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Nurture a child's innate abilities

Courier-Post Staff

Every child can excel in something he or she loves -- with a little help from parents, other caregivers, teachers and even their friends.

George "B.G." Guy, 6, of Lindenwold, is spending the summer taking courses geared to developing his tactile abilities at The Clay Place Creative Arts Studio in Sicklerville and the Fleisher Art Institute in Philadelphia.

B.G.'s parents, George and Inna Rae, first noticed that he liked to grasp onto things and manipulate them when he was just 10 months old. They encouraged him by giving him utensils and then introducing art and writing implements.

"B.G.'s been drawing and writing ever since," George Guy said.

Finding the clues

By looking and listening, parents can get clues to their children's strong suits -- academic and otherwise -- and come up with ways to advance them.

"Listen to what your child is telling you. Look at what he watches. What engages him? Try a number of things," advised Carryl Slobotkin, director of Jazz Unlimited in Marlton.

It may not be what parents themselves enjoy. When her son Trace was little, Slobotkin, a physical education major who lives in Cherry Hill, quickly realized his heart was not in sports. But by exposing Trace to many different things and allowing him to pick and choose, the boy gravitated to where his natural talents lay. Today, he is a 33-year-old successful writer.

Nurturing creativity

"We believe creativity can be taught and nurtured. Kids are naturally creative and naturally curious. We use kids' curiosity to teach them," said Samuel W. Miklus, program director of the Gloucester City-based Odyssey of the Mind program.

Odyssey of the Mind was founded in 1978 by Miklus' father Sam, a Rowan University professor emeritus, to present problem-solving opportunities for children in kindergarten through college. It has brought parents and children together on journeys that showcase youngsters' innate talents -- and could take them all the way to Odyssey's annual world finals, as happened this year with a group of boys from Cherry Hill's Barton Elementary School.

Playing to their strengths

Challenged to create a float with a technical feature and use it in a presentation that included three skits plus a finale, the boys were able to divide the task based on individual strengths. Ten-year-old Dylan Toogood was the team's technical wiz, while Ben Abbaszadeh, 9, had a talent for dance and choreography that made him the natural to lead the boys in the finale, boogeying to Iggy Pop's "Wild One."

Parents helped provide the materials, but let the boys work out the problem on their own.

"That way, kids become more invested in their own learning. As a parent, you don't just teach the lesson. You teach why," said Miklus, a Washington Township resident.

George Guy, a science teacher who will become an assistant principal at Mount Laurel's Hartford Upper Elementary School in September, said parents should stay connected with their children's teachers if they want more ways to nurture their kids' innate abilities.

What excites Johnny?

"Find out what kinds of activities kids have dealt with in class, and where their talents and interests lie in that setting," he said.

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