One of the best pieces of parenting advice I received in the last 10 years came from an advisor who I cannot recall. I think it was from a radio program. But it may have come from a book. Or a magazine. Or a series of conversations. Possibly with my Grandma Pat.
Foggy as the messenger has become, the message I received remains clear: If you’d like to do something of consequence in unearthing you child’s inherent proclivities and talents, do your best to help them develop their affinities.
So what, exactly, is an affinity? By definition, it’s a natural attraction to a person, thing, idea, or the like. Biologically, it’s the phylogenetic relationship between two organisms, resulting in a resemblance in structure. You could think of your children’s affinities as their “organic likes.”
So how do you develop these organic likes? A good way is to start with a simple, five-point list. Let’s get concrete—because that’s what this exercise is sort of all about. We can take my daughter Violette, who’s seven. Here’s a list of five affinities she has that we came up with together:
Violette’s Affinity List
3. Being Nice
Once we had the list, we tried to come up with ways to develop these affinities. And I’m not talking about just spending money here, which can certainly help, but seems to be in perpetual short supply. So we tried to be resourceful wherever possible. Here were some things we planned to help develop the affinities:
1. Music – Listen to music. Listen to the instruments in a song and identify them. Sing along if there are words. Eventually pick an instrument you’d like to learn. Violette chose violin and piano. It did take some money to get them going, but I felt this was money well-spent. We referenced Grandma Pat, a longtime piano teacher who lives too far away to visit as often as we’d like, for piano exercises in lieu of piano lessons for the time being.
2. Stars/Sky – I DVR-ed a couple documentaries
on constellations and the sky for her to watch.
We have begun identifying constellations by looking at the stars. I found her a great series of Capstone books to read on the subject called Night Sky Stories.
3. We talked about above-and-beyond ways you can be nice to a person. The difference between sucking up/giving a genuine compliment. Paying attention to people’s struggles or difficulties and being helpful in relation to those difficulties. Smiling. Listening. Being friendly. Being fair.
Even to your little brothers. Even when they say naughty things to you. Or smack you. Or endeavor to ruin whatever it is that you’re doing. It’s sort of funny—and definitely sweet—to see her trying to be nice to these little cretins. Just yesterday I watched her take out a full gallon of milk and pour her 3-year-old bro a drink, and then sigh when he complained he didn’t want white milk but chocolate.
4. Science – Again, I found a couple of documentaries and books for my lass. And since this affinity was a little broad, we narrowed it down. She’s concentrating on rocks, mostly, right now, and has started a collection. And she’s been asking me strange questions about rocks, which I have to look up.
5. Poetry – Here’s a specific one, and a lovely one. First we had a mini craft talk—going over the different sorts of poetry. Then I told her that the best poet in Mankato is Eddie Micus, a man she happens to know who drops by the house from time to time with lollipops for her and her bros. When we told Eddie of her affinity, he said that if she wanted to write a couple of her own, he’d love to read them. That’s sort of a big deal—finding a master on the subject who will work with you. And in the meantime, we found a wonderful Capstone book which is new for 2014 called Pick a Picture, Write a Poem by Kristin McCurry. This book is a true jewel for beginning poets.
You’ll notice that introducing books to develop affinities has been a big part of our strategy. And in that regard, I’m lucky to have the job that I do at Capstone in order to have access to books on such a diversity of subject matter. But the wonderful thing about books is that you can find them for free perusal at most any library in the country (as well as for purchase, of course). Other than hands-on experience, there is no better way to gain know-how on a given subject than to read about it. It’s how we gain knowledge. It’s like taking smart pills.
We can rely on our educators to help educate our children. And thank Zeus, by the way, for great teachers (or just thank the great teachers themselves, because they’re sure to appreciate a compliment that will stand out in a sea of complaints they’re more likely to receive). But parents taking time to help educate and develop their own children is obviously as important as it is rewarding. After all, these affinities our children possess are often hereditary. Helping a child discover and develop a hereditary affinity often leads to the best kind of long-lasting familial connections.
And so Violette’s off and running with these affinities. And having helped her identify them has made me feel like I’m not just helping to provide the basics, but something a little bit more.
-Nate LeBoutillier, Senior Editor