Even though our son was two, you could also tell his preference. You couldn't slip the A-B-C animal book back into the rotation. Within weeks, he was able to start pointing out siamangs and echidnas. My wife loves, and I mean loves, reading to our kids. His (and her) animal knowledge soon would explode. Before we knew it, if he came across an animal in a book, he'd go wander back to his room; "what is he doing?" we asked. Believe it or not, he found another animal book and was bringing it out to us. He'd show us the same animal in his other book! I struggle to get my algebra students to remember content from one week to the next and our two-year old remembered, connected and transferred this seemingly innocuous info. Before too long he could remember entire pages worth of animal species - species that my wife or I had never heard of before we read that book.
Two-year-old empowerment step: I can find animal information in a book.
The animal pictures began. With an animal book at his side, he'd start trying to draw the animals with his crayons. This soon became very frustrating. He'd say that he hated it, but he wouldn't stop trying. Regardless of us trying to redirect him, he was bound, determined and usually crying. He couldn't get pictures to look the same. My wife and I would look at each other, which one of us is going to have the, "Son, you are three, its not going to look the same" conversation. Then it hit me. The fatness of the crayons was too problematic for the detail he was trying to achieve. A quick trip to the grocery store for a pack of colored pencils changed everything. Let the details begin!
Three-year-old empowerment step: I can draw animal pictures the way I want to.
Since we are fully committed to animal encyclopedias, this brought with it a few interesting connections. Many of these books include different symbols around the animals and often they represent their conservation status. Of course, to our now four-year-old this is a curious thing that he had never noticed before. We began to learn about endangered species. Before you know it, he was going back through his other books and finding out which species were endangered. The idea that an animal might die and not exist anymore, really hit him hard. While many teenagers are still considering their feelings the center of the universe, we could see elements of empathy in our four-year-old (hey, there's still plenty of egocentrism going around the house though!) Soon, he and his mom made their first (of many) endangered species flip books.
We began to let him know that there are ways to keep animal species alive. This was prime information to him. Soon we were learning about deforestation, pollution, global warming, poaching. We let him know that species are endangered because of a consequence of our human action and conservationists work to reverse the trend. Again, to him, learning about these things in isolation wasn't enough, he wanted to know which of these global issues affected which species. Each one. As you can imagine, mommy and daddy are getting way over our heads. "I don't know buddy, maybe we can look it up." became a catch phrase. As a piece of parental manipulation, we said one day that if you don't turn off your lights when you aren't using them it will waste electricity and maybe melt the polar ice caps a little bit. Today, lights are never left on. In fact, he'll make sure his new sister turns off the lights too.
What do you want to be when you grow up? "I want to go stop the poachers."
Four-year-old empowerment step: I can do something to help animals.
By now, we realize we have a little activist on our hands. As a teacher at an international school, I have worked intimately with global issues. Soon, all those beautiful maps in those info-packed animal encyclopedias began to be used. Continents and oceans soon turned into countries and regions. The first time I saw him point and name "Patagonia" I about fell over. He'd then tell me some of the animals that live there. He began being able to do this all over the map.
In our most dumbfounding moment, we were eating dinner and he wouldn't eat the rest of a piece of broccoli. Why, you ask? Because it looked like the Island of Sulawesi (home of the babirusa and cuscus!) I have to Google this info, because this is clearly something that mommy has read while daddy was at work. Sure enough, well here's the evidence: