Karen Berard-Reed

Choose your words wisely when working with children

Blog Post created by Karen Berard-Reed on Jul 12, 2013

I am blessed to have two active sons, ages 7 and 11.  This Fourth of July marked a milestone for the Reed Boys.  They both ran in the annual road race in our community for the first time.  Despite the heat, they had a great time and I think they may be hooked on the sport.  My soccer-loving son announced last night that he may join the cross-country team in middle school.  However, my younger son mentioned that when he gets to middle school, he wants to join the wrestling team.  I was a bit puzzled by this announcement as I pictured him rolling around on a smelly mat in a blue singlet and head gear.  Then my little guy continued on and said, “Yes, I can wear a costume and make a dramatic entrance.”  A couple of quiet seconds passed and I realized we were not thinking about the same thing.  After explaining the differences between the WWE and middle school wrestling, my mind shifted to my work on the preschool version of the Learn Not to Burn curriculum.1st Road Race  7.4.13

How often do we talk to youngsters and mistakenly assume we are on the same page?  To reduce this problem when working with children, it is important to speak with simple words.  Avoid using technical jargon especially when words might have multiple meanings.  For example, when I was teaching in an elementary school in the 90’s, I remember a visiting firefighter chatting with students about the aerial truck.  The students were very interested and wanted to know more about the Little Mermaid fire truck.  While the children were visualizing Ariel, Flounder, and Sebastian from the popular Disney film, our firefighter was thinking about a specialized apparatus with a telescopic ladder.  From that point on, we stuck with “ladder truck”.

If you work with the wee ones, do not hesitate to introduce new words to them but remember their understanding is built through connections to previously learned information.  Be sure to clarify all new terminology with youngsters and whenever you can, trigger as many senses as possible with a combination of words, pictures, sounds, touch, and even smells in your explanations.  Watch body language and facial expressions for signs of confusion and check for understanding by allowing students to repeat information back in their own words. Keep them actively engaged as children learn best by doing.

If you would like more information about communicating safety messages to children, take a look at the NFPA report “Evaluating and Creating Fire and Life Safety Materials: A Guide for the Fire Service.”  This guide uses the results of a Johns Hopkins fire safety research study to outline helpful suggestions for those involved in teaching fire prevention to children. 

I am here to help!  Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions about your educational programming. 

-Karen Berard-Reed