You’re child is a genius. No, I don’t mean that your child is an Einstein or a Picasso or a Martha Graham. I’m using the word ”genius” in its original meaning which relates to ”giving birth” (e.g. genesis) and ”bringing pleasure” (e.g. genial). Thus, being a genius means giving birth to joy, and I believe that every child comes into this world with a natural joyous attitude toward learning about the world around him. Each child is endowed with imagination, curiosity, playfulness, creativity, and related qualities. But something happens as the child grows up. The genius shuts down (here is a blog post I did on some of the factors that shut a child’s genius down). Here are seven ways to get it back.
- Reawaken the genius in yourself. If you’re spending your leisure time sitting in front of the boob tube or wasting hours everyday checking your social media, you’re sending a message that life is limited. What gives you passion? Is it reading? Drama? Painting? Travel? Think back to when you were a child yourself (or a teen) and reconnect with the excitement you had back then – that’s your own inner genius. When your child sees you actively painting, reading, playing the piano, or engaged in other creative pursuits, this will made a bigger impression on her than anything else you might do to reawaken your child’s own genius.
- Provide Simple Experiences. Some parents think it must require a comprehensive program to awaken a child’s genius (like a ”Teach Your Baby to Read kit” which actually serves to shut your child’s genius down). The best stimuli for a child’s genius are natural things like taking a walk, playing with a toy, going to a concert. Einstein said that it was a magnetic compass that his father showed him when he was around four years old that filled him with a desire to figure out how the universe worked. Martha Graham said it was when her father took her to a dance concert in Los Angeles at the age of fourteen that she decided she wanted to be a dancer. Don’t think complicated. Think simple.
- See Genius in Many Colors. If you think that a genius is someone who reads hard books really fast, or does mathematical equations with ease, then you’re really limiting yourself to a narrow interpretation that will likely leave your child out in the cold. One of the most exciting theories of learning of the past forty years is Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. He says the idea of I.Q. is far too limited and that there are at least eight intelligences: word smart, number/logic smart, picture smart, body smart, music smart, nature smart, self smart, and people smart. Look for evidence of these intelligences in your child simply by observing them when they’re engaged in an activity that fills them with joy and excitement. It may seem like a trivial activity to you, but to your child, its like he’s practicing being a natural genius (e.g. giving birth to the joy of learning).
- Provide Your Child with Freedom to Choose Creative Pursuits. Another way to find out what kind of genius your child is, is to notice what kinds of choices they make when given a chance to select from a variety of options. This means that you need to provide a wide range of activities and materials (over time) that he can engage in: art materials, a musical instrument, a science kit, some sports equipment (yes, he can be a genius at sports!), books, gardening tools, a magnifying glass, and other things besides. If you can’t afford these things, find a children’s museum near you where your child can choose what to explore from a wide range of exhibits. The more diverse the experiences you give your child, the more likely you’re going to discover those activities that just ”click” with your child, and reveal his natural joyful genius.
- Let Your Child Engage in Open-Ended Exploration of Activities and/or Materials that He Chooses. If you plunk your child down in front of a piano and say ”I want you to practice your drills” this can kill the natural genius right away (if he’s really interested, drills can come later). Let him explore the piano, the intervals, the tones and chords and notes. Same thing with art. Don’t take her to an art class where she has to copy what everyone else is doing. Let her create whatever is stirring within her. When kids have the freedom to explore an activity without drudgery or strings attached, they’re more likely to find themselves in these pursuits and connect with their inner genius.
- Create a ”Judgment Free Zone” for Your Child’s Pursuits. Judgment is the real killer of a child’s creativity (”oh, that’s so nice, do another one just like that!” or ”you know, I’d put a little more green in those trees if I were you”’). The inner critic destroys creative ideas before they even have a chance to come to the surface. Even positive judgments can be devastating to a child’s integrity, because now they have some live up to somebody’s else’s standards, rather than freely explore what is within them. Even if your child creates something that you regard as wrong, hold your judgments (unless it’s dangerous to them or others), and inquire with interest into your child’s choices (the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, created a whole career out of paying attention to children’s ”wrong answers”).
- Truly Believe that Your Child is a Genius. You might think, ”well, Dr. Armstrong is just sort of creating a la-la everybody should feel good about themselves smoke screen” and revert to the common societal categories that we put kids into: ”average” ”low performing” ”learning disabled,” even ”gifted and talented (which is a confining box of its own). But what I’m saying here is not just fluff. Scientists have pointed out how children have natural qualities like imagination, curiosity, and flexibility that are the vanguard of human evolution. We need these qualities badly in our culture if we’re going to continue to survive and evolve as a species.
If you believe that your child is a natural genius, you’re going to be nurturing, enriching, and improving your child’s or teen’s learning experiences, which will work in two ways: by expanding the possibilities that you see in your child, and by engaging your child in activities where he or she can really shine. Don’t you think it’s worth it to give your child a chance to show you what nature intended him to be? Remember the words of the great German genius Goethe, when he wrote: ”If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
For more information on creating environments where kids can realize their natural genius, see my book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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