When I look at my two sons, I see two very different people. And I don’t just mean their looks.
My oldest son is the achiever, the competitive one. He prides in being a nerd, and believes with all his heart that they will someday rule from the top of the food chain. I constantly fear for his life.
My youngest son is the charmer, the sensitive one. He is convinced smiles and kisses make up for everything, and his one-liners blow his daddy-with-the seven-serious-girlfriends-and-many-flings out of the water.
I often find myself wondering how I could possibly raise such different personalities and manage to get it right–with both of them. I mean, I know what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. So how could I keep up when most of the time I’m feeling outgunned and outnumbered?
Lately, however–perhaps out of desperation or some sort of awakened maternal instinct–I’m starting to look at things differently. I’m beginning to feel I shouldn’t worry so much over my sons’ differences and instead focus on what they really need to learn from me. I’m starting to think I should seek to pass on what’s tried and true, and pray that the rest will somehow fall into place.
In a nutshell, I am almost convinced I should just teach them how to acquire knowledge and where to find wisdom. And somehow that will be enough.
Whatever their career preferences are, I want both my sons to become learned men. I want them to excel in their academic careers, and I want them to value learning. As future husbands and fathers, I want them to be able to provide for their families, to be able to take care of their wives and children. And I would never want them to be a burden to society.
This, I believe, all begins with an interest in reading.
I read an article for one of my classes entitled, The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3 by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. Hart and Risley did a research study on the growth of children’s vocabularies from infancy up to around three years of age. What they found was staggering, although hardly surprising: the growth of a child’s vocabulary largely depends on the exposure and encouragement they receive at home.
Consider some of the results found by the authors:
- About 86-98% of the words the children used reflected their parents vocabularies.
- An average child on welfare was exposed to about 616 words per hour. The average working-class child was exposed to 1,251 words per hour. The average child from a professional family was exposed to 2,153 words per hour.
- Within four years, just before the child starts school, the child from a professional family would have had experience with 45 million words, the working class child would have 26 million words, and the welfare child would have experienced 13 million words.
- The authors classified the words the children received into two kinds: parent affirmatives and prohibitions. On an hourly basis, the child from the professional family receives 32 affirmatives and five prohibitions. The working class child receives 12 affirmatives and seven prohibitions. The welfare child received five affirmatives and 11 prohibitions.
Sounds interesting, you think. But why is it important? I’ll tell you why.
Think about this. Hart and Risley wrote that a child’s cortical development is greatly determined by how much the central nervous system is stimulated by their experiences. In English, a child’s brain development is largely influenced by what kind of experiences he or she goes through. So, the child who receives as much exposure and encouragement at home is bound to be excited about learning.
Consequentially, according to the authors, a child’s vocabulary growth predicts their performance at school. Simply put, habits instilled in children at an early age follow them through their academic careers. So how a child is shaped at home will greatly determine how they will act once they learn to be independent.
If you’re reading this and you’re focusing on three words: welfare, working class and professional, don’t. I cited the research the same reason any good writer would: for credibility. But for parents who are really interested in making sure their children value learning, there are always ways to go about things.
- Make the library an extension of your home. We live right by a public library, a big consideration in choosing this neighborhood. We started bringing our kids to the library when they were just babies, and we let them pick books they wanted. It didn’t matter if we thought the topic was interesting—I mean, my youngest would always bring home books about cats. How much information is there to learn about the animal? But he gets excited about those kinds of books and we take advantage of it.
- Museums are interesting. No, really! One thing I love about living near Washington, D.C. is the proximity to the Smithsonian museums. FREE! We’ve taken our kids to whichever one interests them and they actually think those trips are fun. Yay for us!
Not the bookish or scholarly kind? Hmmm, let’s see.
- You have to know some people who are knowledgeable at some field. Pick their brains and pass it on to your kids. Or better yet, introduce them to your kids and let them talk.
- You must have friends who own books and stuff. Borrow and return. What are friends for if not to help out?
- Sit with your kids and help them with homework. Show an interest in what they’re learning at school, and always support their teachers.
- When you have time, turn the television off and do something with your child. Go on nature walks, read a book together. Whatever you can think of to encourage them to learn more about their world.
The main thing is, your socioeconomic status shouldn’t get in the way of your child’s learning.
When I was growing up, my parents kept reminding us that the only thing they could leave us, that nothing could ever take away, was a good education. All four of us somehow caught the wisdom of their words and finished school. And are still in school.
So skip out on some things that won’t stand the test of time and invest in your children’s future.
The returns will amaze you.
It doesn’t stop at knowledge, however. Knowledge is good and all but without wisdom, one falls short. So I want my boys to be wise. And I’ve learned through experience that there’s no better place to find it than in the Bible. And from God.
James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NIV).
But how would my sons know this if they do not know their Bibles? So we go back, once again, to the importance of reading and learning. This time–for life, for the future, and beyond.
Lastly, don’t ever forget that sometimes it pays to listen to your kid/s. Some years ago J, on explaining the difference between being smart and being wise to his younger brother, said: “Smart is being able to count the twenty cars on the road. Wise is knowing that if you step out on the road, you’re gonna get killed.”