Beryl Soparkar — Class of 1967

I had always loved babies and little children, even when I was one, myself. In college, I started out specializing in English Literature and Physics, which I loved, but then I found myself excelling at and majoring in Philosophy. After college graduation, I actually landed a fellowship in Philosophy at Cornell University, and I spent a year there on that subject, intending to get a Philosophy Ph.D. in Logic and Epistemology (the study of knowledge). Marriage and the arrival of our first child intervened in that goal, and I found my interest shifting to wonder in how a newborn infant mind develops. Again, little children fascinated me, and more as an amusement for myself than with any serious intent, I decided to take a course in Art for Early Childhood the summer before my firstborn turned one year old. That was how I found Eliot Pearson at Tufts in Medford. Needless to say, one summer course led to another in the autumn. . . . .

What I learned at Eliot-Pearson in earning my Master’s degree there became extremely vital to me. It taught me to think of children flexibly, in many different dimensions, and to recognize and respect that from birth onwards, children are very individual in their responses, capabilities, and cognition.

In my courses at Eliot Pearson, I think what impressed me the most were Evelyn Pitcher’s Gesell testing and a student teaching period with emotionally disturbed children, at Putnam in Boston. I think that both of those helped broaden my observational skills of children’s responses.

I did do student teaching, as was required at the time for the degree, and I also did a research project on creativity, using Theresa Dowd’s kindergarten classroom in Wellesley. I wrote my Master’s thesis on Creativity in the preschool child.

After getting that degree, I served as Director of a versatile Sunday School for a few years in the Boston Ethical Society, but I never again actually taught in a nursery school or even in an elementary school. Instead, I raised our children with care as to their education in the arts (music, crafts, art, drama,) and nature and science explorations, as such opportunities were available locally in the 1960′s and 1970′s. I tried to encourage our children to think through effects of their alternative choices, and I suspect now that that helped them to build such diverse lifestyles for themselves in adulthood. We enjoyed camping trips in the USA and Europe – all of this while as parents we tried to consider the impact on our growing children.

Through this time, after four were born to us, we began to fulfill a dream of my husband’s and mine, to adopt children who otherwise had no family or home. In the end, we adopted a total of ten children from five different countries. That meant two sets of twins and two sets of nearly same-age children who were not biologically related. This immersion in adoption involved becoming active in various adoption groups and learning how the background experience of adoption affects not only a child in his or her earliest years, but the entire immediate and extended family, and that subsequent (“adopted”) adult as well. It also brought us into personal relationship with different cultural presuppositions and how those manifest in life choices and personal needs.

Before the adoptions, we thus had some background with our biological children. Even before our first child was born, we had taken in, briefly, a few foster children for brief periods. Then all this experience, combined with the educational background from Eliot-Pearson, gave us the courage and confidence to adopt children. We felt secure that we could love and effectively raise adopted children with entirely different genetic makeup from ourselves.

We adopted children at different ages, from newborn through twelve years of age. We certainly did not vary the ages purposely or as any kind of experiment, but it happened because those were the ages of the children that we came across needing a home. Those were independent adoptions in those years. Despite our home study, adoption agencies were not accustomed to mixing families with both biological and adopted children. So we did it on our own.

It turned out that almost all of the adopted children had learning disabilities in school. This brought my husband and me into the entire area of special needs and special education. Home relationships were very complex, and all the children grew up with unusual awareness and acceptance of their siblings’ feelings and abilities.

However it came about, we don’t really know, because we never consciously set about trying to teach values or beliefs, but as adults, our fourteen children, all very individual in life interests, but all unusually caring and responsible persons, are fond of little children. Most of them now have children of their own, and all are very fond of each others’ children, as well as of all small children in general.

As adults:  One of our children is a medical specialist, another a corporate lawyer, a third a Ph.D. psychologist, a fourth a performing classical musician, and a fifth a teacher of English to adults in business in China. Four are assistants in medical, emotional, and dental health care, two are in food industry management, and two are in retail management. One is mildly retarded and has mild psychiatric difficulties, which prevent him from working outside the home. At present we have 24 grandchildren, the three oldest in colleges, four more entering colleges this fall, and the rest are younger and still in school or as yet too little to be even in nursery school.

After my M.A. from Eliot Pearson, I decided to go further in my own education and obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut Department of Human Development and Family Relations. For my dissertation, I interviewed 83 grandmothers whose biological adult children had adopted children. I was interested in how those grandparents felt about their adopted grandchildren, especially when some of those adoptions came from foreign countries, some with physical deformities, different racial appearances, or special educational needs.

Right now, as I watch my youngest grandchildren develop, I am fascinated by how their minds develop, what attitudes they absorb, how easily and rapidly they learn language and its use, and how incredibly quickly they develop social skills – even, for example, in neonatal infancy before they discover their own hands. I have one grandchild who, well before the age of three, speaks fluently in both Hungarian and English and understands which persons in his environment understand which language. “I speak two different languages,” he told me, and it felt to me as if he was commenting on the color of his hair or some other simple, taken-for-granted, observation about himself, maybe as if he had just been born that way – speaking two different languages.

I would say that right now my principal interest concerning children is in their attitude, identity, and cognitive developments and how those impact on their fitting successfully into their environment.

Well, – hmmm. Isn’t that really what we studied about at Eliot-Pearson so many years ago?

Beryl Soparkar

B.A., Mount Holyoke College 1952

M.A., Eliot Pearson at Tufts 1967

Ph.D., University of Connecticut 1998

Here’s a P.S.

Most, if not all, of our preschool age kids went to Eliot Pearson Nursery School, and that lasted for many years, through all the 1960′s and 1970′s. In fact, one of our granddaughters went there, also. Our first adoptee was a little girl who was used by EP in an in-house video to show EP students how a child responds to nursery school. In one of Evelyn Pitcher’s books, there is a photo of our oldest son, at about three years of age, beating with joyful abandon on an EP classroom drum. Our older set of twins, newly adopted from Mexico, and maybe barely yet speaking English, were part of the Children’s School class the fall the school burned down, I believe on Thanksgiving Day, 1974 or 5. Luckily, the boys never saw the fire itself, but they remember finding their school burned to the ground and then going to a new building for the rest of the year.

I think that it was not only the testing course and the experience of student teaching at Putnam that impressed on me the subtleties and value of careful observation of young children, but it was also the screened observation booths in each classroom (before the fire) where I could sit and watch whenever I wanted and practice applying those new skills. I believe that doing that helped me in my sensitivity to young children.

I assisted Evelyn Pitcher at times, correcting papers for her, and she and I talked about doing a research project on gender differences in preschool children. That project never materialized, a least not with me, because I was too busy with our increasing number of children at home. I often wish I had been able to do it. She usually, then, asked me to come in, once a semester, to one of her Gesell test classes, to talk about my large family, which she found interesting.

Also at Eliot Pearson, I was in touch with Abbie Dreyer and took either a course or individual study with him. I think he was my chairperson for my master’s degree research. I also corrected student papers for him. Later, in the 1980′s, when I arrived at the University of Connecticut for my doctoral degree in HDFR, he was already on the staff there, and he became my head chairman again.

Eliot-Pearson has been a major part of my life, and I look back on it with love and pride and a bit of nostalgia

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2 Responses to Beryl Soparkar — Class of 1967

  1. Bathsheba Soparkar says:

    Beryl. remember me? We met at the NGH convention in 2002 in the US? and Bob noticed that My inlaws and he were related? I would lke to get in touch with you and will appreciate if you can email me
    My son is very interested in knowing the soparkar family tree
    Regards7 Thanks
    Bathsheba

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