Teacher compiles kid-friendly tidbits on tongues

August 01, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"My mommy said you shouldn't stick out your tongue at someone."

I was driving a van full of kids somewhere - the destinations tend to blend together - when I overheard my 4-year-old fussing with one of her friends.

I just smiled, kept driving and allowed the subtle peer pressure to take effect.

Kids seem to know that they can get to adults and each other with what I refer to as "na-na" motions - thumbs on noses, fingers wiggled behind ears and tongues protruding from mouths.

Preschoolers especially become adept at these when they start attending programs with other children. It seems the lines of communication break down, frustration levels rise and the body motions take over.


That's usually when adults intervene with a "don't do that" comment.

At least one adult has taken a different approach.

While she was reading some science textbooks, teacher Joan Bonsignore became intrigued about how various animals use their tongues.

She read about a snapping turtle that can make his tongue look like fish bait and a fish that uses its tongue like a squirt gun to shoot down its prey.

Her curiosity caused her to wonder how other animals use their tongues.

The result is the children's book, "Stick Out Your Tongue: Fantastic Facts, Features and Functions of Animal and Human Tongues."

The book is geared toward children ages 4 to 8.

There's a kid-friendly question presented with each animal: "Have you ever sucked all the liquid out of a juice box until it crumples up? That's what the ambush bug does to its prey."

(Go ahead, make a face, but you know kids love comparisons like that.)

How did Bonsignore, who lives in Amherst, Mass., find interesting tidbits on tongues? By looking up the word "tongue" in the indexes of animal and science books.

She found some fascinating facts, but she wanted to present them in a way that would interest children.

"I wanted to change the way it was presented so it would be more humorous and engaging," Bonsignore says, noting that children find it hard to resist trying some of the questions.

"Can you roll your tongue into a tube? If your tongue was a little longer, you could slurp up the milkshake without a straw," just as moths and butterflies use their tongues like straws to suck nectar from flowers.

Imagine that.

"When I look at things, I see them in a different format," Bonsignore said. "I like to translate things into simple terms."

Such as ... comparing the tongue of a gecko to a windshield wiper.

They don't have movable eyelids, so they sweep their tongues over their eyes to clean them off.

"You can lick off your upper lip - and maybe reach the tip of your nose - with your tongue," Bonsignore writes. "But it would be pretty amazing if you could reach your tongue over your eyeballs!"

Can't you just see a 5-year-old trying that in front of a mirror?

"Facts stay with them because they've interacted," Bonsignore says. "That was the purpose, to be engaged. That is the key to teaching. Literature can do that if it is creative literature."

A sequel on noses is at the publisher's office.

That should be interesting.

If I only had a quarter for each time I've pointedly asked one of my kids, "Do you need a tissue, dear?"

Sometimes parenting gets a little messy, doesn't it?

For information on "Stick Out Your Tongue: Fantastic Facts, Features and Functions of Animal and Human Tongues," go to

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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