A Publication of WTVP

You're lucky this is a magazine, so you don't have to sit through the slide show and the home movies. But let me take a few words (alright, 967) to talk to you about our kids-mine and yours-and our roles in the development of their artistic gifts.

Can someone get the lights, please?

If you have very young children, no doubt you've noticed their insatiable curiosity, almost from day one. Those little brains, which, of course, are bigger than ours in relation to the rest of the body, are hungrily seeking stimulation, sensation, and contact with that new outside world. As you may have discovered, everything within reach-eyeglasses, jewelry, tablecloth, dog-goes instantly in the mouth. Can it be that your progeny is really that hungry all the time? The answer is yes, but not just for food. Your baby discovers early on that the mouth is extremely sensitive and a great way to check things out. As robot Johnny 5 said in the movie Short Circuit, "Input, INPUT!"

And does it ever stick. Brain synapses are being built at a fantastic rate, memory is clean and sure, and the enthusiasm for new material seems endless. I can't say for sure that having your baby listen to Mozart in the womb will hasten the appearance of the next Einstein, but anyone who saw those famous pre-birth pictures in LIFE magazine knows the head and brain are way ahead of everything else in the early childhood development department. And that doesn't suddenly switch off at birth. That, of course, is why we go to school when we're young (even though we often hate it) instead of when we're old (when we can really appreciate it).

As for our own three children, it's not some exclusive rich-kid story. Are you kidding? I was a young teacher, and I married an actor. Anyway, like your children, our three were all very different. Number one, a boy, was very quiet. I mean really quiet: didn't cry, didn't fuss, and reached and pointed for things instead of vocalizing. He didn't talk for ages, then started in complete sentences. It was just like the old joke: Baby is silent, parents are worried, then one day baby says, "Man, that oatmeal's hot!" Parents ask why no talking till now. Baby says, "Up till now everything was okay."

Number two, also a boy, came out looking for the party. Extremely alert, very vocal, and never happy being held on laps or restrained in any way. A natural leader of pre-school fun and games with no shortage of mischief and enthusiasm; he was a handful.

Number three was a girl. On the second day of her life, our wise old pediatrician predicted that she would be the dramatic one. Enough said, except that it has proven useful in dealing with two older brothers.

The point of the story: I've said that we were fairly poor, and our three kids were obviously very different. Yet they've all become reasonably proficient in various aspects of the arts-according to authorities quite apart from their proud parents, thank you very much. Despite what you may think, we're not "stage parents" by any means.

Are we latter-day Dr. Spocks, looking to write the new child development guide? Hardly. We would only offer this advice: Expose your kids to all the wonderful opportunities life has to offer-and especially early on while those young brains are soaking up everything within reach. You'll likely tend to favor the activities you're most comfortable with; we certainly saw to it that our kids tried theatre, dance, and vocal and instrumental music. But don't force your own real or imagined limitations on them. Their innate gifts and, indeed, their environment may be very different from the ones that shaped you. My husband was no athlete, and I preferred accompanying or directing rather than performing in front of people. Yet our kids have been involved in sports since tee-ball and pee-wee bowling and, believe me, have no trouble getting up in front of a crowd when pressed.

We've introduced as much stimuli as we could, and we started right from the beginning. We've tried to support the ones that seemed to strike a nerve. We've had varying degrees of success, but that's all anyone can ask. Just don't be afraid to try, and if you can't personally mentor your child in a given area of interest (fine art would have been tough for us), find someone who can and get involved. Who knows? Maybe you'll discover your own hidden gift.

I've been a teacher for 30 years. I get to help develop your child's gifts but only within a short window of time. You, on the other hand, can watch your little one grow and flourish as an actor, singer, dancer, musician, artist, writer, teacher, director, manager, designer…fill in the blank. Just, please, be sure you do. AA!