My Parents’ Learning Legacy

I love to learn.

My brothers, although not as bookish as I, still have the same curiosity. How did that happen?

momreadingpapers
Mom reading the newspapers.

I can only attribute it to our parents, especially Mom. It is easy to forget that even the smallest action by our parents can influence our learning for the rest of our lives.

Although he worked long hours (sometimes three jobs at a time!), my father still was influential in developing our learning habits. We got three daily newspapers — the local paper and two New York City papers. It was not unusual to watch Dad, when he got home from work, sitting in his chair in the living room reading the paper while watching the news on television. Mom usually got to the papers after dinner.

Children will copy what they see their parents do. We still are newspaper readers (although I do most of my news reading online). My oldest brother reads the Sunday New York Times cover to cover.

Then there were the documentaries. When we were children (lo! those many years ago), television programming was limited. Yet every Sunday night started off with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. We caught every Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic special we could. Mom would take us to different parks, and we’d pretend we were explorers and naturalists.

Mom took an active role reading to us and then helping us learn to read. I can honestly say that I can never remember being unable to read. I have a distinct memory of walking into my kindergarten class for the first time and being able to read “red,” “yellow,” and “green” on the giant poster of a traffic light.

Of course, there were the flash cards. Being numerically challenged, I really needed drilling on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Mom was there with those colorful cards. (I still have problems with my six times tables.)

My parents’ encouragement, and some serious studying with classmates, helped me limp through algebra, geometry, and even trigonometry. It’s not their fault it all got flushed out of my head the weekend after graduation.

I think the greatest gift my parents gave us was a responsibility to find things out on our own.

“Mom, how do you spell …?”

“Look it up in the dictionary.”

“How can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?”

“Sound out the letters.”

Mom didn’t have a lot of sympathy for us if we weren’t willing to make an effort for ourselves. She was willing to help us if we got stuck, but she certainly wasn’t going to do the heavy lifting.

All this might not seem like much. My parents didn’t constantly expend huge amounts of energy or money on getting us to learn. They just created an environment, set expectations, and made us accountable for ourselves. It was not much, but what a huge influence on our lives!

P.S. Mom was a good speller. She and Dad would do the same crossword puzzles in the daily papers. Dad was a “creative” speller and always finished first. Mom would get so mad because he had most of the clues spelled wrong.

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