Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Idea to Steal: Vocabulary

While flipping through storybooks today at the library, I found someone had left behind a sticky note on the endpaper of one. The sticky note listed five "hard" words from the book--words like impossible and spectacles. I don't know exactly what the note writer was up to, but if I were him or her, I'd be making a point to explain and define each of the hard words at appropriate moments during the read-aloud process. Maybe not the first time, or even the second time, but once the kid is comfortable with the book, you can pause and say, "Hey, do you know what spectacles are? Look, this wolf is wearing spectacles--that's another word for eyeglasses, glasses." I bring this up because one of the reaction articles in this Early Catastrophe response to the Hart-Risley research recommends "explicit vocabulary instruction." This book-based method would seem to be quite explicit, while also beautifully couched in the context of a living book. I just like the idea of being more alert, as a reader-aloud, to words that might confuse or otherwise elude a little kid, and making a point to address them specifically.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Feast or Famine: How Children's Minds Thrive or Starve on Words

Risley, Todd & Betty Hart, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Brookes Publishing: 1995.

"Be the person you want your children to be." --Betsy Brown Braun

CREDIBILITY: It shouldn't be true, it couldn't be true, that little children on welfare hear one-third the number of words that are heard by the little children of professional parents, right? I mean, that's just nuts. People are people, and people talk, period. Sure, if it's true, I'll grant you that such a difference would probably impact the children greatly, but come on.

If you're not familiar, Hart-Risley asserts that the children of professional parents hear about 30 million words in the first three years of life, the children of working-class parents hear about 20 million words, and the children of parents on welfare hear a mere 10 million words. Some parents just talked a lot more to their kids and that set the kids on a vocabulary growth trajectory that appeared to be fairly fixed and unchangeable (as early as preschool!) and that influenced their IQ test scores and scholastic achievement for years to come.

My natural skepticism about the Hart-Risley study of 42 Kansas families--wherein the children were recorded in their home environments once a month from age one to age three, and all utterances in the home were documented, tagged and organized--led me to go to the original text. Hart-Risley is cited everywhere in the literature about reading, most notably in my beloved Read-Aloud Handbook, and I wanted to see for myself if this study was credible.

And, well, Hart-Risley is the real deal. The book is rife with passages that seem quite science-y ("auxiliary-fronted yes/no questions") and statistics-y ("all five derived variables when entered into a multiple regression analysis...") that looked awfully convincing to my layperson's eye, but for me personally the smoking gun was the transcripts, just because that's what I know and that's how I think.

Not only did the book lay to rest my suspicions that Hart and Risley were somehow "out to get" the welfare families (on the contrary, Hart and Risley appear to be devoted pinko commies driven a deep-seated desire to improve the early childhood education available to poor kids), it convinced me that this is a real phenomenon, despite the fact that (as critics have argued) N = 6 for the number of families included in the welfare group is a fairly low absolute number. (FWIW, the working class group bears out the professional/welfare split; talky families in this group had talkier kids with richer vocabularies, more taciturn families had kids with smaller vocabularies. Vocabulary size of individual children in the working class group was dependent on family verbosity, not income or socio-economic status.)

I highly recommend this book if you have any doubts, but after chapters upon chapters of statistical analysis, the authors conclude on page 167, "These variables are not simply marker variables denoting social class or subculture but are powerful characteristics of everyday parenting that cause important outcomes in children." So few things in early childhood education really appear to have any broadly positive impact at all, so this conclusion is remarkable.

VERBAL NUTRITION: One of the particularly distressing points of Hart-Risley is that not only do poor kids hear fewer words, period, than their more advantaged peers, they hear more "prohibitions." This means that a larger percentage of the words they do hear are "No," "Stop that," "Cut it out," "Put that down." At first glance this is just kind of crummy and mean, but upon further reflection, it's obvious that this higher percentage of verbal junk food is one of the primary culprits in the language-quantity-and-quality problem faced by these children. Every time a mom says "Don't touch the ball" and goes back to her soap opera, instead of saying "Yes, that's a ball. It's a round ball. Do you want to roll the ball across the floor?" she's missing an opportunity to initiate a conversation fork. The child not only loses the words about the ball, he or she loses the words about the ball bouncing down the steps, and what's beyond the steps, and why are there so many roly-poly bugs in the garden? The first kid gets four words, because "No" is a conversation killer, and the second kids gets an exponential number of words, because "Yes" sets off a chain reaction of ideas. Yes is the beginning of an infinity of conversation forks, which begin to look like a net after while, and a net looks a lot like the billions of neural connections being established in the growing brain of a toddler. It became clear to me after reading Hart-Risley that the talkative parents of both the upper-class and working-class groups in the study were essentially transferring their brain networks to their children. They simply had more connections within their own brains (and thus more words), so they were able to offer more brain connections and ideas and words and conversation forks to their children.

Some points from the book that fostered the above conclusion:

  • "Explaining alternatives takes many more words than straightforward directives." (pp 58-59)
  • "Remarkable about the upper-SES families was how busy they were...remarkable about the welfare families was their isolation." (p 69) [See, another representation of connections!]
  • "Children's experiences with frequent but brief and encouraging interactions that involve incidental teaching relative to a child-chosen topic may be contrasted to experience with infrequent but discouraging interactions that involve parent initiations to stop or correct what a child is doing. Infrequent interactions combine with social prohibitions to limit a child's opportunities to learn words and explore the actions and objects they describe." (p 113)
  • "We could see in the professional families the American dream: parents adding to and handing on to their children the advantages their families had given to them. We saw the daily efforts of these parents to transmit an educationally advantaged culture to their children through the display of enriched language; through the amount of talking they did and how informative they were; and through the frequency of gentle guidance, affirmative interactions and responsiveness to their children's talk. They represented the success stories we saw motivating the efforts of many of the working class families." (p 179)
  • "The first three years [of life] are a time when children are uniquely susceptible to the culture of adults, before interaction with peers and the social standards of schools become important influences on what children learn..Nearly everything the children saw and heard was conditional on the parents; everything they knew about the structure of the interpersonal world was referenced to their own experience in the family...The accomplishments of the higher-SES children are hardly surprising when we consider their cumulative experience: three years of enriched language and activities, three years of being told they were 'right' and 'good,' and three years of frequently being chosen as more interesting to listen to and talk to than anyone else." (pp 180-183)
ACTION ITEMS: OK, so how do you provide "quality interaction" with your kid!? According to Hart-Risley, what the parents of the highly verbal children did to make them that way is incredibly simple. In fact, it's so simple you're already doing it: "'They just talked,' 'They listened,' 'They tried to be nice,' "They gave children choices,' and 'They told children about things.' " Done, done, done, done and done, right? How could any parent not do that? 

