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Just Talent... or Does it Take More?

Added by Heather Idoni

Monday, February 17, 2014
Vol. 15 No. 4, February 17, 2014, ISSN: 1536-2035
(c) 2014, Mary Beth Akers and Heather Idoni

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Notes from Mary Beth
-- Talent vs. Hard Work
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Notes from Mary Beth

It's Much More Than Just Talent!


Do you ever notice that achievement is not always in proportion to perceived potential?

Have you ever heard a person remark about someone else's "talent?" Do you ever wonder whether you can do anything to enhance your child's gifts?

I believe it is a crippling error to think that "talent" is fixed at birth. While I acknowledge that personality and aptitude can influence the course an individual takes, the truth is that other factors play significant roles as well -- perhaps more significant.

As you consider this topic in the context of home schooling, I think you will see that most of the elements of high achievement readily lend themselves to the home school setting.

My children are accomplished violinists. When someone says something about them being "talented," I am tempted to enlighten that person about the countless hours of hard work that have gone into their skills. Whether you're talking about great artists, writers, athletes, scholars, composers, musicians, craftsmen, speakers, leaders, mechanics, or any masters in their fields -- they would not have succeeded on raw talent alone.

Many of the examples mentioned below come from research examining the success of these elite masters, because they are more visible. But please understand that I'm not suggesting that everyone must aspire to fame and accolades. The stars would have no stage if it weren't for the very capable crew behind the scenes. Taylor Hudson and Theodore Roosevelt once returned home on the same train. There was a festive homecoming celebration for Roosevelt, who had been vacationing on a hunting trip in Africa. No one noticed Hudson, who had been in China leading souls to Christ. The world doesn't usually applaud the work that has the greatest value. One touchdown in a high school football game will get more cheers than a typical home school mom and dad will ever hear in their lifetimes.

Imagine a garden with rich soil. If the owner never plants seeds or tends that garden, it will produce only weeds. Likewise, a child will never master anything worthwhile if his abilities are not cultivated.

There have been many studies of people who are world-class in their fields. These studies have shown that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach that level of achievement; it takes the brain that long to process and assimilate the skills and information necessary to achieve true expertise.

One study of 120 internationally-recognized athletes, performers, artists, biochemists and mathematicians, showed that every person in the study had spent at least ten years of diligent effort, study or practice to realize their accomplishments. Olympic swimmers and the best concert pianists had taken fifteen years to master their skills.

Now, don't announce to your children that they have to spend thousands of hours working their fingers to the bone. Our strategies will be more subtle than that.

Few highly recognized people showed exceptional potential when they were beginners. Olympic figure skaters started out by falling down. They became winners because they had good instruction and mentoring; they were given time to develop their skills; they were provided with quality equipment; and they were supported and encouraged in their efforts, even when no progress was evident. Someone helped them to see value in what they were doing long before they hung any ribbons on the wall.

Not every area of endeavor has a goal of Olympics competition. A child might become a research scientist, but at the age of eight or nine, he just wants to finish today's math assignment so he can go out and play. Young children can't see more than a few minutes into the future. To explain to them how their efforts today will benefit them two years from now, or ten years from now, is like trying to explain to a fish the benefits of riding a bicycle.

In the early stages of maturity, the teacher is key. At the beginning level, it is important that the teacher simply nurture a love of the topic. Then it becomes easy to help the child develop skills and knowledge. Eventually they will benefit from interaction with others who will model persistence, resilience, good social skills, and how to deal with both failure and success.

In the case of most homeschoolers, the parent will be the teacher as well. If you have enrolled your child with another instructor, you will be more of a supporting supervisor. Whether you are cheering from the sidelines or doing the coaching, it is important to carefully consider your strategies for encouraging your child.

  • Try to cultivate a "can-do" attitude in your children by letting them know how much you appreciate their efforts and how much you enjoy the fruit of those efforts. When I would practice piano, my mother would say, "Oh, I love that song! Would you play it for me again?" Not only did she get me to practice the piece again, but she also gave me confidence in knowing that I was pleasing her. Children like to please their parents. We all like to please the people in our lives. Pleasing others is a great motivator. As I was working on this newsletter, I asked my son why he practiced so hard on his violin. He said that he knew it was a dream of his dad that his children learn to play violin, and he knew that he was making his dad happy.

  • Preaching, criticism or threats are counter-productive. You want your children to feel good about what they are doing, and nagging never made anyone feel good. Be involved, but not hovering; available, but not meddling. Be supportive and understanding; be interested in, and enthusiastic about, your children's pursuits.

  • Praise must be sincere and knowledgeable. For example, "I know it seems slow and tedious to you, but your typing is so much more accurate now; you'll be writing a best-seller before you know it!" Or, "Would you like for me to help you take the stitches out? It's okay; I made the same mistakes when I was learning how to put in a zipper. Zippers are tough; I'm proud of you for trying."

  • Always be available to answer your children's questions or help them find the answers. Provide opportunities for them to interact with adults who have good work ethic and high standards. Challenge them to try new things, and to realize that we sometimes learn through failures. Help them to understand that they don't have to be tops at everything. Try to help them see the difference between perfectionism and standards of excellence; the difference between pride and dignity.

    So, do you see what an advantage your children have? Private tutors and mentors; time (even more than 10,000 hours!) to pursue interests; instructors who care deeply and are intensely involved in their lives.

    Your children are destined for excellence.

    -- Mary Beth


    A Personal Note from Heather...

    Some of you might remember that a few years ago our only daughter died just before she was to be born. Six years ago today is the day I gave birth to Hallel Selah. After all these years I have written our whole story to share. If you'd like to read Hallel's beautiful story, I think you will be blessed! :-)

    You can find it here...

    Hallel's Story

    Also -- our adoptions are progressing! We should be going to Ukraine soon... hopefully before the end of April. If you are able to help with even a very small donation, every bit will bless us. Here is our website for online donations and to read our story...


    -- Heather


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    Winning Website

    Homeschool For Free

    Homeschool for Free offers dozens of links to all kinds of homeschool resources, organized by subject and grade level. If you subscribe to their newsletter, you will receive information about freebies that become available.

    Helpful Tips

    National Multiplication Competition

    "Hi! Wanted to let you know that the Arcademics Cup - an online multiplication contest for students across the country - is coming up! Over 10,000 homeschoolers will participate in this exciting learning opportunity from Feb 27 - 28. Your students can join in the fun - its easy to sign up, no cost to enter, and real prizes to be won."

    What: National Multiplication Competition
    When: Feb. 27-28
    Who: K-6 Students are eligible to paticipate! Where: Participate ONLINE from the comfort of your own home!

    Free Entry, Win Prizes!



    Henry Ford Museum Creative Writing Contest

    We're inviting students from around the United States to create a story that celebrates the life and times of Orville and Wilbur Wright, two of America's greatest innovators.

    Students in grades 3-12 can enter for a chance to win prizes, with one talented student having his or her story published by the Henry Ford Museum.

    Just go here for the rules to participate:


    New Question...

    How do you motivate and inspire your children? How do you determine what their unique gifts are?

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