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July 11, 2020

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Teaching idioms to first graders?

My kids bring a lot of papers home from school.

Amongst these papers was a sheet of practical activities to do at home to encourage literacy, logic, character-building and math skills. Under the language section, it suggested counting how many idioms my first grader could think of, as a sort of game.

You're pulling my leg, right?

First off, I think today's first graders are learning far more than I was taught at that grade level. For example, my first grader was learning to spell advanced words such as special, barbecue, and rhythm. She just turned seven. So - today's first graders have the potential to know far more than I did at that age.

But teaching idioms to first graders? Sounds like pulling teeth to me.

What is an idiom? I have a Bachelor's in English Literature, and even I had to look it up. The resource sheet read: "An idiom is a saying with a meaning that is different from the actual words. For instance, a 'wild goose chase' refers to a waste of time, not to chasing geese."

That got me thinking of other idioms we use in our day-to-day life: I often tell my daughter she is "full of beans" or full of energy. I self-identify as a "goody two-shoes" (which refers to a person who desires to be perfect). Have you ever "woken up on the wrong side of bed" or is life always a "piece of cake" for you?

If you try to unravel the meaning of an idiom word-for-word, it often makes little to no sense. No one is chasing a goose. According to Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms, we might have William Shakespeare to thank for the creation of this phrase: he used it in Romeo & Juliet and apparently it caught on like a house on fire.

Some idioms are clear as day - I don't really need to explain what "let sleeping dogs lie" means, right?

Other idioms were created by famous authors or storytellers, such as Shakespeare, Homer, Aesop or Geoffrey Chaucer.

Still other idioms are historical, such as "let the cat out of the bag" which today means reveal a secret.  But hundreds of years ago, it did actually have something to do with a cat and bag. According to Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms , if a person buys a piglet at market, only to take the wriggling bag home and open to discover they've been cheated and given a cat instead, they do not find out until they've literally let the cat out of the bag.

Other idioms come from cultural customs, such as "bury the hatchet." Word experts believe this comes from the Native American custom who would actually bury their hatchet or tomahawk to show the war or fighting was over.

Idioms are also a huge stumbling block for foreign or non-English speakers - my hubby is British and he tried to offer me his "ten cents" for this article (but the correct idiom is "two cents").

I hope you can now navigate idioms with flying colors. Off the top of your head, how many idioms can you think of?

(Hint: there are six hidden within this article.)