The Natural Genius of Children

Every child is a genius. That doesn’t mean that every child can paint like Picasso, compose like Mozart, or score 150 on an I.Q. test. But every child is a genius according to the original meanings of the word "genius," which are: "to give birth" (related to the word genesis) and "to be zestful or joyous," (related to the word genial). Essentially, the real meaning of genius is to "give birth to the joy" that is within each child. Every child is born with that capacity. Each child comes into life with wonder, curiosity, awe, spontaneity, vitality, flexibility, and many other characteristics of a joyous being. An infant has twice as many brain connections as an adult. The young child masters a complex symbol system (their own native language) without any formal instructions. Young children have vivid imaginations, creative minds, and sensitive personalities. These youthful traits are highly valued from an evolutionary perspective: the more species evolve, the more they carry youthful traits into adulthood (a process called "neotony" or "holding youth"). It is imperative that we, as educators and parents, help preserve these genius characteristics of children as they mature into adulthood, so those capacities can be made available to the broader culture at a time of incredible change.

Unfortunately, there are strong forces working at home, in the schools, and within the broader culture, to stifle these genius qualities in children. Many children grow up in homes which put an active damper on the qualities of genius. Factors in the home like poverty, depression and anxiety, pressure on kids to grow up too soon, and rigid ideologies based on hate and fear, actively subdue the qualities of genius in childhood such as playfulness, creativity, and wonder. Schools also put a damper on childhood genius through testing (creativity can’t thrive in an atmosphere of judgment), labeling of kids as learning disabled or ADD, boring teachers, and regimented curriculum. Finally, the broader culture, especially mass media, represses the genius in our children through its constant onslaught of violence, mediocrity, and repugnant role models.

The good news is that there is much that a teacher or parent can do to help children reawaken their natural genius. First, and most importantly, adults need to reawaken their own natural genius—find within themselves the sourcewaters of their own creativity, vitality, playfulness, and wonder. For when children are surrounded by curious and creative adults, they have their own inner genius sparked into action. Second, adults need to provide simple activities to activate the genius of children. Something as simple as a story, a toy (Einstein said that a simple magnetic compass awakened his love of learning at the age of four), a visit to a special place, or a question, can unlock the gates to a child’s love of learning. Third, create a "genial" atmosphere at home or school, where kids can learn in a climate free from criticism, comparison, and pressure to succeed. Treat each child as a unique gift from God capable of doing wonderful things in the world . Finally, understand that each child will be a genius in a totally different way from another child. Forget the standard I.Q. meaning of genius, and use models like the theory of multiple intelligences to help kids succeed on their own terms. By following these simple guidelines for awakening each child’s natural genius, you will be contributing immeasurably to the welfare of your children and to the world they will inherit someday.  


Resources

  • Armstrong, Thomas. The Radiant Child. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1985.
  • Armstrong, Thomas. Awakening Your Child's Natural Genius, New York: Putnam, 1991.
  • Armstrong, Thomas. "50 Ways to Bring Out Your Child’s Best", Family Circle, February 2, 1993.
  • Armstrong, Thomas. "Little Geniuses," Parenting, September, 1989.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
  • Elkind, David. The Hurried Child. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1981.
  • Holt, John. Learning All the Time. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1989.
  • Montagu, Ashley. Growing Young, New York: McGraw-IEII, 1983.
  • Montessori, Maria. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine, 1972.
  • Pearce, Joseph Chilton. Magical Child. New York: Bantam,, 1980.

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