I read Laura Vanderkam’s blog post, What to do if your kid wants to be an artist, about the difficulty of guiding gifted kids. When kids have talents that could lead them to success in fields where success is very unlikely, how much do you encourage them? The problem is not unique to gifted kids, of course. Lots of parents see their kids as being particularly good at something (often sports or music) and wonder how much to encourage their child to pursue a career in the field, versus encouraging them to find a day job and pursue their talent recreationally.
For a kid with multiple talents, the parent’s job is even harder. Which talents to do you support whole-heartedly, which do you encourage subtly, which do you subtly discourage? (I’m assuming that there are no talents displayed that you want to forbid, though I could see that happening if a child showed talent for illegal or immoral activities.)
My son and I have discussed some (though not all) of his talents and interests. The two that come up most often are his talent in computer science and in acting. I’ve encouraged both, but favored the professional computer scientist/recreational actor combination, for purely practical reasons, as there are relatively few full-time actors supporting themselves purely by acting. Since his interest is mainly in stage acting rather than movies, there is a lot more opportunity for amateur (unpaid) acting than professional. He certainly has a love of acting, he’s maintained that interest for a long time (at least 11 years now), and he’s gotten pretty good at it. But I don’t know that he has the singleness of purpose that would be needed for a professional actor. Given free choice of nonfiction reading material, he’s more likely to read something about physics or computer science or linguistics than about acting or the theater. He does not read scripts for pleasure or to analyze them, but just to learn his lines. His knowledge of plays is pretty much limited to ones he has seen or acted in.
His computer science interest has appeared much deeper: in addition to programming classes and programming for fun, he also does a lot of reading about language features and computer science concepts. He knows more about Python that I do, and has even explored modifying the Python byte code string produced by the compiler to do some tricky decorators. He’s also designed a few “esolangs“, esoteric computer languages whose main intent is to amuse computer scientists by their bizzareness.
Undoubtedly, when he goes off to college in a year and a half he will discover many other things to be interested in, and his interests may shift in unexpected directions. But computer science is a good base to move to other subjects from, so I’m comfortable with advising him to start there as a good fit to his current interests, and use electives to explore other things that might interest him.
I think that he’ll be in a good position to make reasonable decisions while he’s in college, because home-schooling high school has been more like college than high school in many ways. He has relatively few class hours a week (2 hours for Java, 3.5 for math, 2 for US history, 1.5 for writing, 1-2 for physics, 4 for theater, 1.5 for being a TA in a Python class), with most of his learning happening between classes. His classes are scattered (4 different locations, with 4.6 miles between the most distant pair), and he sees different people in each class (except that his 2 theater classes overlap considerably in participants).
He is on his own for most of the day and has to manage his own schedule and transportation; there are no bells to signal class changes and synchronize students. His courses are each taught in a different style, with some being almost pure group work (theater), some being almost entirely individual (Java), and others being a mix. None of the classes is large (which is different from both high school and college experience for most students). If he wants clean clothes, he has to do his own laundry, but food is provided for him without effort on his part (like being on a dorm meal plan, except that the cook is well aware of his idiosyncratic food preferences). Some aspects of college life will come as a bit of shock to him (like sharing a room), but the differences between what he now does and what he’ll do in college is less than for many students.