Poverty and CogDev, part 5: How to make your child SEEM smarter

Because I write this blog, some people believe Amos and Nathan are getting a high quality parenting experience and are smarter than the average kid. I don’t know about that seeing that they are being raised by two dads (see female dad post). But cogsci-toddler has been doing some great PR for me! He has been steadily convincing people that he is a SMART toddler! What is the secret of SEEMING SMART as a toddler? Have a weird (preferably science-related) hobby.

Amos happens to have an obsession with sea anemones and succulents (he’s really into prickly pear, barrel, and bunny ear cactus — pictured below).

prickly pear cactus

The cactus varieties Amos (at 28 months) can identify independently. He’s always on the lookout for cactus! He says, “Eyes peeled… more cactus!”

Part of the trick to this is that cogsci-toddler and I are a positive feedback loop of knowledge thanks (in no small part) to our local library. He saw a cactus in our neighbor’s yard and wanted to go see it again and again. So next time we were at the library, we checked out some books about cactus. Those books introduced us to new varieties as well as facts about cactus. That gave us knowledge to talk more about cactus when we saw them in the neighborhood. That also gave him ideas of what he would like to watch on youtube. Because library books about cactus are often about the desert biome, he has also learned about scorpions, kangaroo rats, and ocotillo plants. Because he knows so much about succulents (he will tell you that you can eat barrel cactus for water), he impresses people because he knows arid biome botany better than most adults.

That is the trick to making your kid seem smart! He may not know about many things that are common knowledge (e.g., sharing, being apart from mommy, not pooing in underwear) but he knows a lot about UNcommon knowledge! Ha!

This experience with Amos gives me a greater understanding of the importance of reading. None of the cactus interest intensification had anything to do with money. We walk around our neighborhood for free, library books are free, and youtube is free. But the succulent interest is a product of what we have done with freely available resources.

Income disparity is not just what you do with the opportunities that money affords, but also what you do with informational resources as well. There is an income disparity in daily reading: the majority of families in the top quintile (60%) read daily to their young children (ages 0-5) compared to ~35% families in the bottom quintile. Public health policy wonks (American Academy of Pediatrics) are tackling this issue too: pediatricians must now tell parents that “reading together as a daily fun family activity” from infancy (see Reach Out and Read for more info on this push from the medical sector).

Libraries have been trying to be an advocate for families for a while… but I wonder if the families taking part in programs like Summer of Learning (LA Public Library) or 1000 Books Before Kindergarten (Glendale Library) are families like ours… that already take advantage of free informational resources. Amos totally associates going to libraries with getting free prizes.

Even though I thought this post was really about just making your kid “seem” smart, the story is that these activities are all part of actually making your kid smart. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about making them smarter than the other well educated/higher income families. So you are on your own with that part!!!

(Note: Although income isn’t perfectly a stand-in for education level, often income is highly correlated with educational status so for the purposes of this blog, I will frequently conflate these two dimensions.)


One thought on “Poverty and CogDev, part 5: How to make your child SEEM smarter

  1. treevalley says:

    thanks for chronicling the development of our sons in your signature smarty (great connections to research) and hilarious way. our children would not be as wonderfully smarty (seeming or actual) without your presence.

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