Jack of All Trades or Master of One?

Should kids specialize? It's a question that a regular reader of these articles raised after reading Keeping Loose. It's a good question. And it's not an easy one to answer.

Children often have a single area of interest. Since I was very young, I have had a passion for drawing. My daughter is obsessed with birds (at age six, she's determined to be an ornithologist). Your family might have a committed soccer player, a Civil War buff, or a reader of only mysteries. Do we, as parents, allow a child to nurture a narrow focus or do we push them to widen their scope? What if, as Sarah asks, they try so many things that they never succeed enough at one to really enjoy it?

I don't have a definitive answer, but here are a few thoughts:

Broaden your child's perspective. I think it's a given that kids will latch onto something they like. Children have the particular gift of being able to enjoy things over and over; such saturation deeply soaks ideas into their minds. Given that, I'd suggest that you nudge them to try new things. Add into the mix experiences they wouldn't find on their own.

Re-evaluate your own perspective. Having children who have graduated from high school, I've seen many parents who have committed a huge portion of their child's formative years to the goal of little Adam or Ashley earning a college scholarship in a particular skill or interest. Very few have realized that goal. The best reason for a child to concentrate on one thing should be because he or she gets pleasure out of the activity.

Let me leave you with one more question: What is the goal of childhood? As my wife and I raise our children, one of our key purposes is to infuse into them a love of discovery. We want them to have an eagerness to learn and to seek out new experiences. We still encourage them to pursue their interests, but not to the point where they become one-dimensional.

In the next article, I'll share thoughts on a book that dovetails nicely into this topic.

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter