Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I’m happy when my kids ask me for help with homework. It makes me feel useful and proud that they actually think I know a thing or two. Yep, as long as it’s not math or science, I’m willing to share my sage advice and vast wisdom. When William asked me for help with his English homework, I thought, “Great! This is right up my alley.”

He explained that he had to match vocabulary words with their definitions, using the words’ roots as clues.
“O.K., what’s the first word?”
“Parvenu““Uh, what’s the next word?”
“Let’s try the next one.”
“Abstruse““Where the heck did they get these words?”

I did the best I could, helping him dissect words root by root, resorting to the dictionary when all else failed. Hey, if I didn’t know the answers, at least I modeled good learning behavior. Knowing the importance of reinforcing newly learned concepts, I subtly inserted the vocabulary words into dinnertime conversation by saying, “Tell Dad the goofy new words you learned.” I thought my husband would look as dumbfounded as I had upon hearing words like “interlocution” but damn, he even knew what they meant!

The next morning at breakfast, I thought I’d give Will another chance to review. This time I’d work from the other direction, giving him the definition and seeing if he remembered the word. “Hey Will, what was that word that meant “sleight of hand?” “Mom, I don’t need to know the word--just the root.”

He’d hit upon my personal bugaboo--doing what’s required and no more. How do you teach a kid the value of learning for its own sake? How do you foster the curiosity that will make him a life-long learner? It was early in the morning and all I could muster was, “You’ll get to my age and not know cool words like “abstruse” and your life will be poorer for it!” Enriching language indeed!

*Logophilia: Love of words


  1. Well you've enriched my vocabulary! I even had to look up bugaboo! That one was new to me.

    Thanks for the English lesson :o)

  2. Mmmmm - I love words. I like to dissect them to figure out where they may have come from. It's such a joy to come up with a pun (Okay - Hubby doesn't think it's always a joy . . . but I amuse myself and it keeps me out of the bars *s*) My mom always had a dictionary and an almanac on the coffee table. When I was a girl, I thought it was silly - now . . . I've turned into my mom!