b Papa Dog's Blog: Little Big Brains

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Little Big Brains

I don’t recall giving it much thought, but if I did I’m sure I was opposed to becoming one of those parents, the ones that can’t stop gushing about their child’s achievements to anyone who will listen. I figured I’d gush about all the cute stuff she did, sure, and I’ve done more than my share of that here, but I figured I’d know better than to go on and on about how damn smart she is. Well, how was I to know she’d turn out to be a frigging genius?

Okay, that’s hyperbole, but Baby Dog really is advanced verbally, to a level that our paediatrician has described as “phenomenal.” It’s not just the proud blinkered papa saying this. I’ve been taking that (or trying to) with a grain of salt, conscious that children develop at different rates. Just because Baby Dog has a bigger vocabulary than most children months older doesn’t necessarily mean anything significant in the long term. Besides, while she excels in her acquisition of language skills, she’s a slow learner when it comes to physical milestones. She’s seventeen month old and still not walking on her own – we know kids several months younger who’ve managed that trick already.

Still and all, I think I’m recognising in Baby Dog basic skills and – well, gifts – that bode well for future scholarship. In his youth, yr. humble correspondent had powers of memory bordering on the supernatural. Of course, I mostly squandered it memorizing movie trivia and later ruined it with age, drink, and laziness, but it was a huge aid in skating through our educational system without really trying. The last while it’s occurred to me that Baby Dog has the same powers of memory I used to have.

Case in point: we recently got her a copy of the The Cat in the Hat. We’ve mostly stuck with little board book versions of the Dr. Seuss library, but she’s proven to be respectful enough of the bigger paper versions that she doesn’t tear them much, and has demonstrated the attention span necessary for the longer versions of Are You My Mother? and Green Eggs and Ham, so this seemed like a logical next step. As it turns out, The Cat in the Hat has yet to really grab her. There’s a much higher word-per-picture ratio than in the other books, and the story elements aren’t quite as simple and direct. I tried reading it to her a couple of times without but she only sat through to the end once.

We’ve long since discovered that the best way to keep Baby Dog quiescent on the changing pad long enough to get her diaper changed is to put a book in her hand. When she “reads” books herself, what she does is flip through, calling out a key word on each page. Sometimes the word is obvious – if there’s a picture of a frog, she’ll say “Froggie!” Sometimes it’s a more subtle word from the text that for some reason has made an impression on her. “Or there! Or there!” she says for the page of Green Eggs and Ham wherein Sam I Am enquires as to whether or not the Grumpy Guy would like green eggs and ham “here or there.” One day last week, the nearest book to hand on the changing table was The Cat in the Hat. I handed it to Baby Dog. She flipped to the first page and said “shine!” I looked at the page and saw it did indeed say “The sun did not shine.” Well, that’s the first page. Kind of a gimme. “That’s right,” I told her, “the sun did not shine.” She flipped through some more and said “Funny!” I thought she was saying that the book was funny, but then I saw the page she was on. “That’s right!” I told her, surprised, “they can have lots of good fun that is funny.” She flipped through some more, calling out relevant words for each page. She’d only heard the book twice, at most three times – and not more recently than a couple of days earlier – but she had absorbed key words for each page, linking them in her mind with the pictures.

With books she’s heard more frequently, she can practically recite them by herself. The most dramatic example is one of her current favourites, Dr. Seuss’ ABC. She’s heard it so many times that when she flips through the book, calling out key words for each page, what she’s effectively doing is reciting the alphabet in its correct order. Not even a year and a half old, and she knows the name of each and every letter. I don’t think she recognizes most of them by sight but she knows them by name and is clearly linking them to the sounds they make, thanks largely to that very book.

Okay, so, yes, I’m gushing, but I think I’m also doing something important, which is recognising, as impartially as I’m able, early signs of Baby Dog’s strengths and talents. Obviously, I’m disposed to value verbal acuity over physical skills (and probably that has a bearing on Baby Dog’s disparate advancement in those areas), but I really do think there’s something special going on in that little brain of hers, and it’s going to be another of my main jobs as father** to see to it that she makes better use of her advantages than I did of mine.
*Though she definitely knows (for various reasons) C, O, P, T, and Z. And yes, she says “Zed.”
**Aside from the “keeping her off the pole” job.


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