Wordsworkinc's Weblog

Life, love and language

About Me


Hi there, my name is Dawn Kumm.  I am one of those annoying people who keep picking out grammatical and spelling mistakes online and itch to correct them.  English is my passion and was one of my majors in my first degree. I also hold a Master’s degree in Education.   I run my own business, and do freelance research, writing and editing.  Find me on LinkedIn for my full resume and look for me on Facebook and my website


November 21, 2018 Posted by | About Me, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Kids and Pets

I grew up with pets – dogs and cats, of course – I still remember Blackie, my fluffy black cat (I wasn’t very innovative with names at five years old) who patiently let me dress him up and push him around in my doll’s pram

boy standing hugging cat

Photo by Elisey Vavulin

But I also had a locust, who would sit on my hand and nibble away on a piece of grass while I watched the movements of his mouth pieces in fascination.

That year, I remember, I had an insect hospital in our playroom, with matchbox beds. Unfortunately, I don’t think too many of my little patients survived my tender ministrations.
Later, when I was at high school, I had a chameleon named Rex, later changed to Regina when he/she laid eggs. Regina went to school with me every day. Our desks still had holes for ink wells although we had, just, progressed beyond dipping pens. Regina, who measured a good 10 inches from nose to tail, would stay quite happily in my desk, sticking her nose out through the ink well hole every now and then for a stroke.

Pet birds also played a large part in my life. Between my sisters and I we had six budgies who were tame enough to travel to the shops on our shoulders.

blue parakeet on hand

Photo by Sharon MacCutcheon

And as we have grown up, married, and had children, and then grandchildren, of our own, pets continue to be an integral part of our families, from budgies and parrots, cats and dogs, to rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and reptiles.
What generated all these reminiscences was the realization, I as patiently walked my rather chubby Pomeranian around the yard, that through all the years of studying, and then lecturing in child development, the relationship between children and animals was never discussed. And yet it was such an important part of my growing up. I started looking at research in this area and found that most of it is fairly recent.
So, I have decided, in my next few blogs, to look at what evidence there is for the place of animals in the overall development of a child, from toddler to adolescent. Watch this space.

November 21, 2018 Posted by | About Me | | 4 Comments

End of an Era

Six years I opened a daycare in Calgary.  The experience was not with angst. I was unprepared for the amount of red tape I would come up against. Coming from South Africa where these things were – still are(?) – far more laissez faire, the number of different officials involved in the process was mind-boggling to say the least.  As we battled through the multitude of steps involved I decided to start a blog on our experiences, hoping it would help others caught up in the same mire. For anyone who is interested that blog post, which spanned many months, can be found under the category ‘Working’ in this web-blog.

At the end of September the centre was sold.

Over the past six years our lives have been very enriched by the daycare and, hopefully, we have been able to provide a service for the community we chose.  The highlights were, (of course), the hugs and greeting from the little ones every morning; the relationships we built up with our parents; and the daily interaction with our staff whose commitment and sense of humour brought a ray of sunshine to even the most stormy days.  The lowlights included trying to accommodate the requirements of three different bodies – licencing, health and accreditation – all of which had different ideas of how a daycare should be run; and trying to offer the children educational experiences based on play and exploration without breaking any rules.

In the end I reluctantly decided that I no longer wanted to run a business under those conditions.  I do not regret the years spent at the daycare, most of it was very enjoyable, and I do not regret leaving – it was time. Now on to other things.


November 13, 2018 Posted by | Working | , | Leave a comment


OK, here is another short article to put under Language since I feel I have been neglecting that section of my blog (along with all the rest, truth be told). And it’s on hyperbole because there has been so much of it on TV right now that I think we need to consider exactly what it is and if ‘truthful hyperbole’ is actually a thing.
Most of us would have to admit to telling the odd “white lie”, often justified by assuring ourselves that we just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and, probably more truthful, because we don’t want people thinking badly of us. And more and more we seem to be happy to accept lies told by our politicians and other newsmakers and relaters to the extent that we are said to be living in the untruth era.
But, on the whole I think most of us like to think of ourselves as being basically truthful. And yet we will happily use hyperbole without thinking twice. So, what is hyperbole, and can it be equated with lying?
The simple answer, of course, is that hyperbole is exaggeration. To be an exaggeration it has to be at least linked to truth. ‘The crowds at my inauguration were the biggest ever’ is only hyperbole if there was, in fact, an inauguration. If there wasn’t it would be a flat out lie.
From a language point of view hyperbole is a figure of speech, generally used to emphasise a point, for example, “I won’t be eating there again, that meal cost me a fortune!” Very few people hearing this would believe that the meal actually cost a fortune but would understand that it was very expensive. Similarly, if you complained that your shoes were killing you, no one would rush to apply life saving techniques since they would realize that you simply meant that your shoes were hurting your feet.
In these examples, then, hyperbole is an innocent and effective way of getting your point across to your listeners. There is no expectation that anyone would take you at your word and, in fact, to correlate it with lying is hyperbolic in itself.

