A Star Is Born

Most parents and teachers like to see signs of creative thinking in children. Zach comes home with a clay “thing,” and mom tells him how “different and expressive” it is, being careful not to ask, “What is it?” Creativity is the seed from which outstanding artists and thinkers are born. Creative children tend to be very playful and imaginative, broad in their interests, and less concerned than other bright class-mates about making top grades or winning adult approval.

What are some of the secrets to discovering and nourishing your children’s creative powers?

  1. Respect your children and their ability to do the right thing. Encourage them to think about what they value. Talk about the importance of liking, and taking pride in their work; trying hard at school, as well as joining team sports and performing arts clubs such as drama; doing what they think is right, even if it goes against the grain of what everybody else thinks; and what it’s like to take on challenges and be successful as opposed to taking the easy road.
  1. Give your children the freedom to explore, find out how things work, and choose their own interests.
  1. Model success and ambition in your own careers. Come home from work with a smile on your face and a positive attitude about your job. Try to nourish your own artistic talents. When kids see you setting aside time to work on your painting or play the violin they also will value creative activities more.
  1. If you can’t tear your pre-schooler away from the painting easel do all you can to encourage his interest: let him try painting leaves, potatoes, fabric, anything that works; find odds and ends like spools of thread, buttons, and cotton balls around your house that he can glue onto his paintings; show him how to paint with straws, cars, sponges; sign him up for a painting class at your community centre; keep in mind that your child paints because he likes it–don’t push him too much or he’ll drop it like a hot potato; and above all else take pride in everything he does–have a special corner of your kitchen called “Nathan’s Gallery” where you can display all his work.
  1. Have explicit rules and standards within your family. Make sure your discipline is predictable, consistent, and fair, and avoid spanking.
  1. Encourage your children to look at situations, objects, people, and life in new and different ways. Help them open their minds to non-conformist and even absurd solutions.
  1. Educators should lean towards indirect teaching methods, such as staying away from lecturing and encouraging children to express their own ideas.

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There is no question that children’s IQs wander up and down with their life experiences. Environmental conditions play a big part. For this reason researchers now think intelligence comes from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. An upper limit to your children’s intelligence is set by the genes you pass down to them, but life experience can enhance or retard its growth.

What have studies told us about children’s intelligence? For one, brighter children tend to come from smaller families. Another is that first-borns are usually smarter than second-borns, and second-borns outscore third-borns. One logical explanation is that the more children you have, the less time and energy you have to spend with each one. It seems also that children (particularly boys) with worrywart mothers have higher IQs; possibly because their mothers do more for them and are more responsive to their children’s wants and needs. Girls test scores were associated with early closeness to their mothers and parental harmony.

In general, children with high IQs come from democratic, accepting homes where their parents have higher (but not too high) expectations of them. Whereas children with rejecting, autocratic, and unconcerned parents tend to have lower IQ scores. It is a fact that children from lower- and working-class homes have IQs ten to twenty points below their middle-class age mates. This could be because they’re growing up in dull, impoverished surroundings, less conducive to intellectual development. As well, we can’t forget that IQ tests have a built-in middle-class bias, which makes it tougher for everybody else. Another group who tend to score lower than Caucasians are children of Black, Native American, or Hispanic ancestry, while Asian Americans score slightly higher on average than Caucasians. (These are based on statistics taken in the United States.) Before jumping to any conclusions, imagine yourself taking an IQ test from Africa. How do you think you’d measures up to the native Africans?

How can you help your child achieve his intellectual potential? A “HOME inventory” developed by Bettye Caldwell and Robert Bradley showed the top six predictors of children’s IQs were (1) parental involvement with their children, (2) age-appropriate play materials, (3) variety in daily stimuli, (4) parents avoidance of restriction and punishment, (5) parents emotional and verbal responsiveness to their children, and (6) organization within the home. This study showed that intellectually stimulating home environments have warm and accepting parents, eager to be involved with their child. These parents describe new objects, concepts, and experiences clearly and accurately, and give their children a variety of play materials appropriate for their age or developmental level. They encourage their children to ask questions, solve problems, and think about learning. When their children start school they stress the importance of academic achievement, and expect their children to get good grades.