Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Roots and routes: I’m an artist (architect, jockey, gymnast…) will my child be one, too?
by Dr. Joanne Foster – www.joannefoster.ca
“Each of us has a responsibility to give children what they need to follow their interests, affirm their strengths, and develop their capabilities.”
Children learn from what they’re exposed to, and they develop skills based on what they enjoy doing, and what they’re encouraged to think about, attempt, and practice. Learning is a process that occurs over time, so it makes sense that when a child experiences a range of opportunities, has access to different resources, and is supported in pursuing their interests, they’ll have possibilities for exploration and growth—and, ultimately, self-directed learning.
Realistically, not all children have the luxury of art supplies, building materials, a horse, or gymnastic equipment. Their parents may not be artists, architects, jockeys, or gymnasts (insert the pursuit or profession…). However, there are plenty of ways to help children extend their interests, whether by following in their parent’s footsteps or by choosing to veer off and take a completely different route altogether.
Here’s one story about encouragement:
Roberto was exceptionally strong in mathematical areas. His parents said he’d always enjoyed counting things, even as a baby.
“We had a mobile over his crib,” Roberto’s father explained, “with a string of brightly colored blocks on it. He’d move the blocks one at a time until he had the whole set on one side. Then he’d do the same thing, back to the other side. After we saw him do that a few times, we started counting with him. He’d laugh and do it again, and soon counting together became our nightly ritual, our family lullaby.”
“That’s right,” said his mother. “Later, we incorporated twists, adding or subtracting the blocks, or connecting the numbers to something Roberto could relate to, like fingers or toes, or stuffed animals.”
Her husband continued. “As Roberto got older, he started counting whatever he could find around the house. We’d make up number games with piles of things—crayons, Legos, and uncooked pasta—and before long, he was multiplying and dividing.”
“Then we created arithmetic booklets for him,” his mother said. “He was so intent on learning. His kindergarten teacher told us he was able to answer third-grade questions.”
The kind of shared playful experiences that Roberto’s parents provided fostered his intellectual development. They enjoyed seeing and supporting his understanding of numerical concepts, but they took care not to push him too hard or fast so that he could take pleasure in math activities and become more interested in them. “The best activities are designed or adapted for children’s learning interests and levels of readiness.”
Roberto’s parents have mathematical leanings (his father is an electrical engineer, and his mother is an accountant), so they naturally saw his activities connecting to numbers, and creatively advanced that. However, over time, they encouraged other interests as well, such as Roberto’s curiosity about boats, snails, magic tricks, and puppetry. They also gradually stepped aside from directing his learning so that he could co-create opportunities for himself in different areas and become increasingly independent. They reinforced his efforts, helped him upon request, answered (and sometimes asked) questions, and continued to provide emotional support. The learning was Roberto’s, and he engaged in it enthusiastically.
OPTIONS, INCLINATIONS, AND CHOICES
“Keys to any endeavor include flexibility, choice, patience, and appropriate challenge.”
Parents with different interests and areas of strength might see and encourage other abilities. Here’s a glimpse at three parallel learning experiences, given the same scenario of a baby moving colored blocks back and forth on a mobile.
Shaylene’s mother is a yoga instructor and she’s interested in physical movement. She moves her body to the right as her child shifts the blocks that way, repeating her actions with the left side, and then doing them again. She often creates little dances to accompany the baby’s movements.
Ben’s mother is a nature photographer and she’s attuned to visual aspects of the environment. She focuses on the colors of the blocks, saying, “Red like a strawberry, yellow like a sunflower, green like a frog, and blue like the sky” as her baby son moves the blocks from side to side.
Felicia’s father is a drummer in a band. His interest in music permeates everything he does, including how he plays with his children. He invents rhythms, and sings and hums melodies to accompany the actions his daughter makes as she moves the blocks across the string.
In each of these cases, the parent’s response encourages their baby to feel a sense of mastery and engagement as they play with the blocks and learn from their actions. Neural pathways are created and strengthened in a particular domain, whether it’s mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual, musical, or something else entirely. When a child experiences enjoyment and encouragement and is able to share the fun with a supportive parent or caregiver, the child becomes motivated to learn more. That which is reinforced is most likely to develop further.
Most importantly, however, happy and successful early learning experiences in one area or another may empower children to find new directions and interests in addition to those that are similar to those of their parents. Enjoyment in the learning process is a springboard for further accomplishments and increased curiosity, and that enjoyment can fuel children’s yearning to draw connections, make choices, be creative, and stretch their horizons exponentially. “By providing diverse experiences, you encourage your child to find and develop their interests and abilities, no matter how different they might be from your own. These will change over time. Follow your child’s lead as they decide where their interests lie.”
As they continue to grow, children will have to put forth an effort, but in the early years, the most motivating experiences are playful and lovingly guided ones. Parents’ responses can make a difference as to whether a child will choose to develop skills, and also which ones to improve. The child of a musician (or artist, or architect, or gymnast) may opt to become anything at all depending on desire, encouragement, and the kinds of resources and supports that are in place. The crib is just one of many learning environments, but the principles of proactive engagement and effort are applicable across the lifespan.
Whatever a child decides to pursue, encouragement is the key to unlocking potential and pleasure.
LAST WORDS ABOUT ROOTS AND ROUTES
“The needs that all children share is that their parents provide love, structure, respect, a variety of stimulating learning experiences, and encouragement for their developing competence and responsible independence.”
With all the above-noted in mind, it would be remiss not to emphasize that the principle of learning and acquiring directional sense at home and throughout the early years also applies to values and character development. A parent might be a community helper, a grump, a hard worker, a philanthropist, a wonderer… Whatever, it lays a foundation for a child to start to develop their own inclinations and strengths. Their route may take many twists and turns over time, like the tendrils of a plant, but the first few years are when core values, skill development, and a love of learning take root. Examples and encouragements are absolutely essential.
Author’s Note: All quotes are from Being Smart about Gifted Learning. Roberto’s story is adapted from Beyond Intelligence (Both books by D. Matthews and J. Foster.)
About the Author
Dr. Joanne Foster is a specialist in gifted education and the award-winning author of several books, including the 3rd edition of Being Smart — Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change, co-authored with Dona Matthews, published by Gifted Unlimited LLC., and available for pre-order now at www.giftedunlimitedllc.com For additional resources on creativity, learning, productivity, children’s well-being, and more—and for information about Dr. Foster’s books—go to www.joannefoster.ca