Thinking Like a Two-year Old

by Mr. Sheehy

While it may shock my students who now think of themselves as adults, not kids, I am discovering close parallels between what I am doing in the classroom with them and what I am doing at home with my daughters, who are two-years old and four-months old. One of the amazing considerations is how elementary what I am teaching truly is, but even as elementary as it is, we do have to be reminded to do it. In other words, it seems that the best things I do as a teacher are simply reminders about doing what your mind will likely do naturally, if you let it operate.

Consider these situations to see what I mean. This week my juniors read a piece from The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, who was captured in Africa and forced into slavery in Colonial America. At the moment we are studying descriptive writing, so I asked students to connect the images and events that Equiano details to experiences and knowledge from their own lives – that is, to concentrate on the descriptive character of the piece. When we reviewed their connections, students explained that Equiano’s description of the slave market reminded them of the rush for sale-items the day after Thanksgiving: “On a signal given (as the beat of a drum), the buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best.” Such connections lend the piece life it would not have had if these students had read it passively, not considering the power of the descriptions. My objective was to teach students to read actively, connecting the text with their own lives.

Meanwhile, last weekend I read Green Eggs and Ham with my two-year old, Ellen. It’s a great book, and I still own the copy my dad read to me when I was young. (I don’t remember how he did it, but I know I always wanted him to read it because he read with passion.) At the back of the book, Sam I Am holds a plate of green eggs and ham on a long hand, and Ellen and I paused for a while and pretended to eat the eggs. She offered an egg to Mommy when she walked by, but Mom said they needed salt. Ellen gladly added salt. After a couple minutes, though, Ellen stopped and we stared at the book not saying anything. Then she got up and walked away, looking around for something. I did not know what she had been doing or thinking, but I figured she had tired of reading and was looking for something new to do. But then she looked at me and asked, “Potato is?” which Green Eggs and Ham and Mrs. Potato Headis how she phrases “where” questions. I stared a moment, wondering why my daughter wanted a potato, but then I realized what she wanted: Mrs. Potato Head. We promptly dug Mrs. Potato Head out from her toys, and Ellen grabbed her arm and ran back to Green Eggs and Ham. “They match!” she declared, and I marveled at my daughter, who does the very things that I teach in high school. Obviously, I am reminding my high school students, not teaching them for the first time.

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