Over the past thirty years, I’ve sought to explain to educators and parents that each child is a natural genius, born with innate curiosity, creativity, playfulness, imagination, wonder, wisdom, and many other qualities besides. As many great thinkers have pointed out, the challenge is not how to get our children to be creative or curious, but how to keep them from shutting it down as they grow up.
One of the major factors that shuts the genius down in children has to do with things that occur in the home environment. I believe there are four basic family types that can damage a child’s natural inclinations to explore the world around them.
- The Disadvantaged Family. These are families who through no fault of their own but because of social, racial, ethnic, and economic inequities have to focus most of their attention on putting a roof over their heads and finding food to feed their families. Clearly, there’s no time (or money) left for helping to feed their children’s minds with highly stimulating experiences designed to keep their genius alive and kicking.
- The Fast Track Family. These families have plenty of social and economic opportunities, but they use their resources to push their children into premature learning experiences that can stress them out and extinguish natural curiosity and creativity. Because of the efforts of some educators, parents believe that it is perfectly appropriate to teach their infants with flash cards and have their preschoolers do worksheets. Kids need to play to develop their genius, and if they are engaged in ”hot house” academic work designed to accelerate their intellectual development, the natural genius tendencies in them will be prevented from flourishing.
- The Dysfunctional Family. These are families where mental health issues stifle the urge to create, be curious, and explore the world. The problems may relate to any of a number of problems in the caregivers including: depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence, among others. Research suggests that children do less playing in households where depression and anxiety pervade the emotional climate. If they don’t play, they can’t develop their natural genius qualities. Moreover, physical, sexual, and psychological child abuse, create traumas that make exploring the world seem dangerous, thus further blunting the child’s natural proclivities to be curious, creative, and imaginative.
- The Rigid Ideology Family. In these types of families, children are taught to fear and hate people who do not look like them, talk like them, or share their same beliefs, Parents in these families teach their kids specific derogatory words and phrases designed to shame these peoples, and counsel them to shun or bully them in the neighborhood and/or school environment. Clearly in such a family, it is not possible to be curious about why another child looks, talks, or believes differently than they do. The flexibility that is so much a part of the natural genius of very young kids begins to rigidify as children in these families are locked into fixed ways of viewing the world.
These four types of families are idealizations only, and no family is purely one type or another. Families are complex systems that contain a mix of positive and negative features. But this typology serves as a kind of framework for understanding why the natural bubbly curiosity of a young child may die out over time, and be replaced by stress, rigidity, lack of interest in learning new things, and fear of the unknown.
For more information about the natural genius of kids and the factors that both support it and block it from developing, see my book Awakening Genius in the Classroom.
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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