Teaching what?

Among the letters (October 6) to the NYT Science Times spurred by Jane Brody’s “From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk” (September 29), in which she wrote that speaking and reading to young children will help develop their communication skills, is this odd item from Susan Poser of Lincoln, Nebraska:

I could not agree more with Ms. Brody’s exhortation to talk and read to young children all the time. It reminded me of the game that my husband, a chemistry professor, and I would play with our daughter when she was 2.

We would each hold one of her hands, and on every step we would lift her up and say one of the elements of the periodic table. By the time she was 4, she could recite the first 45 elements of the periodic table (up to Rhodium), on demand.

It seems that with persistence and ingenuity, you can teach a young child almost anything. But I don’t see how reciting the periodic table could contribute to developing communication skills (whatever you think “communication skills” are).

4 Responses to “Teaching what?”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    For some reason, I immediately thought of Brave New World:

    “The – Nile – is – the – longest – river – in – Africa – and – the – second – in – length – of – all – the – rivers – of – the – globe…” The words come rushing out. “Although – falling – short – of…”

    “Well now, which is the longest river in Africa?”

    The eyes are blank. “I don’t know.”

  2. Theophylact Says:

    Well, she’s communicating with her father. But the communication isn’t passing on any technical information; it’s saying “What a smart little girl I am, Daddy.”

  3. susan poser Says:

    Glad to see that my letter generated some conversation. My guess is everyone teaches their kids something by rote – whether it is nursery rhymes or the pledge of allegiance. Even the meaning of these things are not so clear to young kids. We weren’t trying to pass on technical information, just to have some fun and spark some interest in the world around us, which happens to be made up of these elements. The nice thing is our daughter is now 16 and taking chemistry and still remembers most of this.

  4. Toma Says:

    I did something like this with my son. By age 4, he knew the names of the planets and their major moons. But this sort of activity is never about drilling info into the kid’s brain. It’s just to have something fun to talk about. Probably similar to Susan, if it weren’t fun, we wouldn’t have done it.

    True that communication skill in a broad sense is something different entirely. But it doesn’t hurt to get your little ones talking, about anything, to practice the art of conversation.

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