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Toddlers, as many of us know, are clever little things. They see a cup and imagine it’s a hat. They grab a straw and tell us it’s a clarinet! So what do they think about books? Well, I’ve been doing a little experiment over the past few years, placing two toddlers (in whose creation I participated) in close proximity to books and observing the subsequent interactions. The results of my little study are below.
1. Books can be hats: According to my study participants, any book, no matter its size, can be worn as a hat. Trouble is, most books do not stay on the head very long, especially when one moves around (toddlers never stop moving). Little books have a better chance of staying put, while large, heavy board books tend to slip off the head, bump the nose, and land on little toes, leading to wailing and many tears.
2. Books are wonderful platforms: Why stand on the boring old carpet when you can stand on a book? WHY INDEED. If there’s a square of sunshine on the carpet and a nice thick board book next to said square, the toddler inevitably chooses to stand on the book, rather than in the warm sunshine the way a cat or any other rational creature would. After all, the book, because it’s for toddlers, isn’t very long, so it isn’t very thick, so you really don’t get much of a boost. But somehow, those extra centimeters make a major difference in toddlers’ lives. They’re just a leeeetle bit taller, and so they can now order their parents around and pretend that they’re adults. Naturally.
3. Books are better blocks than blocks: It doesn’t matter what kind of blocks they are- toddlers will tire of using them as blocks. They must instead be phones or swords or hats. Books, though, are eminently stackable, and it’s pretty hilarious (according to my study participants) when stacked books are knocked over and make a loud noise. Spine-ripping sounds are a plus.
4. Books are fabulous projectiles: Yeah, it’s sorta satisfying throwing a ball across the room, but after a few throws, you can basically predict its trajectory. A book, though, is always full of surprises. If, for instance, you fling The Very Hungry Caterpillar across the room from a horizontal position, it might spin elegantly and slide beautifully upon landing. If, however, you were to fling The Very Hungry Caterpillar at an angle, it could go ANYWHERE. It could spin crazily in the air and then land in the plant. It could slide through the air and dent the wall. It could knock mama in the head and send her to the hospital. YOU JUST NEVER KNOW.
5. Books were made for little tushies: Why sit on a chair, or the carpet, or the sofa, or mama’s lap, or daddy’s lap, or an overturned box when you can plant your derrière directly on a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine? An open book lying on the carpet just invites sitting, apparently. And while I’ve repeatedly asked my study participants why for the love of all that’s holy why they insist on sitting on their books, they just giggle and say “book!” and point to the poor book they are crushing. And I sigh.
6. Toddler-appropriate books are fun, until a grown-up book comes along: Yeah, so Curious George is great for two seconds, but let mama bring out a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and George is relegated to the dustbin. In Bradbury’s book, there are no pictures, or pretty colors, or large words. No. There are small words with nothing else on the page. The letters are black. The pages are beige/tan. There is absolutely nothing fascinating about this book except the story that is printed on its pages. And that, apparently, is precisely why mama’s book is so fascinating.
7. When toddlers want you to read them a book, you’d better stop what you’re doing and read it; when you want to read a book, you’d better stop being so selfish and put it down: If you come across a toddler-appropriate book that your toddlers happen to like that second, before you get to the last page, you’ll hear, “read it aGAIN, read it aGAIN, read it aGAAAAAAIN.” And, of course, this makes you happy, because it proves that your toddlers love books. However, when you’ve assured yourself that your toddlers are playing happily and you can sit on the couch for two seconds to read your book, it’s the Apocalypse + the End of the World + Nuclear War + Other Bad Things. You are a bad bad selfish mama. Put that book down. How dare you.
8. Books are for decoration: For the purposes of my study, I placed two large bookcases in the toddlers’ room and filled said bookcases with hundreds of novels and poetry collections gathered up over the years. The first things they see in the morning and the last things they see at night are BOOKS. What do they like to do when they pretend play? They pretend they’re using a computer, or playing the drums, or walking backwards on a tightrope, or talking on the phone (usually a Lego block) to their grandma. If you don’t take out some books from the organizer box or the shelf and scatter them around the room, the toddlers won’t even realize they’re there. Books? Wait, are those things mama reads to us kinda like those things we see in those bookcases all the time? Are they all basically books? Oh. Hey look there’s some yarn let me chase it.