Raising a Genius? You Might Need Help!
By Dasha Peipon
Q&A with an Expert
Emily Nelson, Leadership Development Director DeSoto County Schools
Question: With a particularly gifted child in a given area is it a good idea to focus on extracurricular activities just in that area?
Answer: Every child needs to experience a variety of activities, structured and unstructured. Gifted learners are likely to have a wider range of interests and greater depth of talent in many areas. Helping a child to discover what he or she does well will empower the child to self-sort and make important life decisions with confidence at a time that is delayed until at least young adulthood. How does the child know she is a gifted dancer if she is only exposed to sketching? The child may draw better than other children her age but if she lacks a passion for drawing, it would be a waste, maybe even detrimental, to force the child to stay in art classes.
Question: How can parents push their children forward without overloading them?
Answer: The adults in any child’s life need to feed his interests. When the child loses the interest, help him look for another one. Help the child by keeping his options as wide open as possible for as long as possible. Over time the child’s self-awareness will grow along with a passion for certain “given areas.” Lifelong decisions should be made by adults fully empowered rather than by pigeonholed children.
Question: Given how little time children have these days (school, after-school activities, sports, homework, etc.), how important are play and free time with no commitments or obligations for general well-being and development of a child?
Answer: All children learn through play, even the gifted learners. In a perfect world, school, activities, sports and homework would all feel like playful adventures to children. If these things are too much of a burden, there is a systemic issue somewhere. Are general education teachers against fun? Are school administrators in the business of making children miserable? If the goal is to create autonomous lifelong learners, let’s hope school and learning is loads of fun for every child.
Question: Let’s say, an 8-year-old is particularly good at music, has a perfect pitch, composes her own pieces and enjoys it immensely. How many hours of music per week would be sufficient to provide enough material to grow and improve?
Answer: This 8-year-old will someday work professionally in some field, but that day is not today. This child should still have ample time for independent play, schooling in all areas, and friends with other interests. In this situation, let the child be the guide; let the adults be the facilitators. This child most likely grew up around musicians or vocalists to be exploring at this level. Let her continue to explore. If she begs for voice lessons, and the family has the expendable income to invest in lessons (yes, the child needs to be aware of the sacrifice and investment of others), then provide lessons. If the child thrives, help her develop these gifts on the highest level possible for as long as the child’s interest is the guiding force. For example, one lesson a week from the local minister of music may become one lesson a week from the vocal professor at the local college. As much as is realistic, investment in the child’s passions should correlate to the level of the child’s commitment.
Question: How did you encourage your child to grow in the biggest areas of interest?
Answer: My child would not stay in an activity or sport that we did not both find fun. There are too many outstanding opportunities out there to drag a child into something that is a downer. Even if the child loves the activity or sport, if the adult gets a bad feeling about the situation, it is up to the adult to help the child find another loved activity. There is no need to weigh the good and the bad of a particular activity when it comes to children. Look for something that is full of good for all involved. For example, my young child would not stay on a soccer team if the coach was a bad influence.
Dasha Peipon believes she has a genius on her hands. She will make sure this genius gets plenty of time jumping on the trampoline and racing neighbors’ kids after school.