One of the most important lessons my father ever taught me was that learning wasn’t just a means to an end, it was a reward unto itself.
My dad was a career foreign service officer whose work took him far away from his small town Kansas roots. Our family spent years overseas, and in every town or country we visited, he always seemed to know the local history inside out, or what seemed to be impossible levels of detail about the importance of a medieval abbey or mosque. He had a passion for knowing things that was truly infectious and a talent for inspiring a natural curiosity in me that became self-sustaining over time.
November is National Family Literacy Month, which puts a spotlight on generational learning, and parents like my dad have a huge role to play in helping their children become lifelong learners. Learning doesn’t end once children go home from school.
A self-sustaining desire to learn is rewarding in its own right, and it’s also often linked to tangible rewards in terms of academic and career success. Children of parents who read to them show general performance advantages in school across socioeconomic backgrounds, and a Southwest Educational Development Laboratory study found that parents who are involved with their child’s learning are more likely to have better social skills, adapt to school more easily, and go on to graduate and attend postsecondary schools.
With the help of my teachers in school, my dad helped me in my day-to-day studies, but his help wasn’t restricted to rote memorization of Spanish vocab. Just as importantly, he kept me on my toes by challenging me, teaching me to think critically, asking questions that hadn’t even occurred to me, and making the love of learning stick permanently.
As I grew older, he and I would talk about things I had read, seen in the news, or heard from other people. We didn’t always agree on everything, but that was part of the learning process for me. My father, whether he knew it or not, acted as a kind of teacher at home.
This November, take the opportunity to read with your child, help them with their homework, and most importantly, lead by example. Show them that a love for learning will not only help them in school, it will open up new worlds to them and help them grow for the rest of their lives.
George Knowles is the Digital Communications Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.