5 ways to develop children’s talents

Some people think talent is born. The often-told story of Mozart playing piano at 3 and composing at 5 reinforces such beliefs.

But here’s the rest of that story: Mozart’s father was a successful musician, composer and instructor. He was devoted to teaching Mozart and helping him practice hard and achieve perfection.

Despite all this, Mozart did not produce his first masterwork until his early 20s – after about 15 years of arduous practice and top-notch instruction.

Talent, I argue, is not born, it’s made – and parents can make a big difference.

Conditions for success

Although some might believe that talent is rare, psychologist Benjamin Bloom said otherwise after he investigated top performers in six talent domains: “What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn if provided with the appropriate conditions of learning.”

Those appropriate conditions include five things: an early start, expert instruction, deliberate practice, a center of excellence, and singleness of purpose.

Children can’t ignite and stoke these talent factors on their own. Instead, as I argue in my 2019 book, “Nurturing Children’s Talents: A Guide for Parents,” children need a talent manager, most often a parent, to nurture talent growth. I make this case as an educational psychologist who specializes in learning and talent development.

Let’s take a closer look at these talent factors and parents’ influence.

1. Early start

The seeds of talent are usually planted early and in the home. One study revealed that 22 of 24 talented performers – from chess players to figure skaters – were introduced to their talent domains by parents, usually between ages 2 and 5.

Many phenoms get an early start, research shows. Purino from www.shutterstock.com
Some of those parents were elite performers or coaches themselves. One was national championship volleyball coach John Cook, who raised All-American volleyball star Lauren Cook.

“I think my daughter had an advantage because of my job,” coach Cook said. “She grew up around volleyball. When she was a little kid, we set up a mini court in the basement and would play volleyball on our knees.”

Some parents were not linked to the child’s eventual talent area but provided a nurturing early environment that sparked a talent interest. Such was the case for Adora Svitak, an accomplished child writer and presenter.

Adora published two books by age 11 and made hundreds of international presentations, including a TED Talk viewed by millions. Adora’s parents, John and Joyce, were not writers or presenters, but they set the stage for Adora’s accomplishments. As her mother describes, they read “interesting and fascinating” books to her for more than an hour each night. “Reading really helped shape Adora’s love for learning and reading,” she said.

In addition, they encouraged Adora’s early writing, offered guidance, helped her publish her books and arranged speaking engagements. Joyce eventually quit her job to manage Adora’s career. She said, “It is a full-time job, and it can be hard. But, I don’t just manage somebody; I manage my daughter.”

2. Expert instruction

Parents go to great lengths to provide or arrange expert instruction. Chess grandmaster Kayden Troff learned how to play chess at age 3 while observing his father, Dan, and older siblings play.

With few chess resources near their Utah home, Dan assumed chess-coaching duties. To do so, Dan studied chess 10 to 15 hours a week during lunch breaks and after hours.