Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. — Thomas Edison
I'm accustomed to hearing one or another of our grandchildren referred to as a genius. Naturally, as a proud grandmother, I agree. Every one of our ten grandchildren is a genius. Absolutely.
But what do people other than grandmothers mean by that word?
It seems to denote some ability a person is born with that makes them especially good at something—a gift that one either has or doesn't have. I believe that's a vast oversimplification, if not entirely false.
The gift, if there is one, seems to me to lie in interest and focus.
- Our grandchild who plays piano really well? He's no prodigy—but he loves to play the piano, and that's what he spends a lot of time doing, even on vacation.
- The one who at age six earned $300 doing real work for a real business was able to do so because he had spent hours and hours mastering the necessary skills and doing the work for free before he earned his first dollar.
- The grandchild who could count to 100 before he was two and read before he was three played with numbers and letters every day for hours.
- My nephew, when he was three years old, could not only identify dozens of dinosaurs but could tell you many facts about each of them. You guessed it: he spent much of his time learning about dinosaurs.
And so on. None of them was pushed in these endeavors, but they do have parents who respect and encourage their interests. When you discover that playing with an alphabet puzzle keeps your fretful child happily occupied for hours, what do you do? You buy him a similar number puzzle. You give him his own, real tools. Read him books about dinosaurs. Keep the piano in the middle of the family's living area and let him play as often and as loudly as he wants—even if you long for just a moment of silence.
And the children take it from there.
I am convinced that neither I nor any other human, past or present, was or is a genius. I am convinced that what I have every physically normal child also has at birth. We could, of course, hypothesize that all babies are born geniuses and get swiftly de-geniused. ... I was lucky in avoiding too many disconnects. — R. Buckminster Fuller
Perhaps the secret to helping our children reach their full potential is neither early formal education nor leaving them to develop "naturally," but giving them as many opportunities as possible to discover the many wonderful and valuable things of life, and actively supporting—not pushing—any healthy interest that develops.