Our culture changes terrifically fast. Even more so since the advent of the Internet and the smart phone which influences the way we use it. Both give us new and ready access to information, media, gaming and communicating.
Along with any new cultural shift comes new language to reference it. Kids ten years ago wouldn’t have probably heard the word App, or Minecraft, or YouTube. Yet these are now part of their common language use. Our vocabulary is growing.
Or is it?
Where the Oxford Junior Dictionary has begun to include these new words in their latest editions, words like Broadband for example, others like those referencing the natural world have been omitted from it.
This has caused a stir among a group of authors and naturalists who are alarmed by the fact that without coming across certain words like acorn or bluebell, children won’t be able to fully learn what these are, or even have an awareness of them. The group composed a letter to the publisher of the OJD with their concerns:
“We write to plead that the next edition sees the reinstatement of words cut since 2007.
We base this plea on two considerations. Firstly, the belief that nature and culture have been linked from the beginnings of our history. For the first time ever, that link is in danger of becoming unravelled, to the detriment of society, culture, and the natural environment.
Secondly, childhood is undergoing profound change; some of this is negative; and the rapid decline in children’s connections to nature is a major problem”
In a detailed article, Robert Macfarlane, author of ‘Lost Words’ which highlights a vocabulary for nature, talks about this problem of children’s increasing disconnection with nature and how worrying it is.
A dynamic shift in children’s play has meant that they rarely play outdoors in green spaces which would have organically brought them contact with the natural world. And more than a third of parents admit that they are so out of touch with the natural world they couldn’t teach their children the names of common species anyway. This matters; because without the experience or the language, which go hand in hand, they are less likely to care about the conservation of it.
Children gain language associated with what they naturally experience. For instance, most of them naturally experience Pokemon or Disney characters and can easily name them. Does it matter that they can also name things that they rarely have connection with, like bluebells? Or should we make more effort to give them experience of the natural world, the language to reference it, and therefore encourage more care of it?
Many children may not have direct contact with nature on a daily basis, whether rightly or wrongly. But it’s an essential fact that the natural world supports all aspects of our daily lives and the conservation of it is vital whether kids get to play in it or not. So they need awareness of that fact.
It’s certainly questionable how much children nowadays would use or even see an illustrated dictionary.
It’s not questionable, however, that they need varied experiences to broaden their world and their understanding of it and they need the language with which to discuss it, learn about it and extend their education. Experience of nature, and consequently its language, must surely always be part of that.
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