The authors make it clear that the welfare parents are not villains--they are as loving and devoted as any parent anywhere, they simply just don't have...intellectual momentum. They accelerate their children to their speed, but they don't know how to propel their children further and faster than they are already going. They do the same basic things as every other mom and dad, but then they stop. There is just no emotional engagement, no verbal volleyball, no snapping together of mental Lego bricks.

The fascinating section called "An Example of a Limited Amount of Experience" (pp 183-187) gives the best insight into the child's experience of a verbally impoverished environment.

Among other things, the authors actually preface the conversation transcription from this section with "[We] have omitted the 50 child initiations to which the mother did not respond" (yikes!) and armchair psychologists will quickly spot a depressive miasma hanging over the entire scene.

The authors introduce the scene thusly (and so we begin to understand what goes wrong, and why): "Much in the example is typical of what we observed in all the families: The child is busily engaged in exploration; there are things to play with (a ball, a toy stethoscope, a purse, coins); and the parent provides routine care, dressing, feeding and changing the child. The contrast is in the amount of the child's experience: the number of opportunities the mother has to talk with the child that go unused. Nearly all the other mothers we observed would, for example, have tried to redirect the child's attention from the observer to feeding a doll; they would have asked about the stethoscope, played ball with the child, or asked whether she could count the coins."

I'll leave the five pages of gory details for you to read for yourself (this book is available at most large public and academic libraries), but here is an exchange that I consider to be a fairly representative thumbnail of the entire scene: "The mother returns; Inge sits on the couch beside her to watch TV and says something incomprehensible. Mother responds, 'Quit copying off of me. You a copycat.' Inge says something incomprehensible, and her mother does not respond.' "

WHAT. THE. #*$@%.


Let me end with some advice from Ryan Seacrest (yes, seriously) that I think is relevant to the discussion at hand:

"There's a mantra I've lived by throughout my entire career that I think is one of the keys to my success: Say 'yes,' accept the job, agree to that meeting, catch up over a cup of coffee and lend a helping hand. You never know what the future will bring, so always make the best use of the present. I often get teased for having so many jobs and such a busy schedule, but, truthfully, seizing each of these opportunities has led to many others. And remember, you can always say 'no' later...or so I've heard."

If you want your kids to reap the benefits of an enriched verbal environment, just say "Yes" to your kids. That doesn't mean let them dive headfirst into an empty pool if they ask to do that, it just means follow their conversational leads, make yourself open to them, making their needs and desires something that comes first in your life, rather than a distant runnerup after a TV show or anything else that might be diverting your attention.

External Links & Further Reading

Day 2 of Judaism Week

I remembered that life isn't all about books about the same time I saw the Avinu Malkeinu mentioned in my Rosh Hashanah reading. I looked up Avinu Melkeinu on the Interwebs, and Jackson seemed to really enjoy video of Barbra Streisand's version of the song/prayer. He calls Rosh Hashanah "Shanna" and points at our Judiasm books when we talk about it. He also understands that the shofar is a horn and that horns come from sheep and goats, and we learned what candles are, and how the sulfur from matches can tickle one's nose. (He kept saying "Nose? Nose?" until I lit another match.) This unit study stuff is actually all it's cracked up to be. Who knew?

In other news, the kiddo had a blast helping me plant some new stuff in a corner of the yard. He picked out some shelling pea seeds from our seed box (he liked the rattling sound they made inside the packet), and they were just the right size for him to actually grasp and drop in the little holes. He loved his peas and when they spilled he picked up every single one and put it back in the "packet! packet!" I finally had to trade him a biscuit for the pea seeds to get them back.

Pictures of our new tree and new patch of dirt forthcoming!


Court Park in Playa Vista (photo courtesy of the fabulous
It has come to my attention that parks are awesome. Therefore, I must organize our park outings. (That's just how I roll.) I hereby declare Tuesday to be Park Day. We have two wonderful wonderful neighborhood parks in walking distance--El Marino in Culver City and Court Park in Playa Vista--but in addition to having a base in the community, I love to go further afield. Actually, I want to start building parking outings and nature walks into our system so that I can work our way up to hikes at Malibu Creek State Park, and then Inyo National Forest and Devil's Postpile National Monument (I have many memories of visiting Mammoth as a kid), and eventually an annual trip to a National Park, aka America's Best Idea. (My paternal grandparents were teachers; they alternated summers of teaching summer school and taking their kids out west to the National Parks, a tradition I'd love to incorporate with our family as well!)

Anyway, in the interests of eventually getting to Yellowstone, here's the tentative schedule I worked out:

* 10/11 - Culver City: Carlson Park
* 10/18 - Culver City: Lindberg Park
* 10/25 - Culver City: Blair Hills Park
* 11/1 - Culver City: Fox Hills Park
* 11/8 - Culver City: Syd Kronenthal Park
* 11/15 - Culver City: Culver West Alexander Park
* 11/29 - Marina del Rey: Glen Alla Park
* 12/6 - El Segundo: Recreation Park
* 12/13 - Manhattan Beach: Polliwog Park
* 12/20 - Palos Verdes: South Coast Botanical Gardens (FREE, third Tuesday of the month)
* 1/3 - Westwood: UCLA Sculpture Garden & Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden
* 1/10 - Westwood: Aiden's Place
* 1/17 - Beverly Hills: Coldwater Canyon Park
* 1/24 - Beverly Hills: Greystone Park
* 1/31 - North Marina del Rey: Del Rey Lagoon Park

Other parks of interest, dates and times, TBD: Mar Vista Rec Center, Franklin Canyon Park, Crestwood Hills Park, Palisades Park, Lake Balboa, Blanco Park, Culver City Park, Exposition Park Rose Garden, Watts Towers, Gateway Plaza Fanfare Fountain

Plus a list of suggestions from the Peachhead group:

  • Ballona Wetlands, Lincoln Blvd. & Jefferson Blvd., LOS ANGELES 90094
  • Brookside Park (Reese's Retreat), 360 N. Arroyo Blvd., PASADENA 91103
  • Cal Tech Campus Gardens, 1200 E. California Blvd., PASADENA 91125
  • Central Park at Playa Vista (Playground), 12045 Waterfront Dr., LOS ANGELES 90045
  • Christine Emerson Reed Park,1133 7th St., SANTA MONICA 90407
  • Debs Park (Audubon Center), 4700 North Griffin Ave. LOS ANGELES 90031
  • Del Rey Lagoon Park, 6660 Esplanade Place, LOS ANGELES 90293
  • Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Dr., LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE 91011
  • Douglas Park, 25th St. & Wilshire Blvd., SANTA MONICA 90403
  • Exposition Park, 700 Exposition Park Dr., LOS ANGELES 90037
  • F.E. Hopkins Wilderness Park, 1102 El Camino Real, REDONDO BEACH 90277
  • Franklin Canyon Park, 2600 Franklin Canyon Dr., BEVERLY HILLS 90210
  • Huntington Botanical Garden (Children's Garden), 1151 Oxford Rd., SAN MARINO 91108
  • Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, 4100 S. La Cienega Blvd., LOS ANGELES 90056
  • Lacy Park, 1485 Virginia Rd., SAN MARINO 91108
  • Live Oak Park (Tot Lot), 1601 Valley Dr., MANHATTAN BEACH 90266
  • Orange County Great Park, Sand Canyon Ave & Marine Way, IRVINE 92618
  • Polliwog Park, 1601 Manhattan Beach Blvd., MANHATTAN BEACH 90266
  • Temescal Canyon Park, 15601 Sunset Blvd., LOS ANGELES 90272
  • Valley Park, Valley Dr. & Gould Ave., HERMOSA BEACH 90254
  • Vincent Lugo Park, S. Ramona St. & Wells St., SAN GABRIEL 91776
  • West Bluffs Trail, 1 Westbluff, LOS ANGELES 90293
  • Will Rogers State Park, 1501 Will Rogers State Park Rd., LOS ANGELES 90272  

Monday, September 26, 2011

General Update

JUDAISM WEEK: Tree planted! Jackson helped out by inspecting a worm we found and pouring water on it using the cup from his water table. Photo of tree to come. Library trip cancelled on account of Obama traffic. We'll plant carrot seeds instead. Meanwhile. Jackson seemed to be trying to repeat the words Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in his baby mushmouth dialect. So cute.

CLASSICAL READALOUD CYCLE: I was finally struck by lightning tonight and realized I need to stop reading direct from the text of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and start translating into vocabulary he understands. Interest skyrocketed instantly. He still just wants to look at the pictures, but he was alert and paying attention for the first time in a long time. I'm fairly ashamed I didn't think of this before!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

High Holy Days - Judaism/Jewishness Theme Week

In celebration of the High Holidays and Jackson's Jewish heritage, I'm planning a Judaism/Jewishness theme week. Overall, I plan to focus on Rosh Hashanah more than Yom Kippur because (a) Rosh Hashanah is this week and Yom Kippur starts Oct. 7, and (b) "Jewish New Year" is easier to explain to a toddler than "Day of Atonement."


Our daily read-aloud will be "Wake Up and Beat the Drums" from Ten Holiday Jewish Children's Stories by Barbara Goldin, illustrated by Jeffrey Allon, and our poems will be "The World's Birthday" and "Blowing the Shofar" from Milk and Honey: A Year of Jewish Holidays by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Louise August. We'll do these every day through the week, as I think the repetition can help cement and enrich the learning experiences. (During bathtime tonight Jackson seemed to know what fall was, so maybe fall theme week had an impact!)


If the kiddo tolerates it (and I highly doubt he will) I might read abbreviated versions of the explanations about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from Jewish Holidays All Year Round, by Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Elivia Savadier.


1. MONDAY: We'll plant a tree in celebration of the new year (Rosh Hashanah). Mostly I just need to plant a tree in a certain spot in the backyard sooner rather than later, but hey, let's claim it's symbolic. Meanwhile, digging in the dirt should be fun for all parties concerned.

2. TUESDAY: If all goes according to plan, we'll hit the baby reading hour at the Slavin Family Library and the Zimmer Children's Museum at the Jewish Federation Building on Miracle Mile. No lie, one of the reasons I was stoked to marry my husband is because he's Jewish, and the Jews are the people of the book, and I am the people of the book. Which is to say, I don't know a lot of other ethnic groups in L.A. that have their own libraries set up, but the Jews do, gosh darn it, and that's one of the many reasons they rock. P.S. This event may be canceled on account of Obama-related traffic, but we'll see.

3. WEDNESDAY: Rosh Hashanah officially begins Wednesday night, so we'll do the apples and honey (in hopes of a sweet new year) on this day.

4. THURSDAY: I aspire to make Smitten Kitchen's challah recipe. Apparently on Rosh Hashanah the challah should be round not braided, which is great, because the bread alone intimidates me, much less the braiding.

5. FRIDAY: I think on Friday I'm going to keep it simple and make a glitter bottle for Jackson with some symbolic trinkets (stars of David, etc.) that I'm hoping to find at Michael's or the Dollar Store. I can't say that things like sensory tubs or glitter bottles are particularly educational, but they're fun for me to make, and hopefully fun for Jackson to read.

Friday, September 23, 2011

First Fractions? Quarters


In a serendipitous coincidence, I had the opportunity to introduce Jackson to the word and concept of quarters both yesterday and today. First I let him play with our coin-sorting machine (choking hazard be damned!), and we talked about the different denominations of coins, including how quarters are one-fourth of a dollar.

And this morning we made waffles (Jackson kept calling them crackers), and I showed him how the four connected waffles could be detached and broken into quarters for freezing and later defrosted deliciousness.

I don't think he learned what a quarter is, but he is saying dollar and baking now!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pointless Guilt

I keep meaning to do attention-span-building Montessori-style activities with Jax, but we tried this one thing once with Cheerios, and he just ate all the Cheerios. There was no stopping him. And so I just shrugged and gave up and put away the "pay attention mat," but I want to get back to it when he turns 18 months old at the end of the month. But I might not. But I think it would be good for both of us if I did.

I also can't believe we're still reading D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths aloud. It's been underway for most of the year. Sometimes he asks for it, but usually when I start reading (unless he's eating) he starts saying "No no" and doing the STOP sign. Sigh. I'm ready to move on to the Golden Bible already, for both our sakes, but I feel this compulsive need to finish, so I have to move this up the priority list! I know I'm just a pretentious jerk for doing a classical readaloud cycle with a toddler, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe I can refine my technique somehow, or maybe he'll like the Bible stuff more. The early Old Testament stuff is pretty entertaining. Anyway, sigh.

Next Two Theme Weeks

After last week's superfun Fall theme, I totally didn't have a followup plan, so this has been a bye week, by default. However, I just updated my calendar and found the inspiration for my next two theme weeks:

(1) Rosh Hashanah is next weekend, so Sept. 26-30 will be a Judiasm theme week. I'll see what has to say about celebrating this holiday with the littles, we'll make Smitten Kitchen's challah recipe (which I've been eyeing for weeks), and we'll read from our multitude of Jewish storybooks.

(2) And then the second week of October, after we're back from Vegas, my parents are heading to China for a vacation, so we can read The Story of Ping, You Can Write Chinese and maybe the no-longer-politically correct Five Chinese Brothers (all illustrated by Kurt Wiese), we'll talk about pandas, we'll make or buy some Chinese food, and may be we'll even go to L.A.'s poor weary old Chinatown and the Chinese American Museum.

Any other ideas for books or activities to go with these themes? What am I missing?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why read aloud to babies?

Every so often someone pops up on a homeschool message board asking about how to teach babies, how to read to two-month-olds, etc. These people are rounded mocked and driven off, accused of being trolls, etc.

On a related note, my husband once asked why I read to the baby, since he obviously couldn't understand yet. I thought about it for a long time, and I realized the answer was "I'm teaching him what our values are." I was demonstrating my family's devotion to the transformative power of education (ask me about my grandfather the southern Indiana hillbilly who grew up to teach college physics) and my personal love of books.

It's not just about words and sounds, it's about values.

And that's why I read to babies.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rereading and Reviewing The Read-Aloud Handbook - Chapter 2: When to Begin (and End) Read-Aloud

The short answers to the questions posed in the chapter title of chapter two of The Read-Aloud Handbook "When to Begin (and End) Read Aloud?" are (a) start reading aloud at birth, or maybe even as early as the third trimester of pregnancy, and (b) stop reading aloud when they graduate from high school, or maybe later. Of course, the real answers are longer than that, and the whys are important, but the gist of this chapter is that you should begin showering your child with words, rhymes, rhythms and book knowledge as early as possible and keep it up as long as possible.

Now, before I continue, I must lament that Trelease has said that the sixth edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook will be his last, because there's a recent news story that just screams to be included in this chapter: "Father and Daughter Bond by Years of Reading," New York Times, March 21, 2010, p ST2.

You can also watch the above CBS News clip about Jim and Kristen Brozina, but the gist of it is that this guy read to his younger daughter for 3,218 nights straight, until "Kristen's first day of college, and it was time. Her dorm room was so crowded with boxes, he read to her in a stairwell. The Streak ended as it began, with L. Frank Baum, the first chapter of his most famous 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.' 'It was hard,' Kristen said. 'Not only was I moving away, but we were ending this thousands-of-times tradition. There's nothing I’ve ever done with that consistency, not even brushing my teeth.' "

Sniffle. Now, OK, back to our text:

BEGINNING: Trelease points out that you start talking to your kid immediately upon their arrival in the world, exposing them to spoken English, there's no reason you can't start reading to them immediately as well, contingent upon your wakefulness in those early days and the kiddo's attention span. Yes, it's just another way to do togetherness in the early months, but practice makes perfect. Start early and it's easy to continue. He even points to researching showing that newborns appear to recognize passages read aloud by their mothers repeatedly during the third trimester of pregnancy. They will absorb patterns and sounds at this early stage, so get going on that Goodnight Moon!

LEARNING TO READ BY LISTENING: Early exposure to books can result in kids being what are called "early fluent readers." Trelease doesn't recommend any kind of seatwork or formal instruction, but rather "the way Scout learned [to read] in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird--by sitting on the lap of a parent and listening, listening as the parent's finger moves over the pages, until gradually, in the child's own good time, a connection is made between the sound of a certain word and the appearance of certain letters on a page." He notes that "listening comprehension feeds reading comprehension," stating that children can hear/listen/understand at a far far higher level than they can read, and reading aloud from a higher-level books builds their vocabularies further still. And then he makes one of my favorite points in the whole book: "If you're still reading those Dr. Seuss controlled-vocabulary books to the child [at age six]--like The Cat in the Hat or Hop on Pop--you're insulting the child's brain cells nightly...With either book, you have a volume of 225 words and a six-year-old has a 6,000-word vocabulary...At age six you're a beginning reader...but you're not a beginning listener!"

