These days, my house is one big awkward conversation starter, and the dialogue goes something like this: “Why is everything in your house labeled?” “Because I’m teaching Annie to read.” Silence. “Uh, cool? How old is she again? Well, at least you know where your refrigerator is! Heh heh.” You’ll probably never see a house tour like this inside the cover of any magazine–that is, unless someone has launched the pilot issue of Total Nerd Decor, which unfortunately is doubtful—but this is the most baby-friendly thing I can do to my house right now.
Everyone talks about baby-proofing, but no one talks about baby-stimulating. By all means, put those clear plugs in the electrical outlets and batten down the hatches. Hide yo’ beloved breakables. But let’s make things interesting for the baby, too, orient her to this new world, and give her a little head start on the stuff that everyone considers tricky to learn later. You might be surprised at the way she eats it up.
This is part of an ongoing experiment that I started when Sam was born–the burning question behind The Curiosity Project. Is curiosity something that develops by chance, in some people more than others, or is it something you can cultivate? Is a love for reading something that’s entirely based on personality, or can you nurture it? Can babies and toddlers really learn to read? In Sam’s case–he’s 3, and can read pretty much anything and sound out the rest, with total delight–the answer has been a resounding yes. But can I replicate the results? Well, that’s what I’m here to find out, with the help of a few obnoxious red words around the house, and another lab baby. So far, she’s hooked. Her favorite thing is to get her own house tour, pointing to each object and trying to rip its corresponding word off the wall. (Turns out the only thing she likes more than the written word is eating the written word. Note the bite taken out of the word “cheese,” below.)
Does Annie really need to know how to read the word antelope? Or fiddle-leaf fig? Nope, unless she decides to work at Pinterest HQ when she’s two. But this is one way to teach her that objects have not only a look, a feel, and a name, but a corresponding written word. That written words are as much a part of her language as the words I speak to her every day. And that words are fun and exciting and easy, just another game that makes daily life more interesting.
Meanwhile, I’m okay with my house looking epically geeky; it’s worth it. Annie lights up like a West Elm chandelier when she sees words she knows. And our guests might think I’m a lunatic, but at least they don’t have to ask where the bathroom is.
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