Early education at home has created a genius?
Are you ready to take homeschooling to the next level? Then let’s talk about the childhood experiences of geniuses. That’s a weighted word, isn’t it? And, yet, it seems that three of the most important aspects of the lives of geniuses were a normal part of the original approach to homeschooling. A fascinating topic, this has practical implications for today’s families.
What Is a Genius?
Dr. Jay Wile, author of Science in the Beginning, recently described to me a 1957 study by Dr. Harold McCurdy entitled, “The Childhood Pattern of Genius.” McCurdy had examined the experiences of twenty geniuses, people whose genius spanned across a range of academics, nationalities, and eras. He discovered three commonalities among them. Hearing the basic points of the study, I was struck by see the similarities with the 1980s version of homeschooling. This similarity is so intriguing—and potentially life changing—that I want to share with you this “recipe” for fostering genius.
If we were to ask the average person on the street to name a genius, most would invariably say, “Albert Einstein!” Yes, as a brilliant physicist, Einstein definitely qualifies, but science is not the only way to display genius. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary defines genius as: “One with exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.” Geniuses can be found in every realm of human endeavor, whether it be music, science, art, athletics, or any other area of expertise.
When we say “genius,” we often think of one who is brilliant in a specific area. However, Leonardo da Vinci, with his high level of skill and achievement across many areas, was also a genius. Though he is commonly remembered for the Mona Lisa, he was remarkably skilled in architecture, mathematics, engineering, sculpture, music, anatomy, geology, cartography, botany, and writing. The very breadth of his knowledge qualifies him as a genius—it is staggering! So, whether as a specialist or a generalist, genius can be found in various packaging.
The door to genius is opening wider and wider, isn’t it? Though you can’t create genius in your children, you can create the conditions in which genius of any type can thrive.
Childhood Experience of Geniuses
So, how do we foster the potential in our children as we homeschool? The answers discovered half a century ago by Dr. McCurdy in his study might surprise you, so keep an open mind as you read. This could be a game changer.
These are the three commonalities of the childhood experiences of twenty geniuses:
1) A high degree of attention focused upon the child by parents and other adults, expressed in intensive educational measures and, usually, abundant love.
2) Reduced contact with the peer group.
3) A significant amount of imaginative play.
In the first commonality, Dr. McCurdy made this observation: “Yet it is not the educational program itself which requires our notice so much as it is the intimate and constant association with adults with which it entails.”
When homeschooling began in the early 1980s, the concept of children being with adults—rather than segregated with thirty same-age children—was highly valued. I remember hearing a speaker talk about the profound benefit one-to-one tutoring gives a child. This sumptuous form of tailor-made education had once been limited to the cherished offspring of the royalty and the rich. Lesser beings had had no option but the one-size-fits-all classrooms rife with drudgery and fill in the blanks. But, now, in the new world of homeschooling, we could actually replicate for our own children that extraordinary model of tutoring. This preferred training for up-and-coming monarchs became available to us, for the benefit of our up-and-coming world changers. It not only sounds good, it was good. It was, in fact, “education that’s relational.”™
In the second commonality, Dr. McCurdy detected something remarkably unusual in the childhood lives of these geniuses. In the current teach-children-socialization-by-throwing-them-in-with-their-peers culture, it sounds startling: “Not only were these boys often in the company of adults, as genuine companions; they were to a significant extent cut off from the society of other children.”
Notice these very important words: “…to a significant extent.” The children of the study were not completely isolated from their peers. (As you know, if children are completely isolated, the result will be deeply disturbing. That is NOT what homeschooling is about!) However, when the amount of time a child spends with children (apart from siblings) is lessened, the influence of peers is reduced. Why should we value that? It is because, frankly, the wisdom of a youthful peer group does not begin to compare with the wisdom of adults.
As in the comparison of homeschooling with the first commonality, here also homeschooling in the 1980s had a strong focus on keeping our children out of the peer group. Yes, we looked for opportunities to have our children play with others, do team sports, go on field trips, play music, create drama…whatever we could find! And, yet, these opportunities were fairly rare—most of the time, we were learning at home.
The benefits of this at-home time became increasingly clear to me as my family began traveling to conventions in 1989. We came in contact with many who questioned my kids to find out how socialized they actually were. Their responses were encouraging, since my kids had not had the “benefit” of spending most of their time with a peer group.
A memorable time came when my daughter won the VFW National Youth Essay Contest in 1999. My kids were grilled by the lawyer/professor whose daughter had won the speech competition that year. As we sat at a restaurant with the organizers of the contest, this extremely educated man cross-examined each of my children through dinner on their socialization. I was speechless when he came to me and said longingly, “Diana, I wish I could homeschool my children!!!” He went on to describe his astonishment at how my children handled themselves under his rapid-fire questioning, and his realization of how much their homeschooling—and reduced isolation from the peer group—had positively benefited them. Believe me, this sort of thing was not unusual for homeschoolers of that time. Most of the homeschool kids we met in our travels were equally able to converse with everyone they met, regardless of age, and were equally confident in their approach.
A word to the wise: examine and evaluate how much time your children spend learning at home, and how much time they spend in the company of their peers. Yes, that includes co-ops.
Finally, the third commonality of these twenty geniuses was time given to non-structured, imaginative play. Dr. McCurdy wrote, “My point is that phantasy (imagination) is probably an important aspect of the development of genius…Instead of becoming proficient in taking and giving the hard knocks of social relations with his contemporaries, the child of genius is thrown back on the resources of his imagination, and through it becomes aware of his own depth, self-conscious in the fullest sense, and essentially independent.”
The Effects of Creativity and Imagination
Once again, the way homeschoolers “did” school in the 1980s was quite different than today. There was little demand to follow the crowd in homeschooling since there were so few to follow. Instead, many of us discovered that after we spent some time on reading, writing, and arithmetic, did a bit of history or science, and completed a few chores, there was lots of time left in the day for our kids to do whatever interested them. Imagine, if you can, a time when owning a personal computer was a novelty, email was virtually unknown, and the internet was unimaginable. Kids played with toys, read books, built birdhouses, and daydreamed marvelous adventures while sitting in trees. It was not idyllic, it was normal. And, homeschooled kids had more of this kind of time than other kids because school simply didn’t take as long at home.
One of the major concerns of educators and employers is preparing children for work in tomorrow’s world—developing required skills for careers that don’t yet exist. How does one prepare a child for the future, when things are changing so quickly? Sir Ken Robinson, a noted educator, described this palpable concern, “We are educating people out of their creativity.” What is the answer to this serious issue?
When you recognize that creativity and imagination are intricately interwoven, then to take time for imaginative play suddenly becomes very important. An active imagination produces a tendency to “think outside the box,” and this can bring originality into nearly any endeavor. Make no mistake, originality is a priceless commodity in today’s world. This means that as a homeschooler, you have an opportunity to give your children an invaluable preparation for their future. All you have to do is schedule in the time—generous helpings of time—for unstructured, imaginative play in the school day.
Taken together, these three commonalities are a recipe for fostering genius. And homeschooling is the best kitchen for making the dish!