Friday, May 19, 2017

What Good is Giftedness Without Nurture?

Whenever I read stories of young people doing extraordinary things, I get very excited and inspired.

Just like the most recent story of the 11-year-old Reuben Paul who hacked security experts devices.

What I am always curious to know is HOW could the young person be able to achieve more than his average peers? More often than not, it requires a lot more than just talent and aptitude of their own.

Here are a few quick thoughts:

1. Talent and Nurture
I have always maintained that a talented or gifted person also requires a nurturing environment and opportunities from loving adults around him. Here is a popular old post on Nature vs Nurture.

A child with talent is still a child. It is very common for young kids with interests to tell parents they are interested in something. Identifying interests is the easy part.

But how likely is it for a young child to be able to correctly decide he has a talent in something? Talents and giftedness must first be recognised and nurtured, or be forever buried.

A nurturing environment does not necessarily mean parents who are all smiles and forever obliging.

A talent also cannot amount to great achievements without hard work, vision and a willingness/devotion from parents (and other important caregivers) who will tirelessly motivate and push the kids along when the going gets tough.

Anyone who had walked this path before and achieved something great will agree that there would too be many moments of "I-want-to-give-up".


2. Set High Expectations
If Reuben's parents had assumed that at age 6, he should be focusing on just learning more Math questions or do more English assessment books to get ahead of his peers in school, he would not be learning IT skills. I doubt he would have the time to train and become the youngest Shaolin Kungfu black belt in America at age 7 or set up a company and be a CEO at age 8 either.

If as parents, we set our sights at just the immediate goal posts such as clearing the mid-year or final-year exams, be it to pass with flying colours or cope with schoolwork so that kids will not fail, we are missing the bigger and more important picture!

There will always be another test and exam a few months down the road. Before we know it, the kid would be a grown man and how sad would it be to find out that the only 'talent' and achievements he had was coping with school exams.

Here is another analogy. If we keep our heads down and always focusing on just making sure we do not trip on rocks along our paths, and not look up and wonder about what's lying far ahead, we would have missed the scenery surrounding us.

If we are not looking up and ahead and dream of flying, we would never have learnt to fly.

3. Lay Solid Foundation during preschool years 
How we nurture or squander the first few years of a child's life when his brain is growing at the most rapid speed may have a longer lasting effect than we can ever imagine.

Just imagine if a child
- has learnt to read independently;
- is taught to express his views/opinions;
- is raised in an environment that ignites his passion to learn and fuels his curiosity;
- is taught to think critically and creatively.

Compared this with those kids whose early years were squandered away and at age 6, 7 or 8, were still struggling to cope with basic literacy skills.

It is a no-brainer that the ones with a solid foundation in early years will be MORE likely to spend remaining years in childhood/youth learning at an even MORE accelerated pace.

When I say 'squandering' precious childhood years away, I am also referring to learning ineffectively.


4. No talent now, focus on SKILLS! 
Not everyone has an interest, passion or talent that can be recognised at young age. But still, it does not mean we do nothing and just wait for the passion or talent to show up!

Why take such a passive stance?

Acquire the important skills while you wait. Identify the skills that we think are important and train the kids. Just like it can take years to master a craft, honing skills require investment of time and effort for months, if not years too!

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