As parents and primary caregivers, there is a lot that my husband and I can take credit for when it comes to building our children’s world knowledge. We were the first to teach them important vocabulary words, like names for common household objects and body parts. We’ve sung songs and read books to them. We’ve modeled for them, and continue to model, how to be kind. We insist they use words like please and thank you. And, we use real life experiences to teach them about nature and the outside world whenever we can.
Still, there are things that come up, from time to time, that neither my husband nor I can take credit for. For example, just last week, Nora was dancing around and singing to a Frozen song in the living room. When she finished, she promptly, and rather cutely, I must admit, executed a bow and a curtsey. I chuckled out loud and asked her where she had learned to do that. I hadn’t taught her, and surely my husband had no part in it. I thought maybe she had picked it up at school since her teacher has a flair for the dramatic. Instead, Nora admitted that Candace, our babysitter, and her daughter had taught her how to bow and curtsey. Later, she added, “Then I saw it on Caillou and I practiced again.”
As far as I can tell Caillou is a cartoon about a bald four-year-old boy with an annoying voice, and his little sister, Rosie. Why is he bald? I don’t know. The subjects of the cartoon seem harmless and worthy enough. I really wouldn’t know, as I’ve never seen an episode from start to finish. This is a program Nora mostly watches when I am working. It is astounding, though, the number of references she has made to the show in terms of how she is constructing and representing her world knowledge.
Another example: A few days ago Nora was drawing free-style on a piece of blank paper. I was only half-watching her at first. I noticed that she had taken a break from her normal, go-to picture, of a family of five, in ascending height order, with the littlest being a baby inside his mama’s belly. At one point, I looked over at her very colorful design and asked, with genuine curiosity, “What are you drawing, honey?”
“A rocket ship,” she replied. “Here are the wings,” she pointed out, “and this is the top.”
Again, I assumed she’d learned about this from school or a book she’d read recently. Or maybe Liam had drawn one with her before. I was so pleased with her creativity, I told her she should hang the drawing on the wall. She did, and just this morning, it seems, Liam noticed it for the first time.
“Did you see Nora’s rocket ship?” he asked me proudly.
“I did,” I told him. “Did you draw one like it with her before?”
“No,” he admitted.
When we asked Nora how or where she learned to draw it, she said, “I just knew how.” Of course, she did. She’s brilliant.
When we pressed her further, she admitted she saw one on Caillou. Of course, we should have guessed. Caillou has taught her a great deal. But so have Candace, and my parents, and her teachers and classmates, to name just a few individuals with whom she has close relationships.
We hear new songs weekly, with hilarious lyrics and accompanying motions we’ve never heard or seen before.
We are asked things like, “Mommy. Have you ever had Cinnamon Toast Crunch before when you were little? Isn’t it so good?” (It can be assumed that almost all junk-food references can be attributed to Grandma’s house).
And then she’ll out of the blue tell me that there is a picture of Martin Luther King in her sticker book. I know she learned about him briefly in school. When I go to look, assuming she’ll just see some kind of picture of a man of color, I see instead that it is simply an old white man with a crown—a king, indeed, but not Martin Luther King. It is so much fun being both a teacher and role model for the girls, but also witnessing how they’re learning from each other and those around them.
I’ve always loved the saying: It takes a village to raise a child. It tickles me to discover how other individuals, and yes—cartoon characters too—are influencing our children and their education in positive ways. Thankfully, at this age, most of the influences are positive ones. I know we will have to deal with peers and other forms of more questionable media at some point as they get older. But for now, we’ll take all the help we can get when it comes to broadening our girls’ horizons and view of the world.