Yesterday, out of the blue, the Littlest Miss, who will be six this summer, came up to me and asked, “Daddy, do you have a dictionary?” I told her that I did and she said she wanted to look at it so that she could look up words. My heart fluttered. Zach and Grace never showed interest in dictionaries, and I’m skeptical that they ever learned how to use one in school. The Littlest Miss told me they had dictionaries in her kindergarten classroom.
I gave her my Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and she spent 45 minutes in the afternoon looking up words and haltingly reading definitions. I showed her how to use the guide words on the pages to find the words she’s looking for. She picked it up almost at once and proceded to spend the rest of the evening with the dictionary in her lap, looking up words and reading the definitions.
When I was about her age, I got as a present one year, the Macmillan Dictionary for Children. (My brother, for his present, got the Grease soundtrack album.) The dictionary was a big white book with a red spine. I remember feeling a little disappointed at first. Who wouldn’t? A dictionary compared to the Grease soundtrack? Over time, however, I went through every page of that dictionary. I can’t remember if I tried reading it cover-to-cover or not, but I became so familiar with it I could find a word based on the pictures I saw on a page as flipped through it.
Early in my schooling, we learned how to use dictionaries. We learned how to use the strange symbols in the pronunciation guide to pronounce words. I learned how to use the guide words on the tops of the pages to locate words. Eventually, I began circling the words I looked up. That old dictionary was lost in the intervening decades. Last night I wished I still had it for I would have given it to the Littlest Miss.
Instead, I went online and ordered her a new edition of the Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary. When I returned from my early morning walk this morning, it had been delivered, and when the Littlest Miss woke up and got ready for school, I presented her with the weighty tome.
She loved it!
She spent the morning before leaving for school looking up words, and circling the ones she looked up (at my suggestion). She looked at the pictures. She read definitions. She seemed to have a great time doing it. When she got home from school, she saw the dictionary on the couch where she left it and immediately resumed her browsing.
I, of course, am delighted there is finally someone else in the house who appreciates a dictionary. I imagine it won’t be long before I’ll be forced to return to my own dictionary as the Littlest Miss uses bigger and bigger words to express herself. Maybe that will force everyone else in the house to start using a dictionary again, too.
Written on May 3, 2022.
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