Cultivating Curiosity and Creating a Lifelong Learner

Ask anyone, student or teacher, and you will find out that I’m kind of the school nerd. I love books, which is of course a prerequisite, but I’m also curious about just about everything. The thing I’ve been wondering lately though is why. Why do I still love learning when so many people really don’t? What did my parents do to keep that spark of interest alive in me?

Kids start out curious. I know this from watching my two-year-old son explore his world. He isn’t forced to learn anything, and yet it seems that he gains a new skill, word, or academic ability every day. At some sad point for many students however, learning starts to lose it’s inherent joy. I have thought a lot lately about what I can do to grow that spark of curiosity in my boy and in my students. I’m not 100% sure of the answer, but I know what worked for me.

While I had some great teachers, my early education was very difficult. I was trying to conquer reading with undiagnosed dyslexia, and I know that my mom and dad spent many nights in tearful battles just to get me through my homework. Yet somehow they managed to make it so that I still loved learning. Here are the top ten things they did:

1. They answered my questions. - Believe me; I asked a ton. My parents always took the time to answer me no matter what the topic. And if they didn’t know they would help me find a book or someone that did. This took an amazing amount of time before the internet was created.

2. They encouraged my interest no matter how random - I still remember my dad encouraging me to read an entire basic psychology text book in middle school just because I had found it and asked him about it.

3. They placed a high value on my education - My dad always said there were two things that couldn’t be taken away from you: your salvation, and your education.

4. They sacrificed so I could learn - My parents paid for Christian school even when they didn’t really have the means, just like I’m sure many of our TBCA parents do. However, they went beyond that. I still remember getting a microscope one year for Christmas. I think I was in 3rd or 4th grade, and I had begged for it. I wanted to see blood underneath the lens, and my mother pricked herself just so I could.

5. They didn’t let me use my disability as a crutch - My mother was adamant that I stay on grade level or beyond, and the moment I mentioned my LD as an excuse was sure to be a moment I’d regret. She assured me that I COULD (WOULD) do the work even if it took longer or was harder for me. My mom did not try and make things easier for me at school. She made me rise to the occasion.

6. They talked to me - I was included in so many family discussions. Politics, religion, popular culture and so much more was talked about at the dinner table, and I was expected to contribute.

7. They wanted a Mary not a Martha - My dad was in the ministry during most of my formative years, and we would often have missionaries, pastors, and evangelists in our home. I was almost never sent to the kitchen to help. The family just left the dishes where they were and adjourned to have coffee and talk in the living room. I learned so much just from listening to the discussions that would happen during those times.

8. They read to me and around me - Our home was always full of books. My mom read countless stories to me as a child from board books to classics like Oliver Twist, and I clearly remember both of my parents reading for enjoyment.

9. They didn’t raise a parrot; they raised a person - I was allowed to respectfully state a different opinion on a variety of subjects as I got older. I still had to follow the house rules, but my Dad loved a good debate. Both of my parents encouraged me to find my own values and to be able to defend them.

10. They let me fail - Only now as a parent do I see how hard this must have been for them. My parents did not rush to my rescue whenever things went wrong. They would let me quote my mother’s colloquialism, “root, hog, or die,” or in a more common turn of phrase “sink or swim.” Sometimes I swam, and what a feeling that was to have accomplished something on my own. But sometimes I sank. I learned just as much if not more from the sinking.

Well, I’m going to leave it there because I just realized I really owe my parents a nice dinner or something.

Whitney Anderson