How to spot and encourage your child’s talents

Everything must happen age-appropriately. Jumping the line will never lead to the kind of success that measured and timely participation will

By Fatema Agarkar

‘Talent spotting’ is an art, and must be initiated only when the child reaches a level of maturity (middle/high school). Research suggests that Southeast Asian countries, in particular, are fascinated with outcomes and performances to a point that any deviation from the benchmark is considered as an opportunity to ‘optimise’.

The National Education Policy (NEP) adopting the global practice structure of 5 plus 3 plus 3 plus 4, defines the age group 8 to 11 as ‘preparatory years’ (grades 3 to 5). These are formative and developmental years that exhibit many changes including the child’s need to experiment and explore more. For one, there is the independence that sets in, and children during these primary years are developing a mind of their own and willing to ‘try’ many activities or tasks being enthusiastic, open-minded, and fearless.

While pursuing many interests, it must be important to understand that some skills are amassed easily (could be base-level success or beginner’s luck) but it continues to be a work in progress. And during this period, parents must be careful about ‘judging’ too soon. Being mindful that growth spurts will take place, interest may vary, and discipline and dedication may also be a challenging proposition. When parents ‘find’ that moment of genius, be it in co-curricular activities or academic excellence, caution must be exercised not to take the joy away from that learning and replace it with pressure.

As an educator and parent, I worry about ‘talent spotting’ at this age. Granted some children exhibit some extraordinary talent, the kind of structured pressure that is then part of the child’s world to ‘consistently’ perform and fine-tune some ‘chinks’ to make them ‘super performers’ worries me immensely because some children with potential have been pushed too soon, and this regresses their natural talent as emotionally, they are not ready. Parents think it becomes a moral duty to enhance the ‘talent’ spotted, while you can be supportive, and provide exposure and opportunity, going over the edge must be guarded against.

Talent-spotting cannot be based on ‘gut’ feeling and personal experiences. This must be communicated by the school teachers over a period of time; friends and peers who have knowledge of other children in the same age brackets validating this skill or talent, coaches and support staff that have the expertise and experience, and perhaps the child’s own passion for a particular subject or interest shown for a particular co-curricular. This scientific background could also be validated by some psychometric evaluation (plenty of ‘tests’ available and I do not mean IQ) that helps understand the child’s aptitude and talent. These ‘markers’ then need to be planned carefully so that it is a seamless process and it does not become a goal that destroys the child’s joy of learning.

For a parent to be able to measure or spot this talent, it would be necessary to expose children to plenty initially and also give them time to develop and evolve.

Modern-day educators, especially the school, are well equipped to identify trends and suggest a strategic road map for the children to build on the initial success.

At this tender age, parents should focus on attitude towards a game or sport, a skill or a subject, and not simply about ‘performance’ if they are keen to truly enhance the child’s development.

For academic excellence, there are competitive exams in different subjects, short certified courses (think summer and winter school), and contests that can be used as a ‘marker’ to determine the true talent in a child over a time horizon of a year. For sports, performing arts, or creative arts, the same principle applies and perhaps consulting expert mentors who can guide.

Supporting the talent, once identified is a crucial period, and my advice is to make it a natural process, so the child develops naturally. And there is a very strong reason why accelerated programs for academics, skipping years to fast forward learning has been a trend that is not considered the best approach for consequences of burnout or mental health. Everything must happen age-appropriately and while stimulations and simulations are important, and so is mentoring and coaching, jumping the line will never lead to the kind of success that measured and timely participation will.

(The writer is an educationist and the founder of ACE)

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