The lady in the cafe asked her how old she was and she said, without hesitation, "I'm four. I just had my birthday." And so here we are. Now that the excitement of the many birthday parties is over, four means an obsession with making lists and naming letters and My Little Ponies. Four is I can leave you to play while I take a shower, and you are going to fold your own clothes and put them away now, and mommy-daughter dates to the Conservatory on Sundays. We ordered lunch at the Cafe and made conversation while we ate.

Yesterday I had training with the Reading Warriors and we read this article on the word gap. Aside from the fact that articles from the Washington Post are really hard for 10th graders to wrap their heads around, it went pretty well. The part they latched onto was at the end, about the eggplants.

One telling anecdote recounts a late night visit to the grocery store, where the teller observed three moms interacting with their children about a pile of eggplants. Pointing to an eggplant, the first child asked, “What is that?” The mother replied: “I don’t know. Shut up. Don’t ask me any questions.” The second child posed a similar question and his mom said, “It’s an eggplant, but we don’t eat it.” Then the third child asked the same thing, and her mom replied, “It’s an eggplant; one of the few purple vegetables we have. Look at its smooth and shiny skin, its exterior. (…) Let’s buy this eggplant, take it home, slice it open and see how it looks inside.”
Every day I'm reminded of the juxtaposition between my kids, and those literally 5 blocks down the street, on the other side of the train trestle. I research and plan and model ways to have eggplant conversations with the children in our after school programs. Laurel is hungry for information, for making sense of the world, just as all the children I work with are. But our eggplant conversations with Laurel feel effortless...in fact, it would be hard to stop them at this point, because she expects big answers from us. In contrast, trying to get after-school program staff to talk with children about something of substance has proven challenging.

Today, as we left Phipps and walked down the sidewalk, Laurel paused to pick up a few leaves. "These don't look like leaves I've seen before," she said, "Let's take some samples home and look it up in the tree book."

Laurel learned to identify maple, oak, buckeye and sycamore leaves a while ago because those were the trees we passed on the way to and from daycare each day. She made collections over and over again, stuffed them in her coat pockets and gave bunches of them to neighbors we passed. I suppose in a way those walks were a big time investment in her learning, although it could also be said that we were simply making the best of only having one car.

When we got home, I showed her how to page through the beginning of the book to match the outline of the leaf. We decided it was a ginkgo. I knew these leaves for the stinky berries that fall from the same tree. They are planted all over Pitt's campus. But I learned something new as we read the description together....they are considered a "living fossil." Laurel lost interest before I even finished reading the complete paragraph, but later when when she was out in her front yard, she discovered more ginkgo leaves and traced them to the row of bright yellow trees that line the block on the other side of the street from us.

The whole ginkgo conversation was maybe 5 minutes total out of our day. How many other similar vocabulary-enriching interactions did we have without even thinking about it? Curiosity begets curiosity. It's just hard to get it going in the first place sometimes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post a lot. thanks, Aunt Mary