Like millions of people across the country, I look forward to the StoryCorps segment on NPR each Friday morning. Some of these stories have made me laugh, others have moved me to tears. They are always compelling. Yesterday, nine-year old Aiden Sykes had some questions for his father, Albert Sykes. When Aiden asked “What are your dreams for me?” Mr. Sykes told him
“My dream for you is to live out your dreams. There’s an old proverb that talks about when children are born, children come out with their fists closed because that’s where they keep all their gifts. And as you grow, your hands learn to unfold, because you’re learning to release your gifts to the world…For the rest of your life, I want you to see you live with your hands unfolded.”
Mr. Sykes’s wise words reminded me of Cornelius Minor’s keynote, “The Things that Break Us Don’t Have To,” at last Saturday’s Educator’s Institute in Providence. He urged the teachers in the audience to empower kids to be the superhero of their own lives and “give kids the tools they need to rescue themselves.” In other words, teach them that they have the power to find their gifts, to unfold their hands.
So how can we support our kids, both at home and in the classroom, so they can discover their gifts and passions?
Give them the skills they need to accomplish their goals. Begin with the basics of reading, writing, and math. But go further. Give them resources, both print and digital. Surround them with as many books as possible. Then, as Cornelius encouraged us, teach them “how to acquire their own prior knowledge.” The gift of how to learn is one they will never lose.
We also have to give kids plenty of opportunities to practice whatever it is they want to be good at. This is true for both home and school. My son can play one particular Nirvana song REALLY well because he played it about a gazillion times when he was 14 and 15. I personally don’t like the song, but I listened to it a gazillion times because it was important to him.
But above all, we have to be their champion. We have to, as Cornelius pointed out, give kids the feedback and encouragement that will help them pick themselves up after they fail. Because it is through these failures and missteps that they learn. It is through the advice and guidance of mentors that they gain knowledge. It is through our faith in them that they learn to have faith in themselves and realize their dreams.
Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.