It must be summer: Long days, humid nights, more bug bites than we can count, and lots of good stories. The other day I was lucky enough to be snuggled with my 4-year-old-daughter Eliza in her bottom bunk reading one of our favorite books, Falling Up by Shel Silverstein. On page 38 there is a poem called The Voice.
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long.
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you – just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
In the field of child development, we talk about children’s inner speech; a personal, internal monologue children develop and practice, as they go about their daily lives - narratives they work through in their own minds, building on social experiences and the spoken exchanges around them. Lots of voices contribute to this inner speech. By modeling language that supports children’s thinking, we scaffold children’s vocabulary. We help children process difficult situations by talking through events with them. As we think out loud, we make our own ideas more accessible to children. As they grow, children sift through everything they see and hear, they work through various ideas, and build their own understanding.
How do children develop and continuously practice their inner speech for themselves? It all begins in play. Through play, children work within the space of their own self-initiated ideas, and they build on these ideas by thinking and talking and thinking some more. We hear a child whispering to herself adamantly, as she builds a tower out of blocks and carefully chooses one shape or size over the other. And this “thinking out loud” becomes part of the child’s inner speech. We witness the drama unfold as a child role-plays two diametrically opposed characters in one – giving voice to good and evil, powerful and weak, and so on, practicing different perspectives. Through play, children develop their voice – not just how they talk, but their own opinions, determination, their own sense of truth and their understanding of their place in the world.
What happens when children don’t play? They stop listening to the “voice that speaks inside”. They loose their own voice. What happens when children lose their voice? Well, in a world where democracy is the gold standard, where we must believe that each of us has something important to say, let’s not ever let this happen.
play = voice
Together, we can all support child-directed play. Learn more and contact us at www.popupadventureplay.org