Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/823

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I KNOW intimately a little boy, now six and a half years old, who has been a persistent questioner, since he was four. Thirteen months ago he began to read, and now reads The Youth's Companion, Alice in Wonderland, Lang's and Andersen's Fairy Tales, Kingsley's Water Babies, and Greek Heroes, school readers, and many other books with good understanding and excellent expression. As he has never been to school, and never has received a day's instruction in reading—that is, direct instruction, such as characterizes school work—his progress must be accounted for in some other way. Since it is not my purpose to describe in detail how he learned to read, I will simply say that it may be attributed wholly to persistent questioning on his part, being answered by his hearers, and having ample opportunities to practice what he found out. To this indirect instruction, excessively fragmentary and depending wholly upon his choice, there has been practically no limit.

When he was about four years old he would follow up his questions immediately with "Tell me. Why?" When he was five he introduced every subject he wished to talk about with "What do you think?" At six he dropped that, and substituted "Do you know what?" But, after two years and a half, he seems to entertain no thought of giving up "Tell me."

His favorite times for asking questions are when he is being dressed in the morning and at his meals. At other times during the day his questions occur at very irregular intervals, and only a few or one at a time. Sometimes he will read for an hour without saying a word, and then, when at play, will ask a question pertaining to what he has read. Often he will skip forward and back for fifteen minutes without speaking, and then ask a question about something upon which he has apparently been meditating. Frequently he sits at the table in silence for ten minutes, apparently taking no notice of conversation, meditating on some word or idea obtained from something he has read. It becomes evident, later, that he can carry on his own train of thought and at the same time hear and understand conversation, because he questions about both.

His mother used the word "disposed" at the breakfast table, but he seemed to take no notice of the conversation going on. At night, when jumping about the room for the mere pleasure of movement, he turned suddenly to me and asked, "What does 'disposed' mean?" One morning I heard him ask his mother