Lately my 5-year old has been very interested in signs – road signs, signs at the entrances to parks, museums, office buildings, etc. Which led to some really interesting conversations about how rules (and ideas in general) can be represented as symbols.
Unlike written words or letters (which are symbols as well), well-designed signs are much more intuitive and easier for pre-readers and early readers to interpret independently. By the way, have you ever noticed how many of the signs we encounter are the ones that prohibit something rather than inform or encourage? I never did until my son pointed it out saying “see, this sign says no smoking, this – no drinking, this – no music, this – no guns. Signs are for saying “no” to things.”
So back to the conversation that we, my son (S) and I (M for Mama) had a few days ago:
S: Mama, when my tree house is finished, I’m going to invite all my friends and put a big sign “no girls allowed”
M: How would you make a sign like that?
S: Easy, I’ll just make a big red circle with a thick line across like that (draws in the air) and there will be a girl on it, like on bathroom doors.
M: Ok, but what if your cousin A comes to visit? Can she play in your tree house? (My son loves playing with his oldest cousin)
S: (after some thinking about it) Sure!
M: But then you need to make a different sign. What would it look like?
S: (after some more thinking) Ok, I’ll just put her picture next to the other sign. It has to be a smiling picture.
M: What if (names of a couple of girls he knows well from playdates) want to come play? Will you let them into the treehouse?
S: (after even more thinking) Yes. All girls I know can come and play. Only girls who are strangers can’t come. And if they are not very little.
M: Ok, but then you have to change the sign.
S: (sounding a bit weary) I dunno. Put more pictures. (runs away)
We had a few more conversations about signs that were similar to this one. My son would come up with a very broad rule and a sign for it. I would then suggest scenarios that did not fit the rule and he’d adjust the rule. And we’d try to figure out how to create a sign that would accurately reflect the new rule.
Since all these conversations were completely “on the fly”, usually while walking or right after reading a bedtime story. Which, I figured out, is not the best time since we don’t get to put any of the sign designs on paper.
But now I’m thinking what kind of a sign-making game can I put together (something that wouldn’t take too long). Any suggestions? Please share!