This Saturday, September 24th, is Punctuation Day. Or rather—as I am a writer quite keen on proper usage—Punctuation Day! Celebrating (or at least observing) this important occasion makes sense on school days; teachers can integrate a punctuation-related activity into their regularly-scheduled lessons. But alas, this year it seems the responsibility of instilling a love of punctuation falls upon you, the parent. What can you do? Well, I’m here to help. Here is a helpful guide of ways to make Punctuation Day fun for everyone.
Functional Fashion Statements
If you have a Joker costume, wear it. Or take a Sharpie to a plain t-shirt and draw a giant punctuation mark on it. Or a plain hat (FYI, I often find t-shirts and hats on sale at Michaels). People will ask. You will explain. Punctuation will enjoy its day in the spotlight. Or choose accessories to serve as punctuation—the exclamation tie, a parenthetical headband, the period earrings—and make a fashion statement.
Be the Punctuation
To take this up a notch (or if you’re not inclined to draw on your clothing with a permanent marker (spoiled sport)), instead of simply wearing a punctuation mark and telling people it’s Punctuation Day, set up this rule: you may only express yourself using the punctuation mark you’re wearing. So the Joker can only communicate in questions (Would you please put away your dishes? Did you brush your teeth? Shall we go? Will you stop hitting your brother? Did you see that bird? Why is this room such a mess?); the three-year-old (who will likely yell anyhow) gets the exclamation point and shouts; conversely, you may choose to challenge the noisiest one with the ellipses (…) so the sentences just drift off. Trade off the punctuation throughout the day.
This could also work with index cards, I suppose, but where’s your sense of adventure? One-size-fits-all t-shirts are bound to be a great idea! Right? (Just take them off at mealtime).
Spot the Typos
If you still get a newspaper, challenge your kids to read articles in the paper and locate any punctuation errors. If they’re competitive (like mine), give them each an article and have them race to find the most.
(Note: this is not meant as an insult to newspapers, but an acceptance of the reality of working with such a tight deadline; errors happen, and it’s a great opportunity for kids to learn to spot typos in other people’s works, with the hopes that this skill translates to their own work.)
Alternatively, if you live in a post-newspaper household, have them read digitally. If you want them to find lots of errors, point them to a personal blog post. (Or, for the added lesson of why punctuation is important, have them spot errors on a corporate website, and mention how it reflects poorly on the organization if they don’t take care with grammar and punctuation on their website. You may or may not wish to add that, since English majors are a dime a dozen, it really is inexcusable not to have your website proofread.)
Let’s Eat Grandma
Named after the lesson on the importance of punctuation (a comma after “eat” makes all the difference in that sentence), look around to find your own reinterpretations.
Look at a sign, or a billboard, or whatever, and come up with different meanings of the sign by changing punctuation.
My favorite lately is this local company’s ad:
Cook them tasty food.
A perfectly lovely slogan. Except, for some reason (perhaps thanks to the Simpsons’ “How to Cook Humans” aliens episode), I’ve always read it as:
Cook them. Tasty food!
Different meaning, right? Although I suppose either way you’d want good spices, right? (Sorry, that probably crosses the line. Let’s just move on now.)
Comma Sticks: A Punctuation Scavenger Hunt
Try to find punctuation symbols in nature. Come up with your own point system. Score points for multiples. Or for locating them out of different materials (sticks, berries). For little ones (or bigger ones), print out a score sheet. Here’s a reference sheet to get you started.
One person acts out a punctuation mark, everyone else guesses.
Easy: describe what the punctuation does
Medium: say a sentence that would use a particular punctuation
Hard: wordlessly act out the personality of the punctuation (hint: exclamation would march)
Name the Punctuation
Now that you’ve discovered their personalities, name them. Give them a backstory; ask why they’ve turned out that way. Or, link each punctuation to an emotion.
Tell the Punctuation Story
Make up stories (or act out stories) with punctuation as your characters. Who would work together, and who would be natural foes? What do they want, what is standing in their way, and what are they willing to do to get what they want? Choose your protagonist, and tell the tale. Try to get everyone what they want.
Next time your kids get into an argument, stop them to ask which punctuation they’re feeling, and help them figure out—based on the stories you’ve just told and their earlier efforts at acting as a particular punctuation—how they can get out of the situation with everyone happy. Remind them not to exclaim, and not to question you. Tell them to take a timeout until they’ve comma’d down. (Oh, come on. You had to have seen that one coming.)
If you’re grocing, identify foods that look like punctuation. This is the perfect time for a vegetable platter: carrots (exclamation mark), cherry tomatoes (period), sliced peppers (commas or, with a tomato, question mark), peas (period, ellipsis, colon), celery sticks (hyphens, dashes). Pair with alphabet soup to form sentences (or don’t; that could get mighty messy).
To involve your kid in food-prep, play punctuate the carrot. Challenge your kid to chop, slice, dice, and julienne carrots (or whatever you need) to create as many punctuation symbols that you can then cook. Put the parentheses and hyphens into vegetable soup, the commas into carrot cake (or, should I say, Comma Cake?).
Then, during dinner, have the kids guess—not only all the ingredients (a frequent game we play during meals)—but also which punctuation mark it represents in its pre-chopped state.
So you see, punctuation is really important. And it can be fun. Of course, you don’t have to limit the celebration just to the activities listed above. In fact, I’m open to suggestions. Please let me know what other activities you come up with to celebrate punctuation day in your house.