ERIN HASSETT: Trelease encourages "reading from day one" throughout this chapter, at one point telling the story of a teacher friend of his who began teaching preschoolers after having long taught junior high kids. On her first day she was surprised and disappointed when she tried to read-aloud to the kids and within two minutes half of them had drifted off to other parts of the classroom. "Ellie later learned that one of the two children who had listened through the entire story was a child who had been read to from day one." The kids who had already been read-aloud to at home knew how to listen, wanted to listen and had the ability to listen. Trelease's other anecdote in favor of reading aloud to children from infancy through toddlerhood, preschool and beyond is this great kid named Erin Hassett. Her mother was an experienced teacher when she had Erin, and she put all her teacherly mojo into her daughter as she raised her, and most importantly for this book, took notes on the process. Erin Hassett's story, as told via her mom Linda's notes, is the number one reason I started reading to Jackson as soon as I brought him home from the hospital. I constantly refine my technique to be age appropriate, but I'm adamant about making sure there is at least one book and hopefully many books in Jackson's day, every day. ANYWAY, Erin's mom did stuff far above and beyond a mortal mom's capacity. Here's what she shared about her basic read-aloud agenda for Erin:

* 0-4 months: Soft chunky books, board books, and firmer-paged, lift-the-flap books
* 4-8 months: Poems, songs and pop-up books while Erin was in her jumper, plus the sturdy books and magazines
* 10-15 months: Mom starts doing storybook readalouds to Erin in her high-chair. "A note in my journal for Feb. 4, 1990, reads: '9 books after breakfast, 10 books and 4 poems after lunch, 7 books after dinner.'" That's 26 books in just one day, and per Trelease, "This was not an unusual day's reading."

And then, writes Erin's mom: "Shortly after our move to Pennsylvania, I was reading her The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle--as I had been doing for the last six months. This time, during the reading of the second sentence ("One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and--pop!--out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar"), while I was still forming my mouth to say "pop," Erin said the word "pop!" and with perfect inflection. She was 17 months old that day and it was the start of her inserting words into familiar stories. What an addition to an already pleasant experience."

It goes on like this, and it's a fabulous narrative. (Erin's mom needs a retroactive blog!) Suffice to say, Erin taught herself to read without really telling anyone (although she did reveal herself a bit by reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar aloud to Head Start preschoolers when she was six), was a success her whole academic career and lived happily ever after. Erin's story is one of my favorite anecdotes in the book and entirely worthy of the four pages devoted to it. I'd be interested to hear other such anecdotes and/or know if there are any studies attempting to pinpoint which aspect of the "day one reading" might be most powerful. Is it just the enthusiastic parenting? How does the early exposure to books and words affect the developing brain? Or is this just a one-off coincidence? (I'm sure it's not, but I'd be interested to see these questions examined in a controlled setting.)

LEARNING TO BE A HUMAN BY LISTENING: Much of this chapter is dedicated to battling education-system apparatchiks and uptight parents worried about how "wasting time" reading aloud might have a negative effect on reading scores (which is their right, of course, but oh my god, shut up), but Trelease ends on this heroic note, defending the power of reading to make good people out of us all.

"So how do we educate the heart? There are really only two ways: life experience and stories about life experience, which is called literature." Preach, brother.

Up next: Chapter Three: The Stages of Read Aloud, wherein Trelease explores the finer points of reading aloud to children of various ages.

BOOK LIST: "Baby School" Teaching Guides

I was inspired by a discussion on the Well-Trained Mind message boards to finally put together my "baby school" book list, i.e. the pedagogical guides I'm using to learn about teaching my toddler at home.

Note: None of these are the actual "living books" that I use with Jackson, these are just guides to how to read with, play with, sing with and therefore ambiently educate my kiddo.

Note 2: I totally overdid it when my son was little. I started reading him The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge when he was three days old and burst into hysterical tears because of the hormones. (My husband was all "Hey, bonus points for reading to the newborn baby, but maybe shouldn't you sleep instead?") Anyway, in retrospect, all the books were right--the reading and signing doesn't really penetrate their baby brains and/or elicit a response until they're 6-9 months old at the earliest, but it totally kept me entertained, it's another way to pay attention to your kids besides the basic attachment parenting practices, and it was a good habit to get into, so it was worth it.


Bright From the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind from Birth to Age Three by Jill Stamm: Really interesting book by a child development expert who raised two very different daughters: One was born four months premature and has multiple disabilities, the other grew up to be a neurologist. Stamm's personal story not only very touching, it's tremendously illustrative of her points about how all children learn. Stamm talks about the brain development that happens from birth to age three and recommends a variety of Montessori-inspired activities to build on skills like attention span, pattern recognition, problem solving, etc. 

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: As far as I'm concerned, this is the Bible. Chapter two of my Read-Aloud Handbook read-along/re-read/review is coming shortly!

Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write--from Baby to Age 7 by J. Richard Gentry: Never would have found this in a million years but it was recommended in Larry Sanger's Baby Reading essay, so I picked it up, and I quite like it! There's a slight overemphasis on memorization, but overall it's tremendously detailed guide to building reading, writing and spelling skills in little ones, and there are a number of ideas and suggestions I haven't seen other places. 

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years by Elizabeth Hainstock: A classic of the genre, I have the first version and I find it incredibly comforting in that circa the early 1980s she says there's no doubt that mothers can provide early childhood education at home. She also provides a very accessible section full of activities (with supply lists and instructions) to do with the littles at various ages. I mention the accessible part because sometimes Montessori is a little intimidating!

Gymboree's Toddler Play & Gymboree's Baby Play by Wendy S. Masi: I haven't even read Baby Play, but I love Toddler Play so much I can recommend the "prequel" without reservation. Big shiny pictures, good game ideas, suggested songs, fingerplays, rhymes and so on, plus the usual informative nonsense about why/how kicking a ball improves your toddlers "gross motor skills." I strongly recommend these two in place of the yucky Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready book recommended by The Well-Trained Mind authors. These books are a great deal more readable and you're much more likely to actually get some of this stuff done because you'll be more inspired and you won't feel so overwhelmed!


Books to Build On by E.D. Hirsch: This is the Core Knowledge/"What Your Xth Grader Needs to Know" guy, and while I think most of those books are pretty useless, this book list by subject is very valuable. Akin to the quality recommendations found in the Well-Trained Mind.

Baby Sign Language by Monta Z. Briant: A great introduction to the whys and wheretofores of using gestural language for two-way communication with babies before they can speak clearly, plus lots of "first signs" that you can teach yourself while waiting for the baby to become sentient. (Phase two is the Baby Signing Time and Signing Time DVDs.)

