Words shape our history and our story. They provide the tools that allow us to create the narratives that define us. Words are important because they give us the ability to capture the colour and scribble descriptions that connect us to the world that we inhabit.
And no where is this so important as the words that children learn as they grow up. That is why it really matters for the natural world that 50 words about nature and the countryside have disappeared from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Its something that needs to be reversed for the sake of our wild places and green spaces and for future generations.
At a time when the decline in the connection between kids and nature is well documented it doesn’t help children that they’re not able to discover more about the words that describe wildlife, the countryside, woodland and the coast. We need to do all we can to encourage children to see the importance of nature for their lives and words and phrases help equip them to do this.
In the last seven or eight years the Oxford Junior Dictionary has replaced many words that we took for granted such as catkins, conkers, otters and kingfishers with cut and paste and broadband.
As naturalist and writer Mark Cocker says: “Children need access to nature as never before in history. An Oxford Dictionary aimed at seven-year olds should go out of its way to help them.”
Yes technology has changed all of our lives beyond recognition. When some of the words disappeared from the dictionary back in 2007 smartphones and tablet computers didn’t exist and social media was in its infancy. In the last eight years there has been a digital revolution where technology has displaced alot of things in our lives and this is true of screen time taking over from wild time.
If nature is to stand a chance in an age of headlines about declines in the natural world its going to come from reconnecting kids to nature. Children are naturally drawn to wildlife and it can fire their imagination. But the absence of conkers from their dictionary, something that generations of kids have collected and played with, is a very sad state of affairs.
Our stories and memories are shaped by experiences that are captured in the words we write and speak. We need the diversity and beauty of the English language to give children the vocabulary needed to describe what they see and hear as they grow up.
That is why its so important that we support the campaign to get these words that are part of our DNA and enable us to describe the natural world back into the next edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.