Today is my 30th birthday, and it started off with a bang -- Jasper (my toddler) woke up vomiting at 1AM. Norovirus is circulating in New York City and we were not spared. At least so far it has been better than last year's stomach bug (which also struck right after my birthday -- I'm beginning to think of norovirus as the universe's little "present" to me).
Anyway, Gifted Exchange was born long before Jasper, but the experience of parenthood has, of course, informed my thoughts on kids and learning. Among the realizations as I'm spending today (mostly) with him:
1. Children learn at their own pace. The idea that parents can "make" their children advanced is just laughable. I'm a writer. I'm into, you know, words. I read multiple books daily to Jasper. I talk to him. I identify things by name and ask him to repeat the names to me. But did Jasper talk early? Hardly. We talked about delaying our 18 month pediatrician appointment so they wouldn't push speech therapy due to his lack of verbalization. He is, finally, expressing himself with a few words. His current favorite? "No." I'm not sure why I was so eager for him to talk just so he'd say that.
2. But boy, are they wired to learn. Kids are natural hard workers if they're given tasks that seem challenging and interesting. Jasper has this little toy which consists of four three-dimensional shapes, and a cube with holes in it in 2-dimensional versions of each of those shapes. He kind of banged it around right until 16 months (it makes annoying noises). Then one day, he looked at the cylinder, looked at the circle hole, and then tried sliding the cylinder through the hole. Bingo! The square and triangle came next, about a week later. He had to practice the star for a while, but now he gets all of them, and can also put his much smaller blocks through the holes in their container top, too. He has figured out creative ways to stick them through -- like that the small triangles will go through both the triangle and the square holes (since the triangles are one-half of the square). We got him a book of magnets in various shapes earlier this week, and yesterday he actually put the little triangle on the various triangle shapes in the book. None of this came easy for him, but he was so interested in figuring things out that he stayed with it.
3. Schools really have to assume a central role in serving kids. Yes, parents can always find other schools, move, hire tutors, bring kids to the library, etc. But the daily experience of being a working parent of a small kid -- and most parents do work outside the home these days -- is so exhausting that it's often hard to assess if your child is getting the best opportunities.
For instance, I think that Jasper has some musical inclination. He likes playing my keyboard -- not just banging it, but listening to the sounds the keys make. He also has some serious rhythm to him. I know these things. I also know about exposing kids to some feedback and instruction on their inclinations is a step in talent development (Tiger Woods was trying to hit golf balls by age 2!). But the only reason Jasper is now taking baby creative movement and music classes is that this year his daycare chose to offer them during center hours (I do have time to write a check). If I didn't do anything about developing these little inclinations of his, why would I assume that other parents would on their own, either?
Nurturing talent has to be a social goal. Schools have to give kids the chance to test out various inclinations, choose the ones they like and then work hard at getting better at them. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of curriculum compacting for gifted kids, to free up time to pursue their passions.