Timing is everything. After my wife and I settled on the number of children we planned on having (she wanted three, and after I’d stopped my hysterical, slightly panicked laughing fit I countered with one, so we split the difference and went with two) we then discussed our schedule. Three years apart seemed about right; both of us are four years older than our siblings, and we wanted our kids to be a bit closer in age. At the same time, the thought of having two kids in diapers made us recoil in horror. (Sorry, John Cave Osborne.) Three years seemed to be the perfect gap. Being completely and unabashedly selfish – hey, when one’s a senior in high school, the other will be a freshman, and that means he can drive them both to school so we don’t have to – we moved forward with our plan, and thus far it’s worked out well. My son’s seven, my daughter’s four, they get along pretty well, and he’s gotten her interested in surfing, skateboarding and Batman. Everything is proceeding according to my plan.
Turns out we might have been right, for an entirely different reason. The team of übergeniuses at Freakonomics inform us that a recent study indicates that siblings who have at least a two-year age gap may perform better academically. Researchers at Notre Dame found that these kids had higher reading and math scores than kids who were born less than two years apart. The study’s authors’ basic conclusion: older kids benefitted more, possibly due to getting more attention from their parents during those early formative years.
Of course, there are probably a multitude of reasons why this may be the case: one commenter in the piece notes that older children often spend time “teaching the baby”, which in turn benefits the older child – as they say, the best way to learn is by teaching.
And while that may not be quantifiable, I find that there’s definitely some truth to it. The other night, for example, we were in the car; my son farted loudly, and shortly thereafter my daughter followed suit. The two then began arguing over whose fart actually smelled worse. “Mine does!”, Zoë yelled. “You can’t tell”, Lucas calmly told her, “because the farts mix together in the air. They’re a GAS. We learned that in Science.” Zoë paused to consider this. “Ohhhh”, she said, processing this revelatory bit of knowledge. My son the learner had become the teacher. “Well done, dude”, I said to him, visions of his future Nobel Prize in Chemistry dancing in my head.
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