September 2, 2009

Living and Non-living Things

My oldest son, who is 6, is in 1st grade this year. I'm discovering that 1st grade is really nothing like Kindergarten and I find getting back into the swing of the school year is difficult for me. All of a sudden on a daily basis there are things coming home in the folder, weird things that make me pause and wonder about how strange the world is sometimes.

Take last night, for example. I pull out his folder to see if he has any homework, check his conduct report and all the papers he worked on at school that day. In the folder were two papers I had missed filling out in his original enrollment packet. I'm sure the administration staff were saying to themselves, "Make a mental note, Julius's mom can't follow directions."

Along with the papers was a sheet entitled... Chapter 1 Study Guide: Living and Non-living Things

The study guide explained the basics of how to tell if something is alive or not. I thought this was something you sort of understood on a primal level. Did they teach this in school when I was a kid? I have no idea. Doesn't it seem like if you're in 1st grade you should know this already? I just don't know.

But anyway, the basic jist is you're alive if you need food, water, air and space.  Also, if you grow and change. The first line of the study guide begins with, "Non-living things were never alive." I decided I was going to read this short study guide to Julius as he's hanging out in the bathtub splashing water around liberally to hasten the inevitable decay in our bathroom floor.

I read a few sentences to him and then decide to quiz him about what I've read.  I point to a wooden foot stool nearby and ask if it's living or non-living. Dr. Frankenstein declares it to be alive.

"Are you kidding me?"  He has an interesting sense of humor and sometimes it's hard to tell when he's kidding.

"No, I'm serious."

"Well, does it grow?"

"Yes. If you add longer legs to it it gets taller."

"Well, true, but that's US changing it, not it changing on its own. Does it need food and water?"


"So, do you think it's alive then?"

"It was when it was a tree, so it used to be alive." Which, of course, refutes the first tenet of the study guide which stated that non-living things were never alive.

At that point, because I'm a human who is easily amused I couldn't resist writing the teacher to explain the quandary this study guide has caused in our house (and also to warn her what Mr. Smart Pantalones might try to pull on her).  Her response, which arrived in the dreaded/anticipated purple folder that afternoon, was "I didn't think of that one!" Yeah, me either.

Lady, it's gonna be a long year.


  1. I love that you and Rob have given him the tools to be able to look at the world a little differently than the masses - he's able to tweak thing just enough to keep them interesting! I love this kid!!

  2. 'Non-living things were never alive'...lolz

    I love it when the kids make the teachers stop and think, instead of the other way round.

    Smart kid :D

  3. That kid is going to go far. Mark my words. The next Bill Gates. He looks at things just a wee bit differently. Good for him! I hope he DOES challenge the teacher this year! In a GOOD way, I mean! LOL!

  4. Awesome critical thinking for a first grader!!!

  5. "Non-living things were never alive."

    That sentence never would have made it in our house either. Aren't you happy to have a son that thinks and questions instead of blindly accepting what he's told? The problem is that they do it to their parents too!

    I bet it's hard to get used to having him gone, when you were able to have Julius spend so much time with you this summer.

  6. Wendy, its so refreshing to read about you going through the same sorts of things I do! My son was given some instructions by me to water the flowers and tomatoes, which he did. Then he came in and took his shower... but then he went to put the hose back and decided to make a lake in the dirt now mud patch on the side of the house. Do you know why? Because I didn't tell him NOT to!

    Gotta love the minds of boys! And that Julius is a keeper for sure :)

  7. Julius is quite the kid! His teachers will enjoy him, I'm sure!
    That's an awesome post!

  8. That is plainly awesome! I don't think I would ever have thought of that when I was Julius' age. My goodness. As for the fact that you wrote the teacher back? Fantastic. Those kids are going to be so confused this year...

  9. thats so funny! my 5 1/2 yr old has been pulling the same thing- kid has the explanation to everything.

    it would be funny to put these two together and see what they debate.

  10. You gotta love him! He's a genius. One of these days he's gonna make enough money to take care of his mommy. :)

  11. think i'll share this story w/ all my teacher friends! too adorable.. your boy is a great 'out of the box' thinker already!


  12. Good for you for pointing it out. "Non-living things were never living"? That's outrageous! Misspellings and misinformation coming from school drives me batty.

  13. When I was in school it was organic and non-organic rather than living and non-living, which I think is more precise. I think that's why I'm so anal retentive.

  14. Julius is always going to be one of those smarty pants guys who is smarter than the teacher.

  15. I love it when the students end up teaching the teachers.

    What's with the folders, by the way? My nephew has been bringing one home every day for four years now. I never had to do that growing up. If the teacher wanted your parents to see something, she'd pass it out, and you'd just stick it in your backpack. If it was something bad and you were smart, you learned how to hide it somewhere in the backpack where your parents would never see it. This is the first year my nephew has even been allowed to have a backpack.

    On a side note, I gave you an award on my blog. You can pick it up here: Congrats.

  16. Oh yeah. Anna's in the fourth grade this year, and we've been going through that sort of stuff since kindergarten. By now, though, I tell her that if she thinks it's wrong to tell the teacher herself. I have written plenty of notes to the teacher, though, asking why something was marked wrong on a paper or challenging some statement.

    "Non-living things were never alive" ??? Who even thinks these up these phrases? What about dead bugs, dried flowers, picked fruit, dead people???

  17. Smart, cheeky little guy. Oh, how I love him!

  18. "Non-living things were never alive."

    Actually I've never seen that condition on a list of the defining characteristics of non-living things.

    Guess your son showed her!

  19. Isn't it funny how children are, many times, smarter than adults? Oh, and where does death fit into this "living/non-living" thing? If something is dead, is it non-living or living? I mean, dead things were once living, so does that mean they remain "living beings" even after they are dead? Hmmmm...

    I think Julius' teacher needs to think a little harder...

  20. He is bright! No question in my mind at all! Complex, gifted even :).

  21. 'Non living things were never alive'

    Whaa .. ? Who do they allow to write these things, these days? So - is a fossil alive millions of years after its death, just because it once was? Or can I go back to my comfortable assumption that it isn't living now?



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