BeyondTutoring would like to thank Ms. Samantha Koopman for this fantastic guest post.
I have learning disabilities. I receive medical treatment for my disabilities, and academic accommodations to help me succeed as an individual. I have completed a Bachelors degree at the University of Washington, and am one term way from completing a Master’s degree at University of Southern California. But while medication and accommodations are helpful and important, they are not the reason for my success as a student, or a person. There was one factor that was significantly more important in shaping who I am, and how far I have come in the realm of academics – My parents.
When I was four, my father devoted an hour or more nearly every day to working to help teach me to read, using the reading program Hooked on Phonics ®, which he had used with my older sister as well. My memories of working with my dad at this age are brief given the age I was when we began working together, but as the youngest of seven children, I do remember how special that working with my dad, just the two of us, made me feel. I also remember how exciting it was when I finished a unit, and my dad would take me out to get ice cream and then take me to the store to buy a new movie on VHS.
The help my dad gave me in learning to read proved invaluable, as I was both an early reader and writer despite my later diagnosis of a learning disability. However, another more unexpected benefit of working closely with my father from a young age, was the development of a healthy working relationship with my father that helped to reinforce the idea of a working relationship with my parents when I was approaching a task that was challenging or new.
As I grew older, both of my parents remained very involved in my life, engaging my sister and I in enjoyable activities of learning, and supporting us when we faced challenges.
Starting in elementary school and continuing through my middle school years, my mother would select a fiction book every few weeks, and would read one or two chapters every day to my sister and I during breakfast. I loved being read to as a child, and secretly loved my mom reading to me when I was a young adult, although I would certainly never admit it to her at the time.
These little interactions with my parents not only reinforced my academic development, but understanding of the ways that my parents were caring individuals.
Outside of academics, I played volleyball, and later rowed on a crew team. My mother took me to every practice, and even provided me support outside of practice, while both of my parents came to every full day volleyball tournament that I had, which, considering how repetitive volleyball can be to watch after seeing six, three game matches in the same day, says a great deal about their dedication and commitment to supporting and encouraging me in all aspects of my life.
Apart from the examples of larger things my parents did like helping me learn to read, and supporting that learning by reading to me, some of the most important things both of my parents did to help me grow as a person were the little things like helping with homework, and helping to make sure I was organized, and managing my time correctly.
One important thing about the way my parents helped me with my homework, was that they never told me the answer. In fact, many times their help was as simple as pointing me to the information I needed to succeed, or pointing me in the right direction or next step of a process for math.
However, they always stepped in to help, showing me to break down the problem, showing me how it was done, and then helping me do it myself, when I surpassed the frustration point of a homework assignment and was approaching the “hysteria and tears” phase of homework mood escalations. Finding the right balance between struggling and encouraging perseverance, versus struggling to the point where you give up or your self-confidence is shattered, is an important aspect that my parents nailed when helping me with homework.
Another important thing to note about my parents is that they were not afraid to let me fail.
This might sound contradictory to the image of a “supportive” and “loving” parent, but in truth, real and meaningful learning and personal development stem, not from how well you succeeded, but how many times you failed, and how you handled those failures. Allowing me to fail and solve my own problems as a child, provided me with problem solving and critical thinking skills I needed to try again and succeed.
My parents always fostered critical thinking skills when failures occurred, asking how I could change things, what else I could do to fix it, or what I need to do in the future to prevent something similar from happening. By allowing me to experiment and find what works for me, they provided me with all tools I needed for success.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have two parents who are as engaged, and supportive of my personal and academic development as my mom and dad are. The amount of time that they have spent supporting my dreams and helping me achieve my goals is truly humbling. I am adamant that without the constant support, intervention and guidance of both of my parents, that I would not have succeeded and reached the level of learning that I am at today. While medication helps in some ways, there is no medication that can provide the love and support of parents during the times in your life when you need it most.