Friday, 6 November 2015

Dinosaurs still rule our world

My son has, to put it mildly, a dinosaur obsession. This obsession does not simply express itself in reading dinosaur stories or playing with toy dinosaurs. It expresses itself in reading every single dinosaur book in the library. No matter how advanced you or I might think these books are, they are the only ones he will allow his devoted parents to read. No more Mog. No more Winnie the Pooh. No more tigers coming to tea. This obsession also expresses itself in playing only with dinosaurs. Only dinosaur figurines, only dinosaur cuddly toys, only dinosaur jigsaws, only dinosaur board games, only dinosaur games on my tablet. Even lego is now used only to make dinosaurs with. His rather lovely cuddly cheetah has now been declared to be some kind of predatory dinosaur. As has our poor cat on occasion. And me.

The upshot of this dinosaurcentric world-view is that he is now an alarmingly well-informed nearly-4 year old. When we went to the Sedgwick Museum, the nice lady undertaking a survey of visitors suggested perhaps he should be invited to give talks. It also gives rise to some quite startling questions and pronouncements...

"Mummy? What did the first animals evolve from?"

"Mummy? Did the animal populations recover faster from the end-Cretaceous mass extinction or from the extinction at the beginning of the Triassic?"

"Mummy? I don't think the carers at nursery even know there is such a thing as saurischian and ornithischian dinosaurs..." <said with a remarkable degree of regret>

"It's very sad that the dinosaurs are all extinct isn't it Mummy? I think it would be nice if they were still here. Only the friendly ones though."

After I insisted that my dinosaur (forever the victim in our games) was going to run away to the middle of Pangaea, where it's dry and dusty and his dinosaur won't want to follow:

"No Mummy. These are late-Cretaceous dinosaurs, and Pangaea has already broken up."

"Mummy? Is Ornithocheirus bigger than Quetzlcoatlus?"

Yesterday I conceded to allowing LittleBear to take one of his favourite library books on the subject in to nursery today ("Only for the adults to look at Mummy, because they don't know very much about dinosaurs"). I thought it might be a good idea for them to see what it is that he's reading at home. I rather get the feeling that he's a little... unusual... in his interests and vocabulary. Every day I am told by one carer or another that Robert knows a lot about dinosaurs. As though this could possibly come as any kind of surprise to me.

And finally, when we were in the library this week, he pulled a new book from the shelf, pointed to the cover and read aloud "Discover more Prehistoric Monsters". He appears to be teaching himself to read. About dinosaurs. I think my life might be going to get quite challenging.

LittleBear can't really, properly read. What he can do it recognise some words instantly and take intelligent guesses at the overall sentence. He clearly absorbs the start of the word and then takes a stab in the dark. Turns out it's quite an effective strategy, though doomed to failure in certain circumstances. Ichthyostega, Ichthyosaurus and Ichthyornis are indistinguishable unless accompanied by a picture, in which case he knows them immediately. I can already, however, see him being condemned to the same academic future as me: if things are easy and he can jump straight to the right answer, then all is rosy and he's happy. He's bright enough, as I was, to jump straight to a lot of right answers. If there's a challenge, I can already see the look of despair and failure sweep across his face as he mutters "I can't do it Mummy". I try to cheerfully encourage and support, because I don't know what the hell else to do, and allow him to try and fail and try again and succeed. I don't want him to be too much like me - giving up at the first hurdle, instantly convinced he's a failure. I want him to know it's OK not to be able to do something first time. That it's OK to have another go. That sometimes the things that are worth doing take practice and effort. Instead I have a take-the-easy path LittleBear who guesses and then gives up. Oh well, he's only 3 (for another week).

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