In the past these stories have been one of the sources used by the lexicographers of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The words used in these stories are one of the sources for the words that are chosen for inclusion in the dictionary.
Now, one way to restore these words, perhaps the best way, is to get the words back into the hearts, the mouths and the minds of children. Perhaps by using The Lost Words as a catalyst for the 500 word story competition. Because it is the frequency of the appearance of words in these stories that shapes the Oxford Junior Dictionary.
The seeds of the Lost Words began with a letter, sent to the dictionary, to question the editorial decision of the lexicographers. This letter highlighted a problem that has been growing in our population. As a child I remember being shocked that my contemporaries couldn’t recognise a wood pigeon from a wren. All this life around us, and to some one tree looks just the same as another. Why does this matter? Well, I think Robert Macfarlane says it best in the Newsnight program. It’s about knowing and naming.
And rather than continue to petition the dictionary, who defended their decision, our hope is that we could make a book that would enchant the mind and eye and bring these words back to heart and mind and mouth.
500 words, in stories. I wonder. At a time when children can name more Pokemon characters than they can British Wildlife, can we change this? Pokemon cost money, watching wildlife is free. Listening to the song of birds, is free.
And it’s not a case of city versus countryside. On Saturday morning I woke in a hotel room in London near Kingscross. The first sound I heard was a blackbird singing the light into the world. On the train journey home, glancing out from the train window I saw a peregrine hunting two rooks against the background of a brutal factory wall, near Bicester. At Bicester Station a family of long-tiled tits gathered in a silver birch tree, so delicate. It still held gold leaves on its dark twigs. Last summer, in the heart of Edinburgh, I watched a family of bluetits clinging to a highrise in a rainstorm. We live surrounded by wildness, and all we need to do is open our eyes, to see, to look up from the screens that increasingly dominate our lives.
So, if you are a teacher then enter your children into the 500 word story competition. It’s a great way to get them writing. Frank Cotterrell-Boyce is giving great writing tips on twitter. And perhaps introduce them to other ways of seeing, using Robert Macfarlane’s words.
Don’t force, just plant the seeds and see if they grow. Rewild the mind of the child.