But what about hyperbole being used in the commercial or political fields? Here I believe exaggeration is often intended to mislead, in which case the link to lying is much stronger. This is especially true where the hyperbole is used for self-aggrandizement. For example, ‘the economy is the best it’s ever been.” It is this form of hyperbole which has been called truthful hyperbole – “an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion” (Michael LaBossiere).

However, given that many people choose to take a statement at face value rather than go to the trouble of checking facts this sort of hyperbole is far from innocent and can lead to an almost cult like belief in an influential person who indulges in it.

Hyperbole 3


August 2, 2018 Posted by | Language | 2 Comments

Kids and Kindness

Teaching Kids Kindness
When I was doing some research for my blog on schadenfreude I was quite surprised to find out that even very young children can derive some satisfaction from the misfortunes of others. This doesn’t mean that they are unable to be compassionate, but this compassion is largely tempered by their level of development. So, a lack of impulse control could cause a gentle stroking of the cat to segue into an unkind (and potentially scratch inducing) tail pull; and the conviction that they are the centre of their little universes makes the idea of sharing very difficult.
Given this, is it possible to teach kindness to young children? I believe it is. If you have a preschooler who is more inclined to hit his playmate over the head than share his toys with him here are some ideas for introducing them to the concept of altruism.
Model Kindness.
We all know that kids learn by imitation. Just try sticking out your tongue at a baby and see how quickly they copy you. This ability in very young infants to mimic your actions is a precursor of empathy which has usually developed around two years of age. By this age they are able to recognize emotions in others which they are not necessarily experiencing themselves and will often try to comfort someone in distress.

Infant sticking out tongue by Carlos Martinez

Photo by Carlos Martinez

Children between one and three years learn both by watching and by doing so if you want your child to grow up kind you need to show kindness yourself. Every time you take cookies to your next-door neighbour, help someone carry their groceries, hold the door open, walk more slowly to allow them to keep up with you, even pet an animal, you are showing your child how to be kind.
Speak Kindly
Moderate your voice, speak gently, use please and thankyou, not just when speaking to other adults but when you speak to your child. Greet people you meet when out walking or shopping with your child and don’t be afraid to compliment, sincerely, the colour of a stranger’s outfit or their hairstyle.
On the other hand, do not tolerate name-calling and be careful not to trash talk yourself. Remember that when you speak negatively of your relatives or colleagues your child hears you and presumes that its alright for them to talk that way.
Encourage Kindness
Young children have not yet reached the stage when chores are to be avoided at all costs. While helping around the house is still considered fun, encourage them to help.
Sure, you can do it all much faster and more efficiently yourself, but a bit (or a lot) of patience now can instill in your child an appreciation for what others do to keep life running smoothly and an inclination to help them to do so.


Photo by Laterjay

Label Kindness
Recognize what kindness is – compassion, feeling for others and reaching out to comfort or assist. Then label these feelings and actions when you and your child come across them in your community, ‘wasn’t it kind of that man to help the lady in the wheelchair onto the sidewalk?’, and especially when your child exhibits them. A simple ‘that was very kind of you’, or, ‘you made your friend feel much better when you gave her a hug’, helps to confirm the act and hopefully encourage the start of a life time habit of kindness.



July 27, 2018 Posted by | Children | | 2 Comments

The Joys of Idleness

There is a real skill to being able to sit still and do nothing and I think that I have lost it somewhere along the way. Since contentment has long been my seemingly unattainable goal I decided to see if I could find it again.
So this morning, when I poured my second cup of coffee, instead of sitting down at my computer I took our aging bearded dragon and our little Pom and sat outside on my bench, ready to be idle.

