Readers’ Q and As: Discerning Your Child's Natural Gifts and Abilities

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Readers’ Q and As: Discerning Your Child's Natural Gifts and Abilities

Every day I get a question or two that I think deserves a ‘public’ response. Today’s post will answer one of the best questions I received over this last week or two. I love a good question or thoughtful comment!

Q: Caroline asked: How do you figure out what your child's giftings or ‘natural abilities’ are?   
Caroline from Church Sexy was responding to my article: Making Time for Your Kids.  I don't have any scientific answers for this question. I can only tell you that I've been very purposeful in trying to figure that out for each of my children from a very early age.

A:Watch them at Play
The easiest way to tell is to watch them play. What sort of pretend games do they like? What do they like helping you do?  My youngest child’s first word was ‘ball’. The neighbors regularly had to rescue their basketball from our yard. He could dribble very well at the ripe old age of 2!  Computer games were also very telling to me when my children were young. Matthew liked war games, planes and drawing.  He’s now a Marine and also learned to fly Soar Planes in high school. Andrew liked Zoo Tycoon and Pizza Tycoon etc. He is now a business major and worked at a bank for his first job. But he also loved  raising bugs and animals, cooking and fishing. Rebekah wanted the PetZ series and Horseback riding games.  She learned ride horses and competed and she also worked at dog kennels and pet stores. Watching them play is the quickest way to figure out their what they will one day be 'good' at.
 family photos debate and basketball 013
Also, what do they draw and how do they do it? Some of my kids were obviously artistic (we come from a long line of artists), but Jacob's drawing was on a first grade level at ten! He was really dyslexic and didn't learn to read until he was almost ten. He spent all his spare time playing with beanie babies and Betty Luken Felt books. He played for hours in an imaginary world all his own. He didn’t want to be called Jacob. His name was lizard…or frog.  Most interesting though were his drawings which were extremely poor and childish, but very detailed.  They were full of stick men doing all sorts of interesting things.  It would take him an hour to ‘explain’ his story. In spite of his poor drawing, I eventually realized that he was a true story teller. It didn't matter that he couldn't write well or spell. He was a writer in the making!  He actually told me, only a year ago, that he used the felt figures and beanie babies to make up stories in his head.

He loved adventure so much that one year for Christmas, he said he wanted ‘adventure’. Go figure that one out! We got a play fort for him because I couldn't think of anything else to do…it was perfect!  What will he do one day? He wants to go into law enforcement preferably with the DEA..or he may join the French Foreign Legion. I do my very best not to panic!!!  He’s also one of the top ranking debaters in the NCFCA league. Well, there’s no question he will get some adventure and I expect we will get some novels out of that boy too. He has several in progress as we speak. (I weaned him on Dickens and Louis L'Amour novels--books on tape.) As a side note, he just got into the Honor Society by testing in the 92nd percentile with 34th percentile spelling...that meant everything but the spelling had to be in the 98th percentile! He was determined...and he did it!
National Open  Colorado Awards 009
Quiet Children….
But that only covers the surface. Andrew was always doing whatever we did and it eventually became obvious that he didn’t like drawing, Legos, or even pretend games. He liked people. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what sort of hobby he needed.  It finally hit me one day, when he was cuddling with me, that he was a nurturer. He needed something to cuddle. Up to that time we had no pets, but I begged Tim to get him one. He was like a kid in a candy shop--totally enthralled. He eventually went on to design habitats, breed mice to see if he could change their color etc.  He just loves animals, so we joined a wildlife rehab group at one point and he volunteered with adopt-a-pet at one time. He also adores fishing and did well because he focused on their habits and habitat.  I hope this gives you a good idea of what I mean. Really, playing is where children express themselves. 
Help them explore options with good books, supplies, videos, and field trips.
We, as parents, have to be good listeners. When your kids say, “I want to be….” Do you say, “Oh that’s sweet deary…go comb your hair.”  It’s too easy to brush off those little comments…but I never did. Help them explore those options! Get toys to let them practice what they think they want to be. Buy the dog, or the juggling balls, or make them their own cookbook like I did for Andrew at the age of nine. (He also loved cooking. :o)  Find how to videos. Take them to airports like I did for my son.  Get musical instruments on Ebay or Craig's list and have them handy!   

Be sure to try out lots of different arts and crafts and watch videos about musicians, ballerinas, doctors and artists.  The library is just chock full of material and books to help your children find out what it is they love. As you give them the raw materials..they will begin to show what they like… 
hair cutting 2

The Critical Years: Middle School Age
I have noticed an amazing phenomena and have corroborated this with a friend, a teacher, pastor, and statistician, who had eight children who are all now grown. We were so worried about our oldest who was  in tense and hyperactive beyond description. Mike told us that pre-teens will develop an intense passion…for something! This is when it is most important that you take those, “I’d like to try…” statements! You want them focused on something.  They have the ability to digest adult reading materials and will collect data like an obsessed person!  Haven’t you met kids who could recite every movie or baseball statistic none to man? He told us to do everything we could to get him started on something..anything...constructive or the things he chose would end up being destructive.  Some kids are just like that. So we did..

