Finding the Wonder in the Ordinary

A Crucible for Intelligence, Creativity, and Your Own Kind of Genius

Posted Nov 18, 2014

Too many kids’ lives are too busy for them to find out what interests them, much less pursue that very far. The creative and joyful essence of daily life is trampled in the rush to get things done. If you listen closely, your children’s dreams can provide the clues you need to help them discover the interests that motivate the kind of engagement in learning—the persistence, focus, and effort—that leads to creativity, intelligence, and talent.

In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From your children’s dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.” 

I’ve been thinking about genius recently, stimulated by a debate where four experts considered questions like, What is the origin of genius? Does genius depend more on talent or deliberate practice? What about creativity? What can parents do to support the development of genius in their kids?

The experts agreed that no one is born a genius; genius takes time and opportunity to develop. David Shenk (author of The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ) said he didn’t like thinking of geniuses as categorically different than others: ‘Instead I want to be open to the genius around me.’ He described genius as a process, not something someone has, but rather something that someone does.

The four experts also agreed that creativity is an important component of genius. Rex Jung (a neuropsychologist) described exceptionally high-level achievement as a dynamic interplay between intelligence and creativity, as well as a high level of mastery in a specific talent area.

When asked about parents’ roles in encouraging genius, Zach Hambrick (a cognitive psychologist) said it was important for parents to pay close attention to children’s interests, and help them develop them. ‘The problem is when parents dictate what the kids’ passion should be; that doesn’t work,’ he said.

David Shenk said that after a couple of years spent investigating geniuses, genius is not necessarily a good outcome or ambition: ‘Speaking as a parent, I want my kids to be great at what they want to do. But I also want them to have full rich lives, career-wise. I want them to be able to relax…Interact with all sorts of others…And a little bit of happiness wouldn’t be a bad thing.’

There was a strong consensus among these experts on intelligence, expertise, and creativity that parents and teachers should listen to children’s passions, not try to dictate them. Scott Barry Kaufman emphasized the importance of taking every kid’s dream seriously. He described his work with The Future Project (, which works to support children in imagining and creating their futures.

When the panel was asked about the role of daydreaming, Rex Jung said, ‘The most important class when I was growing up was recess. You try different things, you make mistakes—it can’t be all stuffing stuff into your brain…The novelty generator needs a chance.’ Scott Barry Kaufman replied that kids need a chance to reflect in order to become motivated in order to find and follow their passions.

William Martin put these scientific findings into good parenting advice when he wrote, 'And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.'

This is the true alchemy: with time, effort, persistence, and patience, curiosity is transformed into creativity and genius. And it starts with the simple habit of taking the time to listen to your child as she finds the wonder in the ordinary.

The Take Home To Do’s

1. Encourage your child’s sense of wonder at the ordinary. Take time to savour the way the wind blows the tree branches, the feel of sand between the toes, the sound snow makes on a crisp winter day, the taste of golden raisins. Model that kind of wonder at the ordinary, and share the pleasures of your child’s wonders and amazements.

2. Slow it down! Make time for unstructured play, for daydreaming and dawdling.

3. Listen to your children’s interests. Ask questions, support them in developing their curiosities and interests into abilities. Help them take it farther.

4. Encourage persistence, patience, and hard work. When these attributes become habits of mind—which happens with practice—interests become abilities, which become strengths. And that is where intelligence, creativity, and genius come from.

5. Make the ordinary come alive. And the extraordinary will follow.

More on these ideas:

The Genius Debate

'Talent or Practice: What Matters More?' By David Shenk

The Genius in All of Us, by David Shenk

Imagination Institute, Scott Barry Kaufman

'Protect Your Child’s Playtime: It’s More Important than Homework, Lessons, and Organized Sports,' by Dona Matthews

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Jerome Singer, Rebecca McMillan, Scott Barry Kaufman

The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, by William Martin