Sherry on the bench
Calgary’s summer may be short but it is lovely. Everything is green and deciduous trees, newly leafed, together with the evergreens, surround my little private garden. At first it was very quiet, then the sounds of the birds came back, sparrows, chickadees, robins and crows (these are about the only calls I can recognize but there were many more.) Our resident red-tailed hawk flew overhead and Draco, the dragon, tilted his head and watched him suspiciously. A small sparrow landed on the nearby bird feeding tray and confidently helped himself to the seed.
My phone lay untouched beside me (that umbilical cord will take some time to sever) as I sipped my coffee and basked in the cool beauty of the garden.
For the first 5 minutes I truly lived in the moment, and then, gradually, reality started to seep in. Sherry jumped onto the bench beside me and I stroked her soft fur (I really need to brush her again), Draco flicked his tongue at an ant and took a few tentative steps through the lawn (I must cut the grass today), the pansies, geraniums and petunias seem to have survived the attentions of the gophers and the deer and are adding splashes of colour to the green (and probably need a watering before it gets too hot).

In the end my coffee and my ability to sit still both ran out at the same time and we all came back inside so I could carry on with my day.
Ten minutes mightn’t be much but made me think. I’ve never been very keen on meditation and the idea of clearing my mind of any thoughts is laughable, but mindfulness I might just manage. I’ll try again tomorrow.

June 8, 2018 Posted by | About Me, Living in Canada | , , , , | 2 Comments

Big Hill Springs

We were introduced to a new trail today. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is just 10 km north of Cochrane and is a beautiful, short loop of 1.6km with an elevation of 70m.

Big Hill Springs

We arrived at around 11am and the park was already crowded, mostly with families and lots of small children who were enjoying the shallow pool near the beginning of the hike. There are picnic tables near the pond and many people had obviously settled in for the day.

Big Hill Springs pool

The trails runs past the pool and follows the creek uphill offering lots of opportunities to paddle and explore.

Big Hill Springs stream

We passed a series of waterfalls,

Big Hills Spring waterfall

and then climbed up through the woods.

Big Hill Springs path

We stopped often to take photographs and enjoyed some really nice views near the top of the loop.

We had an active four year old with us who managed the climbs with ease and had a great time collecting sticks along the way.  Not a hike for those looking for a challenge or wanting to enjoy the peace and quiet of a nature walk but we found it unexpectedly beautiful and will certainly go back.

May 21, 2018 Posted by | Hiking | Leave a comment



1. pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

When I was a little girl, my mother often recited this poem to me:

‘When I was at the party,’
Said Betty, aged just four,
‘A little girl fell off her chair
Right down upon the floor;

And all the other little girls
Began to laugh, but me –
I didn’t laugh a single bit’,
Said Betty seriously.

‘Why not?’– her mother asked her,
Full of delight to find
That Betty – bless her little heart! –
Had been so sweetly kind.

‘Why didn’t you laugh, my darling?
Or don’t you like to tell?’
I didn’t laugh, said Betty,
‘Cos I’m the one who fell.

Laughing girls - photographer Caroline Hernandez

Photographer: Caroline Hernandez

There is no doubt that the laughter of young children is as contagious as a yawn. But there is also no doubt that at times that laughter is misdirected.

For most adults the misfortunes or embarrassment of their peers seem to be a source of endless hilarity – one only has to watch America’s Funniest to see what is considered amusing. This reaction to the humiliation or discomfort of our fellowman is known as schadenfreude and a number of studies have been done to try to determine why we find the bad luck of others so entertaining. But are children really as malicious as that, and, if so, is it genetic or is it a learned behaviour?

In a study carried out at Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany (1), children aged between 4 and 8 years were shown picture stories of a child carrying out an activity with either a positive or a negative intention, for example, climbing a tree to pick fruit for a sibling or to throw fruit at the sibling. In both cases the child has an accident – falling out of the fruit tree and hurting himself. Although the researchers reported that a small amount of schadenfreude was felt by the children even when the child in the story was carrying out a good deed, by far the majority of them reacted with pleasure when the child who hurt himself was intending to hurt his sibling. In this case schadenfreude was prompted by the degree to which the children felt the accident was deserved.

Even younger children have been shown to derive a certain amount of pleasure from the misfortunes of others. A 2014 study found that children as young as two years showed signs of schadenfreude in response to what they perceived as unfair situations involving their peers.(2)  In this study some of the toddlers were videotaped watching their mothers reading a story to child of the same age as themselves while another group were shown their mothers reading on their own. In both cases the book was then spoilt when water was spilt on it. When the researchers analysed the reactions of both groups of toddlers they found a greater incidence of jealousy and accompanying schadenfreude in the first group. So this study linked jealousy to the feeling of pleasure in the observed misfortune.

