January 20, 2010 at 10:18 am | Posted in Book Blather, Reading with Kids | 8 Comments

My five-year-old niece told her mother the other day:

If ever I’m sad or depressed, you can say I’m crestfallen.

Her mom asked, “Hmm, where’d you learn that word?”  My niece said, “From TV.”  Note that she’d been five for approximately two months.

Last night Rocket Scientist and I were talking with Sweetie Junior about the American presidents.  She had asked whether there hadn’t been a president “who wouldn’t eat spinach or something.”  We started going through all the recent presidents who were on record regarding a vegetable preference, and it turned out our little bunny did not know who Ronald Reagan was.  RS slapped his forehead.  She said, “We don’t have history this year!”  I told her if she could name 25 presidents in half an hour I would give her $25, and if she could get them in order I’d double it.  We had a bit of fumbling, and I told her she could use a notebook if she wanted. 

So it turns out we have an “RFK” and a “James Adams” among our nation’s leaders.

I tried to do it myself, and got up to about 33.  I realized later I’d somehow left off Garfield, both Johnsons, and Chester Arthur, but I was able to list about a quarter of the presidents’ wives.  The last time I was called upon to perform this act was 1992.

Anyway, we’ve had a similar problem in the past, with geography.  We told SJ we could go to a movie if she could name all 50 states.  That wasn’t going to happen, so we reduced it to any two of the first 13 colonies.  She gave us New York and “East Virginia.”  “East Virginia?!” said her father.  “No, wait, North Virginia!” she cried.  “What are they teaching you in that school?” I wanted to know.

This time, as a joke, I said, “If you can’t name even 10 presidents I’m pulling you out of that school!”  She could only get to six.  She couldn’t even get the easy ones – she already had one John Adams and one George Bush, but didn’t remember there were two of each.

What this all has to do with reading is that there is a certain context involved.  We often read aloud together, and it’s disheartening to realize how few facts are nestled in that little head.  You’d think a straight-A student, especially one who’s a big reader, would… know more.  When we found out her school had avoided the creation/evolution debate by teaching neither, and that she’d never given a moment’s thought to Where People Came From (she said they were learning Sex Ed next year), I said, “Aren’t you ever curious?”  She said, “…No.”

If ever I’m sad or depressed, you can say I’m crestfallen.

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