May 2, 2016

The Power of Words—as Explained to a 5-Year-Old.

Catherine Turner article image

I homeschool my son and admit that much of the time, school is challenging for both of us.

My son is pure boy to his snips and snails center. His ideal day is poking at tideland creatures with a stick or “chill-time,” which is as much Minecraft as we will allow. This is not a bad education in itself, but he still needs to read, write and learn the basics.

“Why do I need to learn to read and write, Mom?” he asked the other day. “It’s hard and I hate it.”

I put myself in his shoes and tried to sympathize. Imagine being confronted by a wall of Chinese characters that mean nothing to you. Now imagine memorizing each character name and pronunciation, each one having a myriad of possible meanings depending on the intonation, and writing in this dizzying new language.

Can you feel a five-year-old’s pain? I’d be squirming in my seat and running for the shelter of Minecraft too.

So, when he asked me why, I stumbled. I told him I understood the difficulty, but he needed to read and write to support himself financially, to attract a wife and start a family, and to do the things he is passionate about.

The last one was closest to the truth, but none of it rang true. I realized I was regurgitating something I didn’t believe. He saw through my uncertainty.

He said, “I don’t want a wife. I want to stay with you forever.”

Aww, how adorable…but a bit of a communication fail on my part. So I tried again.

“Son, you need to read and write because you have something to say. You will absorb the world through your own experiences and the words of others; your heritage as a human through books. You will add to that wisdom. You will know how to learn, how to teach and how to create. You will know how to sail a boat, grow your own food and build a house. You will know there is much more to life than earning and spending. You might choose a wife, or you might choose a husband, a harem, a life of solitary contemplation or to stay with mom and dad until we die. All the options are open to you. But you will share your choices with the world through your words. That’s why you need to read and write, son, because you will have something to say. I love you.”

Sometimes we forget the power we earned at five years old. The real reason we learned to read and write. Words can topple tyranny and right injustice. Stories inspire, make us feel and care, they give us new perspectives.

That is why we pass that power along to our children and harness it for ourselves. So don’t throw away words cheaply. Share your experiences with the world.

We all have something to say.


Author: Catherine Turner

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Image: Author’s own; woodleywonderworks/Flickr

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Catherine Turner