Jealousy is also the major issue in sibling rivalry which can become so intense that one child may deliberately set out to get their sibling into trouble in order to enjoy their misfortune while they bask in their parents’ approval.

In both of these studies schadenfreude is linked to the child’s belief that the other’s misfortune is, in some way, deserved.  In my experience working with young, preschool children, not many appear to enjoy the random mishaps of their peers and even try to comfort them, whereas the tendency to laugh when a peer is embarrassed or even hurt seems to increase as they reach school age.  I stress that this is simply my observation, not a scientific conclusion.  It does, however, suggest to me that, on the whole, schadenfreude is a learned response. (3)

Siblings - photo by Ben WhiteAnd yet there are some young children who seem to completely lack the ability to feel for their less fortunate friends, while others appear to have been born with a greater propensity for empathy and compassion than most of their peers.

It’s the old nature vs nurture question which keeps raising its aged head, although today we know the issues are far more complex than the question suggests.

A more important question is, can we teach children empathy and how do they learn to be kind?   – the subject for another blog?


Photographer: Ben White




1. Schulz, K., Rudolph, A., Tscharaktschiew, N. and Rudolph, U. (2013), Daniel has fallen into a muddy puddle – Schadenfreude or sympathy?. Br J Dev Psychol, 31: 363–378. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12013

2. Shamay-Tsoory SG, Ahronberg-Kirschenbaum D, Bauminger-Zviely N (2014) There Is No Joy like Malicious Joy: Schadenfreude in Young Children. PLoS ONE 9(7): e100233. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100233

3. See Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.


May 10, 2018 Posted by | Children | Leave a comment

Rules and regulations and small businesses.

“Time to go to bed”; “Don’t talk with your mouth full”; “Chores first then play”; “Pack away your toys”.
Remember the rules from your childhood? At the time we all chafed against them. They restricted our play and got in the way of fun. As we grew up we came to realize, reluctantly at times, that there was some need for a regulated life.

Rules and regulations

There is no doubt about it, rules and regulation are a big part of what makes society, certainly a civilized society, work. Although most of us have complained at one time or another of the restrictions caused by rules with which we don’t agree, we are quick to complain if we perceive ourselves to have been hard done by due to someone ignoring or blatantly flouting the law.
Rules and regulations set a standard for what is acceptable and the law clearly states the consequences for breaking them. In the same way as a young child left to his own devices is quite capable of destroying a well-organized household in record time, we only have to look at a country where the rule of law has broken down to realize how much we need rules to keep our baser impulses in check.
However, you can always have too much of a good thing and to be acceptable rules have to be relevant and practical. Having been involved in policy writing myself I know how easy it is to thumb-suck regulations for a number of issues which could easily have been left to the common sense of the business owners. One problem is that, as new rules get added, the number keeps escalating until it is almost impossible for the average business man or woman to keep track of them all.
For example, how many regulations do you think are practical for the running of one Canadian province? Well, apparently, in Manitoba in 2016 there were 906,824 regulations in 12,393 documents! Despite this, Manitoba is one of the few Canadian provinces which seems to be trying to get it right. Between January 2017 and March 2021 for every new regulation which is promulgated the Manitoba government will remove two existing ones. Thereafter every new regulation will replace an old one.
That can only be a good thing, particularly for small business owners in Manitoba. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business the cost of regulation to businesses last year was $36 billion, with small businesses, those with less than five employees, paying up to five times more when considered on a per employee basis. In Alberta, where I run my business, this includes an increase in minimum wage of up to $15 in fall, an increase in EI payments and, coming next year, an increase in CPP , all of which means that my fees will have to go up just to keep the books balanced.
Important as the financial impact is, however, the way in which rules and regulations can affect the ability of a business to offer its customers any personal service is unacceptable. I’m pretty sure any business owner has their own examples of this but I’ll end with the following quote, by a former vice-president of Western Canada for CFIB, and I’ll quote it verbatim:
“… a high-end men’s clothing store … used to give their customers a cup of coffee while they browsed for a suit. The regional health authority came in and told them they had to send all their employees to a training program to ensure they knew the safest way to handle the coffee and mugs. They had to install an industrial dishwasher for $5,000 to clean the mugs. And they were required to pay an annual fee to show that the business and the employees had passed food services certification.”
I’m guessing, but I imagine that those customers no longer get coffee as they browse!



