” and “pooing thunderously.”

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