Partial recommendation: Small Beginnings: First Steps to Prepare Your Toddler for Lifelong Learning by Barbara Curtis, which reminds me a little of Bright from the Start, minus the neurology, plus fundamentalist Christianity to the point of being almost metaphysical in its approach to child-rearing. That aside, there's a list of age-appropriate chores at the back of the book that's totally worth the cost of admission. It starts at 18 months and goes up to the teenage years. Montessori's thing was figuring out how to provide the underprivileged children in her care with the advantages they were missing by not having a good home life, and one of her techniques was adding back the kind of empowering chores a good mother would put her children to work doing. Montessori called it "practical life." So anyway, Small Beginnings is written by a former Montessori teacher, and she has some good Montessori-style activities, plus, the great "practical life" chore list. It's not my favorite, but I have to admit it did make an impact on me. robably a library book check-out rather than a purchase...


Sitting on my bedside table in the "preschooling" pile are: Why Johnny Can't Read by Rudolph Flesch and The ABCs and All Their Tricks by M. Bishop, because I don't really understand phonics myself, The Preschoolers' Busy Book by Trish Kuffner and First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by MaryAnn Kohl, which appears to have some great, developmentally appropriate art projects and a lot of really well-explained recipes for paint, "playclay" and other goop kids like.

Do you have any favorite toddler/preschooler activity guides or education textbooks? Share in the comments, because I like my bedside table to be groaning with books-to-be-read at all times! (Let's just say I'm not one of those anti-clutter people, LOL.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Theme Week: Fall

I feel so schoolteachery this week! I've collected a fair number of materials that can be used for "curriculum" planning, and somehow this week I pieced together a quasi-educational theme (fall/autumn) and I pulled together stuff from more than one source and I'm using them with Jackson. Basically, it's a poem, a fingerplay, a read-aloud, and two field trips, all on the theme of fall. We'll do the read-alouds every day this week and slot in whatever else we can as it fits.

(1) Morning: Reading aloud of two poems from page 16 of my new book-friend, The Illustrated Treasury of Poetry for Children (1970) ed. by David Ross: "September" by Helen Hunt Jackson and "Autumn" by Emily Dickinson.

(2) Lunchtime: A Book of Seasons (1976) by Alice and Martin Provensen, which is an OOP "Random House Pictureback" that preceded (and probably inspired) the similarly seasonal The Year at Maple Hill Farm by two years.

(3) Evening: "Three Little Oak Leaves" from an outstanding educational relic called Rhymes for Fingers and Flannelboards (1960). When I get a chance I'll talk more about this book, but in the meantime, here's my slightly revised rhyme, which I've been doing with ASL signs instead of the suggested "fingerplays" which would be great for a class of second-graders but are a little silly for just me and my toddler:

Three Little Oak Leaves

Three little oak leaves, red, brown and gold,
Were happy, happy, happy when the wind turned cold

The first one said, "I'll be a coat for an elf,
He'll be able to warm his little self"

The second one said, "I'll be a home for a bug
So he will be cozy-dozy and snug"

The third one said, "To a tiny seed I'll be
A blanket until the first day of spring"

Three little oak leaves, red, brown and gold
Were happy, happy, happy when the wind turned cold

Jackson signed and said "Again" for the book and the fingerplay, and he was perfectly patient with the poems, so yay!

(4) FIELD TRIPS: Today we went on a nature walk to a local freshwater marsh (the Ballona Wetlands) and enjoyed the changing seasons. We saw water birds (I think I saw my first nightjar!), turtles, bugs, butterflies and flowers, Jackson was able to walk freely for once (relatively freely), and he even saw a real, live, wild BUNNEH! Later this week we'll go to a local community garden to see what's growing and/or how the gardeners are putting their plots to bed for winter.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Random Recommendations for Readers

(1) If you don't already know it, Valerie's Living Books is my go-to source for information about (mostly) out-of-print book series of interest to homeschoolers/afterschoolers/preschoolers/voracious readers. :)

(2) I've been a member of Paperback Swap for about three months now and I cannot recommend it enough. Yes, it's a bit of a slog to send out the 10 books necessary to qualify for swab requests, but once you get there, the choices are amazing. Yes, you can buy a lot of .01 books on Amazon these days, and's cheapest are only .75, but somehow the community and altruism and low-stress nature of PBS just feels so much better. I've got some outstanding books through PBS and I love their Wish List system as well!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

VIDEO: Some Facts About Owls

Jackson loves OWLS. I found this video on YouTube. It is awesome. (What is notebookbabies and where have they been all my life?!)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rereading and Reviewing The Read-Aloud Handbook - Chapter 1: Why Read Aloud?

The first chapter of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook argues in favor of reading aloud as a way of teaching a love of books, stories and reading, enriching vocabulary, providing background knowledge and allowing all of these benefits to accrue as early as possible.

Trelease asserts that reading success is consequent to incorporating the following formulas/policies into your life and the lives of your children: "The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it. The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow."

Trelease believes that reading aloud should begin right away and continue "throughout the grades" to provide the following benefits: "condition the child's brain to associate reading with pleasure, create background knowledge, build vocabulary and provide a reading role model." Trelease says that 30 years of reading research show that, if all goes according to plan (meaning no unforeseen dyslexia or other learning trauma), "Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest."

