Captioned Cat Pictures as a Literacy Tool?

Who would have thought that looking at a bunch of user-captioned cat pics could not only encourage reading but also improve it?

I admit that I was reticent at first to let my daughter (then six) look at the I Can Has Cheezburger website.  Actually it was an app on my iPhone.  (Yes, I do enjoy a bit of captioning humor on occasion).  At one point in time I was looking for something to distract her attention, so I could have a conversation, and we had not brought any books or crayons, so I let her “look at the cute kitty pics.”  Well, she loved it of course and later asked to look at again when she saw my phone by my bedside one morning.  My original concern was that if she read the captions it would confuse her or even hinder her reading progression, since many of the captions are purposefully written with poor grammar (how else would a cat talk?):

I caved.  Mostly because I enjoy looking at the cute, funny pictures, and I thought it would be nice together time with my daughter while snuggling in bed on a weekend morning.  She insisted on reading the captions out loud herself.  It was difficult for her, and I had to help… a lot! Suddenly she was asking to look at the pictures every Saturday morning.  If there was time, I agreed.

Here is what happened:

  • She struggled with the misspellings and the grammar, but eventually picked up the idea that “ai” means “I” and so on.  I reinforced proper spelling by indicating what was misspelled.
  • Her vocabulary actually improved.  There are a number of captions that contain properly spelled, large words.  In the context of fun, she picked those words up and was able to pronounce and understand their meaning the next time she saw them.
  • She learned the extremely valuable concept of irony (and puns!).  Children tend to be very literal, so understanding humor in just a line or two captioning a particular image opened a new world of higher order thinking.











There are two safety caveats for parents to consider however.

  1. The app has modules other than I Can Has Cheezburger, some of which I do not want Sophia to view, due to what I would consider to be inappropriate content for a kid.  Sophia is allowed only to look at I Can Has Cheezburger, Lolcats, and I Has a Hotdog.  Now that she has her own iPad with the app on it, she can view it on her own.  I do monitor her for transgressions on this, and she knows I will remove her privileges, if she abuses them.  On a side note, I also have restricted YouTube access on her iPad, so any videos on the app that go to YouTube do not work for her, but she’s okay with that.
  2. Some of the captions reference adult concepts (sometimes sexual) that are lost on Sophia.  If she expresses confusion on such a caption, I just blow it off and move on to the next one.  She doesn’t know any different.
Lolcats are educational!

Lolcats are educational!

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