Lessons From the Barnyard


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, is such a delightful book to read with children.    The characters are all believable even though most of them are barnyard animals with human like characteristics.  Your heart goes out to Fern who wants desperately to save the runt of a litter of pigs, the one whom her father has deemed “a weakling -” one that “won’t amount to anything.”   He remits his initial dictate; that the runt should be “done away with,” and allows Fern to lavish on the little pig all the protective,  motherly love that was bursting from her little girl’s heart when she saw the ax in her father’s hand.

Fern takes the precious little pink pig, the weakling that needed her, and treated him like any good mother would; warming bottles of milk, taking him for stroller rides, gazing at him,  and nuzzling his soft pink skin against her cheek, but most importantly, she named him Wilbur.  Here is a terribly fun fact;  I am sure that the author chose this name very carefully, although I’ve never read about the decision.  I am only surmising that much thought went into choosing the name Wilbur.  I have  always thought that it just sounded “farmy,” but much to my surprise,  it originates from an old English word that means “Wild Boar,” and even cooler to my mind is that it actually means, “Dearly loved stronghold,”  “Willful,” “Resolute,” and ”Brilliant.”

Wilbur goes from being an unwanted cast off to a dearly loved, chosen one.  And he thrives under Fern’s care. He grows into a lovely, sentimental pig and many conversations concerning his future are held in the barn with all of the other farm animals who have become his friends.  His best friend, Charlotte the spider decides to help save him from his probable demise of being bacon on the farmer’s table by making him stand out.  In a most imaginative way, she spins words into her web; words describing Wilbur in a positive light.  Taking great pains to ensure correct spelling, she weaves the words “Some Pig,” “Terrific,” and “Radiant“ into her web  she placed in the barn doorway.  Wilbur, in turn “threw himself into looking ‘Radiant’ with a will.”  He made every effort to live up to the name given him by Fern and the descriptive words woven into Charlotte’s web.  And it worked.  Everyone that came to see him marveled at what a wonderful pig he was and his fears were put to rest, because he knew the farmer, Mr Zuckerman,  would never kill him now.

It is a scientific fact that people live up to the labels or names we give them.  It is called the “Rosenthal Effect” named after the researcher who discovered that school children actually performed differently, when their teachers were given certain labels to attach to them at the start of the school year.   The children that were labeled as ones who “would do very well” throughout the course of the year actually improved their IQ scores, because the teachers treated them differently.

I have noticed the same holds true with my children.  When in my mind, I have named them “Lazy,” they live up to that expectation.  When I look at them in a more positive light and label them “Creative,” or “Patient,” they begin to think of themselves in the same light and the difference can be life changing.   I read in the Bible, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” and my heart trembles at the power we as parents have when raising our precious gifts on loan from God.

What names will I place over my children today?  I am choosing “life-giving” names.



.Rosenthal, R., &. Jacobson, L. (1963). Teachers’    Expectancies: Determinants of pupils’ IQ gains. Psychological Reports, 19, 115-118.



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