Notes for Parents

You are welcome to print out the full story of The Philosopher's Stone to have a paper copy in hand for your child to read, or to read to your child.

If your child has a good vocabulary and is generally curious, you may want to substitute, from time to time, other sayings or mottoes over the text on the Philosopher's Stone, such as:

Delight in the sheer scope and
richness of what you can perceive.
Or insert some special short message of your own, which expresses a basic positive value which you want your child to absorb — and which also seems plausible for changing Ed's villagers' behavior from hoarding to sharing so that they all get through the famine well. Write or type your brief messages on cards for ease of use and reuse.

Sheen.... Iridescence... These are not "hard" words for children. Children love "fancy" words even better than they do plain ones, even this side of Disney's Mary Poppins' "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Moreover, gleam, sheen, iridescence, etc., are real words and, better still, descriptive.

Descriptive words teach perception, almost magically. A famous researcher describes a beautiful experiment in which young children were set to trying to draw butterfly wings. Those children who had words in their working vocabulary for 'dot,' 'stripe,' 'triangle,' 'slash,' etc., were able to draw those wings well even from memory. Children who did not have those words were unable to draw those wings in a way that they themselves could later recognize was an effort to draw butterfly wings.

In a later phase of the experiment, the researcher took half of the children who did not have those words, and in a very different context taught them those words. Then, in the final phase of the experiment, the children were again set to trying to draw those wings. The children who now had those words in their vocabularies were able to draw those wings well even from memory. The children who still did not have those words were still unable to draw those wings in any way that they could later recognize.

The reason:  our words, the language we speak in, we not only also think in but perceive in. Our words focus our perceptions, our faculties — even though the world is far larger than we can ever hope to really encompass in words. We human beings can see and tell apart 7 million different colors, but only have a few dozen color names — so "the grass is green." Which greens? What else is there in those colors of grass? Or as the poet Archibald MacLeish said, "A poem should be wordless, as a flight of birds...."

Other researchers find that the quality of our language powerfully shapes the quality of our thinking — as we might expect — and also the quality of our perceptions. That surprises some of us, but makes sense once we know about that butterfly experiment.

So ...When "iridescence" becomes part of your child's language, he or she will be discovering and seeing iridescent beauty everywhere, as an immediate and wonderful part of his or her life.

One suggestion in letting your child encounter and learn such rich descriptive words is to define such a word, whenever possible, not in some other words but, instead, in the wonderful sensory immediacy of something you can point to — a dragonfly, a suitable brooch, some mother-of-pearl ornament, the colors you can sometimes see in a clear glass when you hold it to the light at just the right angle....even the oil sheen of a street puddle in the sun.....

In these ways, then, your sharing The Philosopher's Stone with your child can enrich your child's life experience in the direction of appreciating beauty and wonder, art, creative ingenuity and non-violence — and maybe a few other good things.

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