Giving Children What They Need

When my first child, Thatcher, was born, I was very interested in finding out what I could do to maximize his potential. I read books on education and early childhood development.

Thatch making a sucessful move on the chess board. (about 5 or 6 years old)

There was a lot of talk about the idea of enriching a child’s environment when they are little to  increase their effective IQ. The crib mobiles were new then and we got one right away. By the time he was 5 he had his own workbench with a real vice. All his tools were real, not toys. I went to Goodwill and bought him an old radio and other mechanical devices for him to take apart. I found an old carburetor and I told him what it was for. I said: “the gas goes in here and it sprays out here and mixes with the air and then goes out here and into the engine where it explodes.” He acted very interested and would repeat what I had said. He took the radio apart stringing the pieces all over. In fact he took everything apart. I often thought I may have made a mistake teaching him to tear things apart. He seemed to be only interested in destruction.
One time I took him to the big new central public library in downtown Seattle. We found a room completely filled with books and we walked down the isles and looked at the books. I told him that there were many more floors just like this one and there were bigger libraries than this one. I then told him that almost all the knowledge that exists in the world is written in books and if you know how to read you can find out anything you want to know.
When he was in preschool I taught him how to play chess. One day at preschool he was on the swing and it started swinging crookedly. He said to the teacher, “Look I am going diagonally.” The teacher said, “How do you know what diagonally means?” Thatch said, “Some chess pieces move diagonally.”

Thatcher presenting his most charming self.

I am not sure how much all this stuff helped but I guess it didn’t hurt. When he was eight we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska in a house I bought from my dad. It was out in the country on several acres of land. There was a pile of scrap lumber out back that Dad had brought home from work to burn in the stove. We were strapped for cash and Thatch was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a small room in the basement. One day I came home from work to see Thatch at work building himself a bed frame. He measured, cut and nailed together scraps from that pile with no help from me or anyone else. He slept on it until we moved.
I sometimes feel that  in some ways I have failed my children. I was unable to help them much with their college education, but as I thought about it I rationalized that we gave them the most important part. We prepared them to be able to get an education. We instilled in them a desire. We taught them that they could and should get an education. We made sure their basic education was adequate to qualify them to go to college and we encouraged them to pursue learning. Most of all we helped them develop healthy personalities with character.
I don’t actually know how essential what we did was to their success but I like to take credit for as much as I can and I must say that I am very proud of how my children  are doing and I expect many great things from them in the future. My dad used to say: “You can’t tell how good of a parent you are until you find out how your grandchildren turn out.” So far it is looking like we were pretty good.

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One Response to Giving Children What They Need

  1. Lara Updike says:

    I think your lessons in taking things apart definitely penetrated Thatcher’s heart! Just think of when he spent a summer taking apart his house. And, true to tradition, didn’t he have to call you to help him put it back together?

    I’m going to have to try some of your tactics on my little man. Maybe he’ll turn out as amazing as Thatcher.

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