Traditional school focuses on well-roundedness, but a well-rounded kid has no idea what their value is to other people or how to offer it up to a potential employer. It’s late in the game to help your kid to figure out how to be useful when they are 22 – they expect to be more independent from you at that point.
But early on, homeschooling parents can help a kid can identify what they are great at. And identifying it early opens more doors. There’s a relevant book by David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetic Talent and IQ (Brainpickings has a good review) that “goes beyond the familiar argument for the power of process, and he stresses the importance of early childhood experience in recognizing and cultivating the inklings of talent, and building the right framework for achievement.”
I see how nice it is that I already know what my younger son wants to do. But I see so many doors closing for my older son. He is good at learning Hebrew. Maybe I should teach him a real second language and not just a language to get a bar mitzvah. He is great at reading about science – he memorizes every book he reads. But I’m not sure he’s passionate about it. He loves his goats and takes care of them every day. But he doesn’t want to milk them or kill them, so I don’t think it could be a career for him.
When I was a girl, I tried lots of different things. Looking back, I wish that my parents kept me away from tap dance and figure skating. I did both for ten years. But I have absolutely the wrong type of body for that. I was never going to get anywhere in either of those arenas.
I would have been great at volleyball or basketball, but by the time I realized it, I was in high school and all the kids on those teams had been to specialized camps for five summers and I couldn’t catch up to them.
I don’t want that to happen to my son. I want to steer him better than that, before time runs out. I think that requires only paying close attention. But I also feel like it’s a race. Can we find his special talent and passion before he misses that boat?
But then I think about my life as a professional beach volleyball player. I competed on the beach volleyball tour against women who had been playing their whole life. I only picked up volleyball in college. I went to Brandeis – a Jewish school – where I was the tallest in the freshman class and the coach recruited me.
I played professional beach volleyball with much much less experience than the other women at my level. But I worked harder. And smarter. My process for practice was fanatically scheduled and meticulously planned. Which is another aspect of Shenk’s receipe for success: making practice a process that works.
So maybe if I teach my son the process of practice with violin then when we find his talent – even if it’s late – he’ll know the process for building a talent systematically and diligently. Maybe that’s the best I can do.