  • "Research has show that repeated (at least three) picture book readings increases vocabulary acquisition by 15 to 40 percent, and the learning is relatively permanent." (p 9) I was just reading another book about reading (Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write--from Baby to Age 7) and while I don't entirely trust that book's emphasis on memory work, the author did make a strong case for repetition being essential for learning (a fact also emphasized by my beloved Bright from the Start), so I've been trying to read any library book that Jackson "accepts" at least five times. (Some books he won't tolerate no matter how much I try, and others he wants to read 25 times, but basically once I get a foot in the door, I try to read a picture book aloud at least five times before we return it to the library. Current hits are City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male and Bear Snores On, but on the other hand, he is absolutely refusing to participate in Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore.)
  • Activate upper-middle class anxiety beacon! "Children whose families take them to museums and zoos, who visit historic sites, who travel abroad, or who came in remote areas accumulate huge chunks of background knowledge without even studying." OMG, my 17-month-old has never been to a historic site. #FAILURE!! I'm kidding. But um, I am now thinking I should take the kiddo down to Olvera Street to partake of the "history," the mildly racist Latino-themed tourist tschotskes and an enchilada. 
  • "By age four, [children] already understand two-thirds to three-quarters of the words [they] will use in future daily life." Dang!
  • I can't even deal with the implications of Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, but in case you are unfamiliar with this study, here are some key points:
    • Upper middle-class/professional kids are exposed to 45 million words before they start kindergarten, working class kids hear about 30 million, and welfare kids hear about 15 million. 
    • By the time they were three years old, the upper-middle class kids in the study were evidencing larger daily vocabularies than the welfare-group adults.
    • In addition to their sheer poverty of words, the welfare-group kids hear a demonstrably larger number of "prohibitions" and corrections, meaning they not only hear fewer words but more of those words are of the "No...don't" ilk, which all but stops their natural curiosity in its tracks.
    • I thought for sure that this study was either a mistake, a scam, a political screed or just lazy science, but I read the entire book today and the Hart-Risley longitudinal study could not have been more meticulously conducted or carefully reported. The upshot appears to be that the most fortunate kids are not (necessarily) the ones with most money but the ones who have the most engaged, chatty, interactive parents during the crucial kid-learning-to-communicate phase from 12-36 months (and beyond). UPDATE: Read my full analysis of the Hart-Risley research in Feast or Famine: How Children Thrive or Starve on Diets of Good (or Bad) Words.
Chapter Highlights:

Trelease always gives good story, and for me the three most memorable anecdotes (selected from among many good candidates) from the first chapter are these:
  • Reading aloud is a Communist plot! Cigar-rolling factories in Cuba and Florida in the 1920s employed a reader-aloud ("la lectura") for hours a day to distract and entertain workers with the news, novels and political tracts. Eventually a combination of cutthroat capitalism and the radio put la lectura out of business, but Bakuin and Dumas both had their day before it all came to an end.
  • One irate father's letter to the editor about the foolishness of reading aloud to children (he more or less thinks reading aloud is for pantywaists) is totally worth the cost of admission.
  • In the last section, which asserts that "complex thinking prevents Alzheimer's disease, and complex thinking, aka 'idea density', is a product of vocabulary and reading comprehension, which are themselves products of lots of reading aloud", the side-by-side autobiographical snippets from Sister Helen and Sister Emma make for good reading. (I have to remember to Google for the rest of Sister Emma's life story!)
Basically, chapter one asserts that reading aloud is the biggest and best shovel available for dishing large quantities of words, sounds, ideas and rhythms into the brain of your child's developing brain. I doubt anyone really disagrees with this assertion, but Trelease makes the argument entirely entertaining with his tales of orphans-made-good (Horatio Alger saves lives!) and school principals who soothe the savage beast of the inner-city teen with a few good chapter books read aloud twice a day.

Up next, in Chapter Two: When To Begin (and End) to Read Aloud, meet the amazing children of the book! They are read to, they read, they conquer the world! (Seriously though, the Erin Hassett section has had as big an influence as anything on how I'm raising Jackson. Come back soon and we'll talk about her and her awesome mom.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rereading and Reviewing The Read-Aloud Handbook

  The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth EditionThe Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is my book. Everything I'm doing with my kid is because of this book. It was the first, and for a long time, the only, book I read about being an educationally involved parent.

In the introduction to the sixth (and final, sniffle) edition, Trelease states, "This is not a book about teaching a child how to read; it's about teaching a child to want to read." That's stuck with me, but as I've now read several books (and/or websites) that do address actual reading instruction, I thought I ought to go back and reread The Read-Aloud Handbook with a more critical eye.

Do his recommendations hold up? Is The Read-Aloud Handbook more than a political anti-No Child Left Behind jeremiad? Is he secretly advocating for whole language reading instruction? Or is it just delightful overblown, overpriced reading list that strings together a series of charming but pointless anecdotes? Let's read and find out:

INTRODUCTION (pp xi-xxvi)

    The Bears' House
  1. Parents are, and must be, their child's primary teacher, even if they aren't formally homeschooling. Per Trelease, "[Children] spend 900 hours a year in school and 7,800 hours outside school. Which teacher has the bigger influence? Where is more time available for change?" When I read that, two things come to mind: (a) Finnish educational success is probably because their teachers are so awesome, and (b) apparently educational success overall correlates to the mother's educational level. I don't even know what those two thoughts mean together, but that's what leaps to mind.
  2. "Sooner is not better. Are the dinner guests who arrive an hour early better guests than whose who arrive on time? Of course not...There should be no rush to have your child reading before age six or seven...This book is not about raising precocious children. It's about raising children in love with print who want to keep on reading long after they graduate." In principle, I agree, but I had the experience of growing up with a brother whose learning disabilities were not identified until second grade. Getting him back up to speed took years of trauma and turmoil for the entire family, and he was never really able to "catch up" academically. My second brother had the same dyslexia, but I think earlier intervention helped him stay on track throughout school and he's now about to get a Ph.D. from Berkeley. Granted, these two brothers had very different personalities to start with, but because of my family's experience, I don't think reading instruction is something that should be left solely in the hands of professional educators at the time and place of the education system's choosing. I don't advocate rushing or pressuring, but I also think that waiting until age seven to start reading instruction is neither necessary nor wise. That said, I think Trelease and I are in agreement that for little ones, nurturing a love of books and stories is a great deal more important than phonics and spelling rules.
  3. Trelease argues that reading aloud to your children is a sure-fire scheme for ensuring your child a lifetime of success, in school and beyond. I don't disagree, but I wish he hadn't followed up this assertion with an anecdote about a kid who got a perfect ACT "because" his fourth-generation-teacher mom read to him 30 minutes a night for his entire life. As much as I like this story, it is the epitome of anecdotal evidence, and it overvalues test results for their after-the-fact “marketing” value, which the author spends much of the rest of the book deriding (he is decidedly not a fan of NCLB). I Googled for “perfect SAT score 2011” and “perfect ACT score 2011” and all the kids were like “Uh yeah, I took six practice tests and I'm an overachiever anyway, so whatever.” The closest thing I could find that offered a similar paean to books is this video of this adorkable 12-year-old who got a perfect score on the math section. He's at least reading a book in the B-roll for the local news report on his achievement.
  4. In a chart reporting the results of a study of kindergartners who evidenced either high or low interest in books, the attribute in which the kids most differed appears to be "Child is taken to library." 98.1 percent of those with a high interest in books were "taken to library", and only 7.1 percent of the kids with a low interest in books were "taken to library." Correlation? Causation? I don't care. My takeaway is "Take kid to library."
  5. Book recommendation to note from this chapter: The Bears' House by Marilyn Sachs. Trelease mentions having an accidental 45-minute book lovefest with a bunch of sixth graders over this book, which got him thinking about "book reports" from adults to kids. "I'd piqued the children's interest simply giving them a book 'commercial.' " Trelease is very interested in "marketing" books and we'll discuss his other techniques as we encounter them later in the text. (Rain-gutter bookshelves haunt me! Do I need them? Where would I put them? Argh.)
Next up in my Read-Aloud Handbook readalong (same bat time, same bat channel, probably tomorrow night) is Chapter 1, Why Read Aloud?, which covers the following topics (section titles paraphrased by lazy me):
  • Why is reading aloud effective?
  • What's the deal with Finland's reading scores?
  • What reliably creates a good reader?
  • Phonics
  • Background knowledge and vocabulary
  • Why parents should read
  • Using reading aloud with at-risk kids
  • Preventing Alzheimer's disease with reading (sorta) (I told you I was paraphrasing)
Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American ChildrenI've also ordered a book from the library called Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children. The Read-Aloud Handbook was the first place I encountered this research, but as I've gotten into "early childhood education" reading more and more, I've found the same results cited over and over again. I want to read the study for myself, and I'll discuss it in conjunction my review of chapter one, where Trelease summarizes the key points (pp. 14-16).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Illustrations from the Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories

