When it comes to finding things to do with your kids, it’s probably common to resort to some of the things that you enjoy or that you enjoyed as a kid. We rely on our own experiences to create new and interesting experiences for our kids. I had my son Milo kicking a soccer ball (albeit, a small one) by age 2 and now he’s a full blown soccer addict at age 5. That just happens to be something he’s wired for and he loves it.
Growing up in northeast Ohio, home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, it seemed perfectly natural for me as a kid to get into music and learn how to play the guitar. That process turned out to be a little rocky for me and I didn’t fully appreciate playing music until I was in high school. But I did realize even before then that a certain musical gift runs through my family.
My Uncle Jeff is an excellent guitar player and can pretty much pick apart any song he’s listening to and figure it out on the guitar. That amazed me as a kid and frustrated me at the same time. I was stuck in a structured class with a lady who was trying to get me to read music and play songs like “Ode To Joy” and “Yankee Doodle.” That was too much like school and wasn’t very much fun. Then I realized that I had the ability to listen to a song and figure out how to play it without any sheet music, just like my Uncle. Apparently this magical ear gift is genetic.
A decade and a half, a couple failed attempts at forming bands, hundreds of impromptu jam sessions, and four calloused finger tips later, I’m not a rock star, but rather a father of two young boys. The oldest seems to be going the route of an athlete, even though he certainly enjoys music, singing, and dancing. But I noticed something in his younger brother Oliver by the time he was only a year old: He has the Magical Ear too.
I can see it in the way he responds to a song that he likes. He doesn’t just listen to the song, he studies it. He makes similar facial expressions to the ones I make when I’m trying to figure out the various pieces of a song. And he knows what he likes, and what he doesn’t. He got quite angry with me once when I tried to put one of those baby classical music CDs on:
Oliver – “No!!! I don’t like it!!!”
Me – “You said you wanted music on.”
Oliver – “NO! Not this one! I don’t like it!!!!!”
Me – “OK, what music do you want to listen to?”
Oliver – “Rock & Roll!”
Me – “Oh… Rock & Roll. Um, what kind of Rock & Roll?”
Oliver – “I want Wilco…”
Me – “You… wait, you want Wilco? Hmmm… How do you ask?”
Oliver – “May I have Wilco please?”
That exchange happened 9 months ago when he was around a year and a half old, and yes, Wilco is his favorite band. Nirvana is probably a close second with Beck, Weezer and the Red Hot Chili Peppers not too far behind. He still has little interest in classical music. The kid just loves Rock and Roll, and I have to use that term loosely because his mother has trained him to dance around singing Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” Not thrilled about that one, but you know what? It’s hilarious and anything that tweaks his musical DNA is probably good in the long run.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s probably that you should try to figure out what skills your child has as early as possible and then focus on playing with them in activities that are geared toward those skills. Because it’s likely that there’s a built in enjoyment for them when they do things that utilize a skill they were born with. It’s also much more effective for the development of those skills if they use them at a young age while playing with Mom or Dad, rather than in a one-hour-per-week class when they’re a pre-teen.
I am very fortunate to have two boys who seem to have some skill at doing things that I know well and enjoy doing myself. That may not be the case for everyone. But if you weren’t an artist and you think your kid might have an inclination toward painting, then buy a giant canvas and go to town with a couple buckets of paint! You don’t have to be the best at something to have fun and nurture the child’s natural skill set.
And who knows, your kid may be the next rock star!