  1. https://www.cfib-fcei.ca/en/advocacy/manitoba-regulation-red-tape-reduction-regulatory-accountability
  2. http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/0110-biz-dk-cfib-fpe
  3. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/canada-competes/whos-regulating-the-regulators-small-businesses-want-to-know/article9440935/


May 3, 2018 Posted by | Working | Leave a comment

Free Range Parenting.


On the back of my daycare’s business card is one of my favourite quotes by Hodding Carter: “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.”  Both are equally important but more and more today we seem to be content bringing up turkeys rather than eagles.


This quote came to mind when I first read about Utah’s ‘Free Range Parenting Bill’ on someone’s Facebook page recently. According to this bill, which has apparently been signed into law, children of ‘sufficient age’ may be allowed to undertake a number of independent activities, including walking or cycling to school, visiting malls and recreational facilities, playing out of doors, and even remaining at home on their own, without their parents being accused of neglect. According to the Free Range Parenting law, as long as children are fed, clothed and cared for the authorities cannot take them away from their parents.


True to form, most of the comments on that page were negative, predicting wide spread abduction of children from various parks, malls and other unsupervised facilities.  My first response was thankfulness that when I brought up my children I was unaware of the multitude of parenting rules I should have been adhering to.


Yes, we had permissive parents whose kids happily went their own way with little or no rules, authoritarian parents who were heavy on discipline and, often, the wooden spoon, and authoritative parents who somehow managed to hit the happy medium between the two.   But to the best of my knowledge helicopter parenting, as an extreme example of modern childcare, was an unheard-of phenomenon. Who had the time or energy to keep up with the kids 24/7?


As long as they were back before dark and relatively in one piece most parents were happy.

Of course, there are countries where circumstances are such that even adults are wary about walking the streets on their own and helicopter or hovering parenting is almost essential. But in North America, and especially in Canada, this type of hyper parenting seems a little ridiculous.  In answer to the fear mongers who warn of wholesale child abduction the reality is that very few children are ever abducted by strangers.

According to police statistics, of the 46,718 children reported missing in 2011, only 25 were classified as being abducted by a stranger. And a study carried out in 2003 looking at the 90 missing children reports which were classified as stranger abduction in 2000 and 2001, found that only two of them had, in fact, been abducted by people who were neither a relative or close family friend. In other words, the vast majority were taken by someone they knew.

And in most cases where children are abducted by someone other than a close family member they were teenagers, a number of whom went willingly with their abductors.

I think the majority of parents are aware that the world out there is not necessarily peopled by bogey men (or women), and as long as they take reasonable precautions their children will come back from the local park, store or school no worse for wear for their adventures.  Unfortunately, though, there are an awful lot of people, most of whom do not appear to have children themselves, who are very quick to interfere when they see a child doing anything they consider in the least bit dangerous.

There is the world of difference between abusing or neglecting a child and allowing them to experience independence, but these self-appointed judges will readily report parents for the latter.

Parents have been reported for allowing children to walk home on their own, for playing in the local park unsupervised, and even for playing unsupervised in their own, fenced, back yard.  In one extreme case a neighbour called the police when parents were delayed on their way home from work and their eleven-year-old played baseball in their yard for 90 minutes while he waited for them. When the parents arrived they were handcuffed, fingerprinted and retained overnight, and their children, 11 and 4 years old were removed from them for a month.  The trauma to the children during this experience is unimaginable.   

Most of these incidents happened in the US but Canada is certainly not immune to this insanity.  A stay at home mom from Winnipeg was reported and investigated by Child and Family Services for letting her children play in their own backyard while she was busy indoors.


Photo by Jessica To’oto’o on Unsplash

The sad truth is that most children no longer have the opportunity to play freely without adult control.  This may be due to technology with the ever-present enticement of computer games and television, or it may be because parents are afraid of either the perceived dangers of outdoor play or the judgement of outsiders.  Whatever the reason  there has been a gradual but ‘dramatic decline’ over the past 60 years in children’s opportunity to play independently.  And according to Peter Gray, Ph.D, a research professor at Boston College, over the same period there has been a corresponding increase in childhood mental and especially emotional disorders. 

Hopefully Utah’s Free Range Parenting Bill is an indication that the tide is slowly turning and that soon children will be allowed to be children again

April 8, 2018 Posted by | Children | Leave a comment