My neighbor’s kids gave her a truly precious puppy for her 85th birthday. Right. My thought exactly. Why not a sweet, older, house-trained dog?! But she seems thrilled and has escape proofed her picket-fenced yard with chicken wire and filled it with balls to entertain Coco.
As we observed her active new companion, my wife and I chatted about the totally darling pup and the increase in responsibility that it brought to our neighbors. Meanwhile, her husband sat on the ground and began digging up weeds with a hand trowel.
“DON’T LET HER SEE YOU DIGGING!,” I warned him quickly.
I know that dogs who discover the joys of digging, love to dig and my concern was that the observant pup would give it a go, eventually burrowing under the fence or really just messing up the flowers and vegetables growing around her yard. Yet Coco’s interest in digging would be piqued simply by mimicking the activity she observed.
Children and puppies have much in common. Kids also are likely to try out anything they see adults doing or say whatever they hear adults saying. Every parent has found themselves having to explain to friends something that their child has said that we never intended to teach them. Upon observation children sensed the power in the language that dad thoughtlessly blurted out at an inopportune moment and the child picked up the crass utterance immediately. Whoops.
This can work both ways of course. If children see their older siblings doing something deemed important, they’ll try it out, or at least their baby-fied version of it. For, example, one day a friend’s 3 year old disappeared and her mother was frantic, finally finding her daughter at her neighbor Margie’s house. Mom’s chiding the youngster for creating such chaos was interrupted when the little girl, mom-like, folded her pudgy arms and said, “I wrote you a note.” Wait. What?
The child marched into the kitchen and pointed at a small note stuck about a foot off the floor on the front of the refrigerator. The note had a picture of a house on it. With a quizzical look her mother had said, “I don’t understand.” To which the youngster, indignant with hands on hips (a dad move) said, “I wrote that I was going to Margie’s house.”
Early reading can sprout in exactly the same way. Children who observe adults or older siblings read books or magazines or newspapers or something interesting on a tablet, will absolutely mimic reading, and as a result, move down the road to literacy. Conversely, children who never observe anyone reading (many teachers are never seen reading books for enjoyment) or writing, aren’t likely to be interested in either activity.
We need all of our “puppies” to see us joyfully digging into books and playing with writing. If they do, they’ll give it a try.