Dante amazes me all the time with the things he’s able to do, but today we reached a new level. I’ve known for a while that he’s good with letters — he’s known his ABCs for many months now, and sometimes recites them spontaneously. Since the end of summer or so, he has also taken to identifying letters that he sees out in the world, especially when they’re gigantic letters on big signs. “It says B-E-S-T-B-U-Y!” he’ll say. He’s also demonstrated that he has an excellent memory for strings of letters attached to a particular meaning. For instance, when he turns off a light he likes to say “O-F-F means off.” He also knows what D-A-N-T-E spells, and conversely, can spell his name when asked.
Lately, he’s taken to recognizing small words spontaneously. At first it was just logos — our local grocer is called King Soopers, and when he’d see the logo on a bag, he’d say “K-I-N-G spells king!” However, having taken in that C-A-T spells cat, he later recognized the word on a bag of cat litter he hadn’t seen before. All this is pretty astonishing to me, given that he’s, what, coming up on 30 months old.
Tonight, though, I moved from astonished to dumbfounded, after Laura showed me something new she tried with him. He has these Baby Einstein cards with an animal theme. Each card has a picture of an animal, and the animal’s name, like so:
There are also a couple of blank cards in the set, so Laura had the bright idea to cover up the picture with the blank card, leaving only the word exposed:
Then she asked Dante what the word is, and he immediately said, “Butterfly!” He then proceeded to do that with every single card in the set. Once in a while he needed a little prompting, along the lines of, “What letter does it start with?” He ended up getting every one, though, without being told. There are 25 of these cards.
Well, I thought, there are a bunch of things that are helping him remember those. The words are in different positions on different cards, so that narrows it down. Also, there are the colors behind each word from the photos. So I took out a legal pad and tried this:
“What’s this?” I asked him. He looked at it and said, “Butterfly!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think he’s actually reading these words. When presented with a written word that’s in his vocabulary but that he may not have seen written before, he doesn’t sound it out and figure out what it says. In addition, he’s using context clues, in this case the animal theme — I wrote “dante” on the piece of paper and he immediately said “dragon.” (One of the cards is a dragonfly.) Only after I told him to read each letter did he realize it was his name. He basically has memorized all the letter patterns on those cards and is counting on the fact that he’ll be able to combine those memories with his knowledge of all the animals in that card set. In addition, I think he’s extrapolating from the length of the word and its starting letter — I wrote down “frog” and he said “fox.” However, I wrote a bunch of different words on that legal pad, and he identified them. Again, sometimes he needed to be prompted to slow down a bit or think about how the letters sound, but he’d always get to the right answer.
Now, I don’t have a lot of experience with kids, but I don’t think this is typical 2.5 year old aptitude. Is it? All I know is I feel blown away when I watch it. The little guy can’t jump, he doesn’t really run, and social situations are a pretty big challenge for him, but he is all over that alphabet. Yup… that’s my kid, alright.