Growing up in Illinois, I was blessed to have many educational opportunities outside of the classroom. You might say I was a nerd, but I absolutely devoured the big activity books my mom and dad bought for me and my sisters. I spent hours plowing through them, doing the word search, word scramble, crossword, connect-the-dot puzzles and more. I also loved coloring books of every description and my big box of Crayola Crayons.
It was a major expense for my parents, but we had a complete set of encyclopedias at home. They also subscribed to National Geographic Magazine and Reader’s Digest. All the pages of these publications brought the world to me right at home.
When I didn’t have my face in a book or magazine, it was in front of the television. Every Sunday, WGN in Chicago aired “Family Classics,” a series featuring two-hour classic movies that I never missed. There were dozens of them, including: “Captains Courageous,” “Boys Town,” “Moby Dick,” “The Bells of St. Mary,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “The Mark of Zorro” “The Canterville Ghost,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “National Velvet” and many more.
My absolute favorites, though (because I was madly in love with Errol Flynn at the time), were “Captain Blood,” “Sea Hawk” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” I still love these films today.
During the summers, because my parents didn’t have the money for fancy vacations, we took day trips. We made multiple drives to Chicago where we would spend a day at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Natural History Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, various botanical gardens, Navy Pier and Brookfield Zoo. We also went to the sand dunes in Valparaiso, IN and swam at Lake Michigan.
When I was in my teens, my parents had enough money to take us to Europe and visit our grandparents in Germany. The day trips continued there, where we marveled at the mountains, the Alps. We visited monasteries in the mountains where monks served us big hunks of homemade bread with butter and amazing cheeses, and homemade beer. (Yes, in Germany, kids could drink beer at the time.) My sister and I tried to get the monks to speak, but of course, they would not. We visited many small towns and larger cities like Frankfurt and Hamburg, and drove by the Berlin Wall, a very solemn experience.
There is a question that pops up on Facebook from time to time: “Would you go back to the days before computers, the internet and cell phones?” My answer: Yes! Yes, I would! The experiences I enjoyed as a child and the education I received outside of school without modern technology were priceless, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.