The Brilliance of a 5-year-old

Friday night I babysat for two of my favorite kids. 

I’d seen them on Wednesday and realized how much I’d missed their giggliness and affection.  These two kids are hilarious and so much fun to hang out with.  So I asked them if I could come over their house for a little bit…as expected, they were excited:)  The little girl, who’s 5 1/2 years old, said to me, "You know, Ms. Kim…you know how sometimes I cry when Mommy and Daddy leave and you babysit us?  Well, I don’t do that anymore.  Um, I learned that when I cry I am not using control over my emotions, but now I know how to calm down and control my emotions better."  Yes, the 5-year-old…

This little girl spends lot of time with her parents.  She’s read to, and is spoken to, as an intelligent human being.  Her parents ask her questions and never yell at her.  They talk with her to help her sort out what’s going on.  I love it!  She still cried a little when her parents left on Friday night, but I was able to calm her down by simply talking with her and asking her to just talk to me:)

My short friend is a living example of what we’re learning about in our literacy project.  She has been influenced by rich vocabulary since she was in the womb and it has been one of the greatest thing her parents have offered to her!  It’s amazing how much parents can do for their children by talking to them and asking them questions, from the time they’re babies!

There’s a study that I’ve heard about from a few different conferences/workshops that was completed at a zoo.  During the study, parents were observed in their interactions with their kids.  What was found was that parents from poverty were observed speaking very little to their children, and when they did converse with each other, the conversations were very basic and didn’t include higher level thinking skills.  Typically, (perhaps stereotypically in many cases) we assume that these same people, struggling in poverty, also don’t read very often to their kids….and don’t ask higher level thinking questions.  Is it true all the time?  Absolutely not.  But does it seem to be more the norm?  Unfortunately, yes.  And there you have one of the key disadvantages of generational poverty.  (Katie, this isn’t my post on at-risk kids, but this will definitely play a key role in that:)  So, what’s the flip side to this?  The study found that, typically, parents that were not living in poverty spoke more to their kids at the zoo, and asked those higher level thinking questions like, "What’s the pattern on the zebra?", "Do you think the lions like they’re having fun with each other?  Why?"  "How are the monkeys and the polar bears alikeDifferent?"  Patterns, inferencing, comparing…these are all things that parents need to be doing with their kids from the time they can understand you!  The families in poverty tend to struggle to see this…but I would venture to guess that they are mostly unaware, and some might even be unable.  If they weren’t brought up with a rich vocabulary, themselves, how can they (all of a sudden, in their late teens or early twenties) offer that to their own kids?…and thus starts the cycle all over again. 

This is why what I’m learning about right now as a teacher will revolutionize (I hope:) what happens to the kids in my classroom.  The 9-year-old kids that I have, living in generational poverty, who don’t even begin to have the words of my little 5-year-old friend from earlier, will have a chance by being in my classroom.  I’m going to make sure of it.  The amount of time I’ll put into planning is definitely going to get on my nerves, but my hope (and prayer) is that I will see growth in my kids like never before.  It makes me want to ask for all the lowest kids in 4th grade:)  Hmmm…we’ll see.

Here’s my point.  We tend to look at all kids, like my short friend, as if they’re these little geniuses!  We think they’re the smartest kids in the world and that they must have really high IQ’s.  Are all of these things possible?  Sure!  But are they probable?  Um…maybe not.  See, if all parents spent time reading and talking with their kids in the same way as my friends, all kids would sound like geniuses.  Doesn’t that make some sense?  They would all have some foundation in knowing how to express themselves and it would be simply fantastic.  Then, by the time they got to school, teachers could simply build on that foundation…instead of teaching it for the first time.  Oh, it would be beautiful!


4 thoughts on “The Brilliance of a 5-year-old

  1. Great post. Gee, I wonder who the kid is. 🙂
    Keep sharing info on topics like these (if I can personally plug). Did I tell you that I was asked to be part of the team that’s incorporating the Ruby Payne book into our tutoring program? Exciting!


  2. Thanks Katie! I didn’t realize how much I liked writing about education. I keep finding that I’m an expert on nothing, but as I learn I will keep sharing:)
    I can’t believe I still haven’t read that book! I really need to…


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