“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
When I was about 7 months pregnant with Lydia, our youngest, we took our family to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore to pick out books to read on our vacation. I remember that Katy, who had just turned 3, chose “The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread.” I was surprised she didn’t get a brightly colored children’s book. She and I discussed my concerns, but I soon realized that despite being the tender age of 3, she already appreciated beautifully rendered illustrations. Very young children can show aptitude in an area and as parents it is vital we learn how to notice what draws their attention. We need to encourage our child’s interests.
The story of when Katy chose this stunningly illustrated book lay buried under years of my memories, until recently, when I was writing another article and I remembered the day Katy chose “The Tale of Despereaux.” Katy is now 18 and an art major studying Art Education. She has been drawing and creating ever since she could hold a crayon. In fact, I remember the day I found her cutting out paper dolls, then upon further inspection discovered they were our family…all 10 of us. Over the past few years, she has branched out into creating fine art, illustrating books and comics, using pencil, charcoal, Copic markers, chalk, digital programs, watercolors, oils and acrylics. She is very good. And she loves it. But deep inside I must regularly calm my inner voice that tells me, “The starving artist could be your daughter.” Since I surely do not want my children to starve, this little voice can be difficult to ignore.
When my mom retired from teaching middle school Home Economics in the early 1980’s, the department closed with her. The closing of not only Home Economics departments but also, Shop, and often Art and Music departments, came mostly from budget cuts, but also from the push for increased studies in the STEM areas, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I am heartened to learn the acronym is now STEAM and includes the Arts. As Dr. Howard Gardner proposed in 1983, I firmly believe we operate under “Multiple Intelligences” rather than a single dominant area of ability. So finally, again, the Arts rank right up there with the other areas. As well they should.
The seven modalities or intelligences, according to Gardner, are:
When my children were studying about Multiple Intelligences, I clearly remember Katy coming home excited because the concept struck a chord deep within her. She has always struggled with mathematics and memorizing facts, so she found it very satisfying and encouraging to hear that her abilities in art, music and dance, are just as valuable as having an aptitude in math or science. We discussed how she could pursue a career in the Arts, and how it could be just as satisfying and supportive as a career in Biology or Engineering. Perhaps even more so.
To be completely transparent, I had already steered Rachel, Katy’s older sister, away from music when she was heading to college. Rachel chose to major in Biology and after graduation taught High School Biology with an online school. But her love of music, particularly piano and voice, drew her back and now she teaches at a music studio. Her strong aptitude and love for playing piano and singing won out. Our grown children have positions with a vast range of diversity: marketing for a short line railroad, medical research, deep wilderness missionary, teacher (biology, piano, voice), meteorologist, mechanical engineer, artist/musician…and yet to be decided.
Our son Tim, is an outdoor expert. His decision to go into Outdoor Education with the goal of becoming a deep wilderness missionary was the perfect fit. When Tim was only 18 months old, Bernie found Tim following him across our back field. The weeds were significantly higher than Tim and the only way Bernie knew Tim was following him was the rustling of the tall grass. Bernie stopped and waited, and when Tim finally caught up to Bernie, he was only wearing a diaper and his brother Cliff’s tall mud boots. The boots went right up to Tim’s thigh. We all marveled that Tim could walk in those boots, let alone traverse the back field. Tim has always loved the outdoors and continually shows great determination. He perseveres. Now he works with Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries as a missionary and takes groups of young adults, completely unplugged, into deep wilderness areas where they reach the end of their abilities and discover the goodness of God.
As parents we must never underestimate the importance of allowing our children to experience a multitude of activities, sports, and jobs. And to have them experience these activities unplugged. Start when they are young and don’t have a phone yet. If they are older and addicted to their phones, ask them to find somewhere (affordable) online that looks like a fun place to visit and plan a trip! Do what you need to pique their interest in the outdoors, in the arts, music, and other areas of self-expression. Encourage them to ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, look it up together. Treat them with respect. No question is too simple. “Why is the sky blue?” can be a great jumping off point for a study of the heavens. Help them develop a love of everything around them, of life. The perfect way to do this is to include your children in family activities. If you do not do family activities, propose some.
Our family has developed quite a few yearly activities…in addition to celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Every spring we tap our sugar maple trees, and even the little ones can help carry out the empty bottles to collect the sap. We boil it down until we have yummy maple syrup. And of course, this requires pancakes! When it is time to harvest apples in the fall we have Apple Fritter Day. Our whole family goes apple picking. Now that we have a 4-tree orchard, we pick the apples in our own yard. Then we make apple fritters. Take your family camping, hiking, and on road trips to other states. Experience the diverse landscape of our nation. If you travel across our country you will experience coastal, plains, mountains, volcanoes, deserts and rainforests. Study the various ecosystems as you experience them. You’ll discover the East and West coasts are quite different. Visit the cliff dwellings which offer an amazing opportunity to see how ancient people adapted to their environment. Introduce your children to thought provoking adventures.
If road trips are not your cup of tea or you simply cannot swing one, read to your children. Then be sure to do life skills with them. But do not simply give your child a broom and tell them to sweep the kitchen floor. Do it with them. Cook with your kids, garden and clean with them, include them when you fix the car. When you go shopping teach your children who can read to check prices and show the younger ones how to look for unblemished fruit. Have your children look through a cookbook together or look at recipes online and choose something that looks good. If they can write, have them make a list, then take them shopping with you for the ingredients. Every “real life” experience your children have with you, like setting the table, collecting the trash and grocery shopping, builds their base knowledge.
Our job as parents is to make sure our children have enough life experiences to make wise choices. When your child shows an interest in something, do everything in your power to get them help do it. When Cliff showed an interest in collecting coins, we took him to the local coin shop. He and his dad went so often, when Cliff was twelve, the owner offered him a job which he held for quite a few years. As it was apparent Katy showed interest in art, we made sure she had access to art supplies. She drew with superior quality Berol Prismacolor pencils (available at Sam’s), colored with crayons, chalk or markers, cut out her people, fairy or angel figures with children’s scissors, and she had access to glue and staples to hold her creations together.
What about your children? What do you notice them doing whenever they have time to do whatever they want? Follow these suggestions to discover your child's inner Einstein:
What stories do you have of discovering an interest in your child? Please leave comments below. I’d love to hear what you think.
Article by Ruth Grunstra
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Hi I'm Ruth
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your child? My husband and I had the first of our 8 children in 1984 and our youngest in 2002. We've been married since 1980 and we are always learning new ways to engage our children. We would love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know what you have found that works and what doesn't, or ask me a question.
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