When a child is born all parents hope that s/he will live a meaningful life and find happiness, good health and be deeply loved. Every child is a unique being and – despite having a common gene pool to any siblings they may or may not have – they arrive on our earth with an unknown potential.
Geneticists believe the inherited contribution is around 50% and these genes can bring talents, dispositions, personality traits and mental traits. I have long pondered the big question:
Do we come with an invisible mission or pathway that is already predetermined?
OK that’s a pretty deep proposition and yet I have met so many interesting grownups who knew very early in their life where their life was going and what they wanted to do. Within the first five years of their life they followed something with enormous passion and it became their life’s passion and often career and yes mission in life. Many of these kids would be called square pegs in a world where we seem hell bent on making all children be homogenous – to all fit the same round holes. I am very keen to lift the awareness of the value of being the square peg – the child with a quality of uniqueness and originality that we can celebrate instead of crush. Our world is full of adults who began in a small way by following something that brought a light into their eyes and made them feel good to be themselves.
Where would our world be without the following interesting and varied folks who became enthused very early in life?
Steve Irwin, Peter Brock, Dick Smith, Lane Beachley, Casey Stoner, Evonne Goolagong, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, James Cook, Joseph Banks, Edmund Hilary, Richard Attenborough, Hugh Jackman and then there’s Jamie Oliver, Ian Thorpe, Roger Federer and an endless list of famous doctors and scientists. Jessica Watson who sailed the world solo as a 16-year-old is a modern day version of an individual who achieved something exceptional early in life due to her incredible passion and tenacity.
I am passionate about social justice and equity and it drives much of my advocacy work around families and communities. I remember as a small 7-year-old standing up in Grade 2 to confront a toxic relief teacher who was shouting at a student. I asked her to stop as she was being mean and it was upsetting the student she was berating. I did spend the rest of the day under the teacher’s desk however my passion was never compromised – it was made stronger.
Baroness Susan Greenfield in her book ID: The Quest for Meaning in the 21st Century (2008) writes of her concerns that the over-focus on technology may create challenges in the nurturing of uniqueness and originality.
“Gradually in each human being the brain becomes personalized by unique experiences to become a unique identity,” she writes.
Her concern as a neuro-scientist is that the brain and our sense of self is ceaselessly changing according to what we do repetitively. If our children continue to spend excessive amounts of time in the cyber world instead of the real world Greenfield argues strongly: “I predict that spending so much time in cyber-space will inevitably lead to minds very different to any others in human history.”
There are only so many ‘spark’ opportunities that exist in the virtual world – how many gamers who develop unhealthy dopamine receptor addictions are missing a hidden potential within themselves that could only be activated by real experiences in the real world. How many potential environmental warriors, artists, scientists and creative engineering minds are being stymied by endless hours of cyber entertainment?
If we can pretend for a moment that all children arrive with this hidden potential that is waiting to be ignited – a smouldering coal that needs a ‘spark’ to set it on fire – what can we do as parents to help this happen?
Feeding the spark from the banquet of life
Quite simply we need to offer our children a taste of things from the banquet of life. This means that we need to offer tasters that cover a wide spectrum.
- We need to take them to museums, libraries, zoos, aquariums and other historical sites and events so they can explore a wide range of triggers.
- We should take them to festivals, local shows, musicals, circuses and plays. The Fringe festivals in Australia are an excellent taster for this spark to be ignited.
- We can help them have tasters around sport – whether that be swimming, team sports or cross country running, gymnastics, martial arts or tennis or golf.
- Lighting the flame in our environmental warriors can happen from watching documentaries especially like those of Richard Attenborough, taking trips to national parks or camping trips in nature. Make a plan to visit significant places in nature like the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, The Bungle Bungles, Kakadu, Mt Kosciuszko, Cape Tribulation and the endless beaches, deserts and forests that exist in our world.
- Giving our children a taste of music early in life is also a must! Good primary schools still offer this opportunity and music opens us up to singing and dance, or playing an instrument.
- The love of animals can be ignited by visiting folks who live on farms or by visiting animal refuges and of course by having pets.
- A passion for food and cooking can be ignited very early in life by a grown-up who spends time sharing their love of cooking with children. So often on TV cooking shows you will hear contestants talk about the early love they had of cooking which came from a loving parent or grandparent.
- The thrill seekers of the world who love speed and risk can also be identified early. One of my gentle sons has amazing balance and was able to skate down skate tracks before he was 5 (yes it did scare the heck out of me).
- For those with a techno brain who find the technology world fascinating consider extending them by learning coding, or robotics or other ways to ignite something deeper rather than just a love of Angry Birds, Candy Crush or Minecraft.
There are some fantastic examples of young people who are embracing their passions.
- If you have not heard of Sabre Norris the 11-year-old surfing dynamo please watch her unbridled enthusiasm and passion for surfing.
- Aelita Andre is another excellent article of a child whose spark was ignited early in life and again with enthusiastic supportive parents her light is shining very brightly today.
- Then there is the amazing Campbell Remess who makes teddy bears for charity and those impacted by trauma and he started when he was 9 years old.
- Young Lachlan who also had a passion for clothes has created his own clothing label at just 14.
- And 16-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who was recently in Australia, has certainly gained the world’s attention with has passion for the environment and commitment to wanting action.
- For our special children who have additional needs and challenges in life the same applies when igniting the flame of potential. There was a beautiful story of a boy, Asher Nash, with Down Syndrome who wanted to model clothes and he did.
- Another lad, Santino Stagliano, loved dragons and he has also turned that love into something much more – another spark ignited!
When we can have our children feast on the wide banquet of life, we give them all a better opportunity to become the best expression of themselves no matter what they get on their NAPLAN tests or any other benchmark test that exists.
Our children are so much more than brains on seats and sources of data and we need to actively as parents and educators embrace the different, the square pegs, the live wires as well as those with obvious ability and capacity.
I know that when a ‘spark’ fails to ignite inside a child our world becomes a sadder and dimmer place. Let’s nurture those smouldering coals by making it a priority to share the rich banquet on offer in our world and by encouraging, not crushing, their dreams.