Do we really want them putting all their energies into following the lives of the rich, wild, and famous? 
If you do it right, you can get them focused on horse back riding, debate, acting, or science instead. Your job will be practically done!They will go after their passion with an intensity that will amaze you!And if you keep track of their hours spent, and they are using adult library and internet materials., you could easily document 1-2 high school credits! High school work done in junior high counts towards high school.  Keep an activity log of their hours spent reading, writing, volunteering, doing projects, etc on their passions.  (This link leads to all the home school forms I made for SCCHE)It takes 185 hours to make a Carnegie credit. In four to five years of pursuing a hobby, you will certainly accumulate that.
Kids in Germany 
A True Story…
When my oldest son, Matthew, was 11, he met a little boy who had just been adopted by our pastor. This boy was a Russian and he had lived on the streets and been horribly abused, so much so, that he lost an eye which had to be replaced. Matthew made friends with him immediately and wanted to talk to Alex so badly that he started trying to teach himself Russian. In the process of learning to communicate with Alex, he fell in love with the Russian language. Someone at church gave him a little Russian/English bible and a cheap language course…sort of a travel phrases book. Matthew dove into it with all the passion an eleven year old can muster!  Later we bought an adult course and he studied it regularly all through junior high and high school. I drove him 45 minutes every Saturday to visit some dear friends who had a college age exchange student from Russian living with them. She listened to Matthew talk, corrected his accent etc. We even explored trying to get involved in visits with a local Russian community in Houston. 

Don't let them give up!
The first time Matthew took the aptitude test in the Marines for Russian he failed it. It is the most difficult test you can take. He did score a 97 on the ASVAB…it covers normal subjects plus electronics, mechanics, and physics. Being a pilot—he was also obsessed with planes—he had studied all of these things. He couldn’t fly because his eyesight was so bad, but three years later, he took the language aptitude test and passed! It’s the highest paying position you can get as an enlisted person. I was so thrilled that he made it!! He whizzed through the language school and speaks fluent and flawless Russian. He named his third son, Nikolai, to celebrate. I’m designing a baby quilt using Russian toys.  Remember, he was only eleven when he first started collecting little Russian phrases in a tiny little pocket notebook…. 

Matthew, A Russian Translator for the Marines, with sister, Rebekah, at her Graduation

Help your children follow their dreams!! Even if they don’t seem to make sense at the time. :o) You never know where their crazy ideas will take them. :o) And best of all, by the time they hit college, they will be much more likely to know what they want to do with their life. And they are much less likely to have gotten into trouble because they were caught up in passions  and wasteful activities that are less than healthy…  For more ideas on this topic, read The Creative Home, an earlier post. 


A Joyful Chaos said...

It is quite interesting to see what our children love learning. Our 10 year old continues to amaze me and I have to wonder how his life will be. It has been an interesting journey so far and I'm sure it will continue to be that way.

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this post. I enjoyed it very much.

Lorraine said...

I really appreciate all that you have written in this post..thankyou. thanks very much for your comment on my poetry tote

Diana said...

Thanks for the interesting post.. My daughter likes Princess Stuff.. Maybe she will go into bridal line in future.. :)

Shona Cole said...

DONNA! This is your best post EVER. Of course it hits a spot with me as Mark and I are CONSTANTLY analyzing our kids actions and what they mean for the future. I am going to re-read it and send it to Mark.



Maria Killam said...

Donna your comments were perfect today on my blog, Thanks so much they are always so thoughtful!!

Hills N Valleys said...

Awesome post! I actually have a book about it but your ideas/description are so clear. I asked Zoe 8 and she said a Vet,firefighter, astronaut. :) Aubrey 10 said a policeman or he wants to work at a dog shelter. Your description of your storytelling son completely describes my son though!

Hills N Valleys said...

Hey do you mind me sharing this on my facebook?

Donna said...

Thanks everyone for the nice comments! And yes, Over Yonder, you can share it on facebook. :o) I'd be thrilled. :o)

Shona Cole said...

so I went back and read it with Mark, and Matthew read it too! I love how you describe so well each of the things your kids did and how it translates today. It is fun that I know your kids a little more now. I am totally floored about your Matthew!!!! How did I not ever hear that story? So good and inspiring for me :)

Diana Ferguson said...

Awesome post!!! So many great points made.

Dana Leeds said...

Oh, what an incredible post! Thank you SO MUCH for writing this! I will be re-reading it and saving it. I love what you've told us. (And, I love the photos, too!) It is so wonderful to get to listen to a mom who is further along the journey and is willing to share her wisdom with us!

I just really needed this. Thanks!!!

Trudy said...

This is an awesome post, Donna.

Caroline said...

It was me!! Oh, I'm so excited to read this. I've been hoping you'd get to it after you commented on my blog - will finish after I make dinner. :) thanks!!!

Caroline said...

I couldn't wait to finish reading it. Oh, so well done. Gideon wants to be a "fixer" ... I need to nurture his desire to build and create ... I'll be reading this one again. Thank you.

Donna said...

You guys are so sweet! I'm so so glad that what I've shared has been a blessing to you. My mom was my sisters' and I biggest cheerleader and I really think she taught me to look for gifts and talents in my children and to cheer them on in whatever they want to pursue.

Thanks for a great question, Caroline!

Large Order of Fryes said...

Great article Donna!! Keep them comin'!

“There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again.” ~ Margaret Sangster

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