Illustrations from The Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories

Pictures matter, pictures create memories, pictures are powerful. As such, here are some scans from The Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories in case you're shopping around trying to decide which children's illustrated Shakespeare to buy. In addition to the plays depicted below, this book also has Henry V and Twelfth Night, but my snapshot of the Henry V story's full-page illustration (all the stories also have multiple smaller illustrations) was very overexposed so it's not pictured here, and Twelfth Night only had an unremarkable half-page depiction of the twins. In any case, I didn't have a good storybook version of Henry V or Antony and Cleopatra before, so this is nice addition to our library.

This copy had a bookmark indicating it was purchased at the Tudor Guild Gift Shop of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which almost makes me feel like it's extra authentic or something, LOL. The bookmark also has a nice quote from Love's Labour's Lost I'll repeat here: "To pore upon a book, To seek the light of truth."

Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra

Hamlet and his father's ghost, Hamlet

Laertes and Hamlet, Hamlet

Lady MacBeth works out her issues

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Romeo and Juliet live the balcony scene.

Romeo and Juliet die in the crypt. (Stupid stupid stupid children!)

Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand (I think), The Tempest

Some Original Leonard Weisgard Illustrations for Hailstones and Halibut Bones

At some point in my online travels I saw Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neill (1961) recommended for color study, but in reading about it I discovered the current edition for sale has new illustrations and that the original illustrator was Leonard Weisgard. Leonard Weisgard was a frequent illustrator for Margaret Wise Brown and he's just a legend and I don't like these new-fangled fangles!

I restrained myself from ordering it online, and once again Used Book Providence provided, with a very nice copy appearing today at the used bookstore.

Interestingly, the back cover says simply: "This book has been recommended by the American Library Association, Association for Childhood Education International, Best Books for Children, Center for Children's Books, Child Study Association of American, Horn Book, Library Journal, National Council of Teachers of English, H.W. Wilson."

Anyway, Hailstones and Halibut Bones is series of poems on important colors (purple, gold, black, brown, blue, gray, white, orange, red, pink, green, yellow), and the poetry is as much the point of it as is the color study, and I do so love torturing Jackson with poems.

Like acrobats on a high trapeze
The Colors pose and bend their knees
Twist and turn and leap and blend
Into shapes and feelings without end

Anyway, if you're interested in the original illustrations for this book, here are a handful of selections:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Wednesday Haul

DH is home (yay!) so I finally had time to unload the car from Wednesday's bookshop trip.

Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes; Duck & Goose by Tad Hills (we loved a Duck & Goose board book we got from the library); Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstrom (one of the BFIAR books, totally cute).

Verdi by Jenelle Cannon (author of Stella Luna, which I didn't love until I reread it as an adult, I'm not convinced about this Verdi yet either, but I love the creepy-crawlies and it's a nice allegory about growing up, so hey); The Diggers by Margaret Wise Brown, my goddess; 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter

Touch & Feel: Wild Animals (I love touch books, Jackson loves wild animals, done!); The Big Fat Worm by Nancy Van Laan (did I mention I love the creepy-crawlies?)

Animals of the World: Jigsaw Book, with six puzzles depicting animals of a particular continent. Reminds me of the two page spreads in our beloved Scholastic 150 Animals A to Z book. Some pieces are missing from the North America puzzle, but we'll survive. We loves us some animals around here; puzzles we're not so good at yet, but that day will come too.

Animalia in hardback, which I like because the pages lie flat without me having to break the spine at every page of the book, as I find myself doing when we look at the paperback version. I snapped pics of some of the two-page illustration spreads and have posted them for your perusal below. Animalia is clearly intended for much older kids--it's far too visually dense for toddlers, not to mention that it assumes so much vocabulary and knowledge--but it's an interesting mental puzzle to have on hand. Age appropriateness and instructional value aside, Base does do amazing illustrative work so his numbers/counting book, The Watering Hole, is on my wish list. (I am not, however, a fan of his The Eleventh Hour.)

My kid loves him some yaks.

Finally, I'm on a primate-language-acquisition kick right now, so I leave you with a video of Koko the gorilla enjoying a copy of Animalia.