Literary metaphor awareness by children aged 7 and 9

Submitted by: Bernadeta Niesporek-Szamburska
Abstract: Key words: literary metaphor, metaphor awareness, levels of metaphors’ understanding, early school pupils

Research on the understanding of literary metaphors (understood as the use of language to describe one thing in terms of something else that is conceptually very different) by children (Siegler 1996) indicates that it appears quite late in children and increases with the child's cognitive and linguistic development. In studies on children's theories of the mind, cognitive strategies were analyzed, which are used by children in order to read the mental state of the other person. However, research into the understanding of literary metaphors by children in early school age has not been conducted in Poland. My research presents an attempt to examine at what age the level of children's understanding of literary metaphors starts to function efficiently – as they can provide a potent tool for teaching abstract concepts in terms of concrete models.
Investigative problems have been concentrated around following questions:
1. How does the ability to understand literary metaphors grow with age?
2. What is the nature of the interpretations made by early school pupils?
In two stages, 60 children (girls and boys) aged 7 and 9 were examined with the use of
six short poems for children with metaphors: perceptual and based on the analogy of relationship.
Stage I of non-verbal analysis: six children – 7 and 9 years old „drew” two metaphors from one poem, and then talked about the drawings. The results (non-literal reading of metaphors) opened the second stage of research.
Stage II: all children spoke about metaphors from five poems. After listening to each poem twice, they explained the meaning of metaphors (eg: ‘a white cat in white fluff wanders white steps’). The poems were presented at weekly intervals. Conversations were conducted individually and documented in recording forms.
Initial research results confirm that the ability to understand metaphors increases with age. For each of the 13 metaphors, the percentage of non-literal understanding is higher in 9-year-olds than in 7-year-olds (the increase in understanding is almost double, it is respectively: 3.8 metaphors and 6.6 metaphors).
A comparison of children's answers with the levels of metaphors’ understanding (according to Guttmejer 1982: factual, mythic, reflexive and symbolic interpretation) allows to conclude that most of the children’s responses are located in factual interpretation – without metaphor understanding (40,8%), or symbolical – with the metaphor comprehension (57,9%). Only 7 responses provides myth interpretations (1,3%). None of the children made a reflective interpretation.

Main references:
1. Baluch A. (1990), Poezja współczesna w szkole podstawowej [Contemporary poetry in elementary school], Kraków.
2. Białecka-Pikul M. (2002), Co dzieci wiedzą o umyśle i myśleniu? [What do children know about the mind and thinking?] Kraków.
3. Guttmejer E. (1982), Rozumienie treści symbolicznych przez dzieci z klas III-IV [Understanding the symbolic content by children from 3-4 grades], Kraków.
4. Siegler R.S. (1996), Emerging minds. The process of change in children’s thinking. New York: Oxford.