At our last tutoring session, my formerly slow reading first grader zipped through a book about ocean creatures. The child of college-educated parents, he’d visited an aquarium and gone fishing. In short, this is a kid with a lot of background knowledge. When we read about “crustaceans,” he told me his father had caught a crab in a tide pool.
I thought of a sixth grader I tutored years ago at a high-poverty, all-minority school. We read a story involving a rowboat. He said he didn’t know what that was. I drew a picture. I acted out rowing. I asked if he’d seen boats on the bay. “No,” he said. We could have walked from the school to the bay in two minutes and seen sailboats, if not rowboats.
Now I’m tutoring at a middle-class school. It’s a different story. Still, I thought the first grader would need help with “mammal” when we got to whales and dolphins. He read the word easily. “I know about mammals,” he said. “We learned it yesterday in science.” He explained how whales filter out food from sea water. Then he asked me a poser: “What do you call an animal that produces eggs?”
“A bird?” I said. “The Easter Bunny?” I thought.
“Oviparous!” he said joyfully.
When I was in school, we didn’t learn about mammals till fifth grade. We never got to “oviparous.”
I guess “oviparous” is the sort of knowledge a person can look up on the Internet if he needs to know — and knows it’s out there. But it’s fun to know things.
I explained that ova is Latin for egg and some of our language comes from Latin. Now he knows.
My brother’s family is visiting. My almost three-year-old niece was thrilled to see rabbits nibbling our grass. She ran out on the lawn. “Where’s the eggs?” she asked.
“Oviparous bunnies,” I thought.