THE MOUTHS OF BABES (and sometimes their parents)

Posted on by Louise Naples


The Mouths of Babes (and sometimes their parents) 

By: Joan Malewitz

There is a song in the show Into the Woods called ‘Children Will Listen.’ It’s very true, but children will also interpret and twist according to their experiences. Young children are also extremely literal, so when they hear an unfamiliar phrase, they will translate and substitute known words for unknown. We all know that Richard Stands is the most saluted man in America.


Some of the following examples are from my own experiences, colleagues shared others, and some are from anecdotes read in teacher publications. Every teacher has said, “I should write a book.”

My own:

  1. One day I was helping a Kindergarten boy get ready to go home. He burst out, “Is it tomorrow?” Never assume—so I asked him why he needed to know. He said his teacher told the class that they could bring in a favorite toy tomorrow and he needed to know when that is. I told him when he goes to bed that night and awakens in the morning—it’s tomorrow. Very happy child.

  2. I was reading a story to a Pre-K group in the school library-- A little boy wildly raised his hand and shouted out “I went to the moon!!” Of course it had nothing whatever to do with the story, but it was obviously important to him. So I asked, “When did you visit the moon?” Answer-“When I went to Florida.” More questions and answers elicited that he went to Disney World on the ride Rocket to the Moon. My answer—“Yes you did go to the moon on that ride.” Big grin and “I did. I did.”

  3. In the school library. A 3rd “Miss M – Quick. I need the Dictionary of Bridges!” Guessing that he wasn’t looking for information about the Brooklyn Bridge, I asked why he needed it. He said he was looking for a word that wasn’t in his classroom dictionary. Now I knew he wanted the UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY. No computer dictionaries available then.

  4. In a colleague’s class- a new girl from the Dominican Republic. Her name is Ciris. The school is 95% African American so the kids in the class had no experience with that name. Remember kids substitute -They thought her name was SERIOUS.

  5. Library again- 3rd or 4th grader (can’t remember) –Where are your books about red tiles. You know what’s coming---I said the tiles here are gray. Silly me—NO I mean snakes –Reptiles of course.

  6. Not just school. When a young child asks what my sister’s job is. I tell them a bookkeeper. EVERY child nods and says—‘Oh, she works in a library.”

From an article by a Sunday School teacher:

  1. The teacher brought a stuffed teddy bear to a parents’ meeting. The children had named it Gladly (the cross-eyed bear) Evidently there is a hymn called “Gladly the Cross I’d (I Would) Bear.

  2. One of the absolute funniest. Christmas season—the Sunday school children were drawing pictures for the holiday. The teacher went to each child and made an encouraging comment. One child’s picture stumped her. It was a picture of a very rotund gentleman. Is that Santa in different clothes, she asked? NO –wait for it—That’s Round John Virgin.

The best of all is from a wonderful middle grade novel called In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord.

A little girl is a new immigrant from China in 1947 Brooklyn. She has a hard time adjusting to her new world, with its strange language. She tries really hard to fit in and comes to empathize with Jackie Robinson as he faces similar though much more serious difficulties.

Her family always knew they would find a way to America and gave her the delicious name –Shirley Temple Wong.

As she struggles with English- she recites the Pledge of Allegiance with her own perfectly lovely substitutions.

I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America.

And to the wee puppet for witches hands,

One Asian in the Vestibule,

With little tea and just rice for all.

And then there are the parents— some of the names they give their poor kids.

Here are some from my own school:

*Vanilla Maltry

*P-h-o-e-b-e   You would think it’s Phoebe but her mother insisted, often angrily, it was PO- EBB-AY (she had seen the name written but never heard it pronounced.)

*One day a colleague from across the hall came running in my class visibly upset—I have a new boy in my class and I cannot call him by his name—What is his name—She showed me on the transfer slip. GOD. She never did call him that but the kids in her class were pretty relentless. “God failed the spelling test.” Etc etc. He only stayed in the class a few weeks and then his family moved again. Linda was greatly relieved. She had taken to calling him by his middle name-Darryl.

*This one has been told before and it might be apocryphal , but I saw the record cards. First grader in my friend’s class. Name: pronounce FE-MAL-E . She asked the mother how her child got this name—Answer-that’s what they named her in the hospital- on her wrist band Female Jones (I don’t remember the real last name.)

One more- Kindergarten child named “Daddy” mother said he was named for his father

You really can’t make this stuff up.







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