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, which are a) “to give birth” (related to the word genesis); and b) “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, coming 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 (her 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 a species evolves, the more it carries youthful traits into adulthood (a process called “neoteny” or “holding youth”). It is imperative that we, as educators and parents, help preserve these genius characteristics as children 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 to stifle these genius qualities. Many children grow up in homes which put an active damper on the qualities of genius. Poverty, depression and anxiety, pressure to grow up too soon, and rigid ideologies based on hate and fear can actively subdue playfulness, creativity and wonder. Schools also put a damper on childhood genius through testing (creativity can’t thrive in an atmosphere of judgment), labeling kids as learning disabled or ADD, dull teachers and regimented curricula. 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 teachers and parents can help children reawaken their natural genius. First, and most importantly, adults need to reawaken their own genius—find within themselves the source waters of their own creativity, vitality, playfulness and wonder. Being surrounded by curious and creative adults sparks a child’s own inner genius 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 even 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, you will contribute immeasurably to the welfare of your children and to the world they will someday inherit.
About the Author:
Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., is an award-winning author and speaker with over thirty years of teaching experience from the primary through the doctoral level. More than 1 million copies of his books are in print on issues related to learning and human development. He is the author of fourteen books, his most recent being Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and Other Brain Differences (neurodiversitythebook.com). He can be reached via his website: thomasarmstrong.com.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #25.
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