I originally posted this on father’s day before this site was hit by a nefarious hacker and I’m reposting it because I want it to be somewhere on this site because it’s relevant to what I’m doing here. That week my daughter, conscientious girl that she is, actually went ahead and made me a father’s day gift. But she didn’t have to. The academic pride she gave me that week would have been good enough by itself.
This isn’t to say I’m not proud of her at other times. I’m proud of all my kids and for so many reasons. But that week, the week leading up to father’s day, she won her school “legal studies quiz” as well as the national board of education’s regional spelling bee. Those achievements specifically, particularly the second, made me proud in a way that’s specifically relevant to the topic of this site. She won the bee competing against kids from completely English speaking homes, many of whom were born and raised in English speaking countries. Did she work hard and learn word lists and have the help of a neurotic father? Yes. And those all certainly contributed. But to a large extent she did it through having gotten a solid grounding in the English Language from a young age and a large part of that was watching the right programs which gave her a love of the way language works.
You’re likely thinking “well that’s all very well – you’re clearly a father that’s very into education and wanted her to excel and so you sat down with workbooks and drilled these rules into her. But not everyone has that kind of personality or time.” You’d be right about my being into education (obviously or this blog would not exist) but you’d be dead wrong about the rest. My daughter has been a big fan of such shows as Sesame Street, Between the Lions, and the Leapfrog learning videos from the get go. I never asked her to pick up a phonics workbook – I didn’t need to. Not because she was necessarily a focused type of student who can block out other stimuli such as TV but because she watched the type of shows that turned those stimuli to her advantage. Her adversaries knew how to speak the language – but she understands the way the language functions and what its rules are.
Is your direct input necessary to your child’s becoming academically successful? Well, certainly it helps, but no, it’s not necessary. What is necessary is that they get positive input at all and that they get it in an enjoyable and interesting way. And if you can give it to them in place of an activity that’s generally considered a negative, mind numbing one, an activity that they’re eager to participate in and possibly even addicted to at a low level (obviously if it becomes too serious you should seek help but most kids have a tolerable low level addiction to the screen) then you’ve turned your child’s liability into an advantage and broadened their education where before it might have suffered. The same half hour I imbued my daughter with a love of mathematics by letting her watch Cyberchase or science watching the Magic Schoolbus could have been just as easily invested in having her watch Bratz. Maybe she’d have enjoyed it as much (I find it hard to believe she’d have enjoyed it more). I didn’t even need to spend time on either one beyond choosing what DVD to show her. But several years down the line my daughter has brought home a regional spelling trophy for father’s day. The Bratz watchers? They’re bringing home the receipt for the new summer outfits they ‘had to have at the mall or they’d absolutely like just totally die’. I don’t know whether or not those fathers would prefer to be in my place – but I do know I’m glad I’m not in theirs.
The fact that her brother is now already asking her to prepare him for two years down the line when he’ll be the minimum age to compete is an added bonus. Certainly the cheers of her schoolmates that rocked the hall where the contest was held had a role to play in that. But the main achievement for me is that her understanding of language and the way it works paid off dividends in a very real and immediate way that in turn will encourage her to continue investing her time in expanding her knowledge base. Having won the contest this year already in fifth grade (the contest is open only to 5th and 6th graders and generally won as a matter of course by 6th graders who have a larger vocabulary) she’s in the rare position of being able to defend her crown next year – and she’s already planning to do so. And for me? My job is to facilitate that by providing her with access to material that will make it easier for her to learn on her own even when I’m not around to help her study. I guess I’d better go hunt down some TV program that helps build vocabulary and language skills for sixth graders. If anyone has any suggestions feel free to post them. But even if you don’t, if such a thing exists I will keep searching till I find it.