NATURE NURTURE AND MULTIPOTENTIAL
It’s been years since I went to college but I can still remember an exam in my early childhood education course, it’s question was specifically related to the debate about nature versus nurture and the effects on a child of the environment they were raised in versus the inherited or genetic pre-dispositions. Multipotentialite was not a word in my vocabulary.
Why did this memory occur to me more recently? Well I was introduced to a word, that I heard for the first time from a lady who was unknown to me, yet was able to describe me by simply reviewing my career history and having one conversation with me. The word she used was mulltipotentialite.
Of course, when somebody calls you something you don’t know or have never heard before, I think it’s a normal reaction to want to know exactly what that means. I embarked upon a fair bit of research and I discovered that what she called me was actually pretty accurate. I’ve never picked up a label before, this was a new experience for me.
Everything I read and understood about multipotentialites’ described me so clearly that I was surprised one word could cover so much and to be told this word by somebody that had never met me was illuminating.
WHAT IS MULTIPOTENTIAL
In 2010 Emilie Wapnick, defined multipotential, as Frederickson & Rothney in 1972 had done before her. A person of multipotential, does not settle on one true calling in life. A multipotentialite is drawn to multiple disciplines and can excel in all of them, not staying in any particular field and often times choosing a completely opposite or alien experience to one they have just perfected. The change can be quick and as dramatic as the difference. A person with multipotential can focus on one thing they are passionate about at the time and when they lose interest they can easily switch with the same energy and focus as the previously, extinguished passion.
Throughout my life, I have had an underlying connection or passion which has always drawn me. It is the unwritten potential of a child and their extraordinary resilience, enthusiasm to lean, their adaptability, their ingenuity, their spirit for life in general which has kept me hooked for 3 decades of my life.
It would seem to be a contradiction to multipotential that I have a general theme of children and childhood education related history, spanning 3 decades. Surely that would indicate a form of dedicated passion, would it not? A quick review of my often contradictory experiences, skills, qualifications, jobs, hobbies, pursuits and even locations, coupled with the multitude of discarded tools from previously perfected activities such as language courses, misc. course materials, skiing, snowboarding, squash, tennis, golf, wind surfing, scuba diving, racket ball, and many more that I have not only tried, but reached a fairly acceptable standard in, I feel does have rather more than an inkling of the multipotentialite.
My mind started as always, working at double speed when something captures my attention. I was recognising a connection to my life and my work with the very passion of my life, that hadn’t been obvious before. My common denominator – children. I had found a word to describe what has attracted me to and kept me connected to children my whole life. For me – all children are born as multipotentialites. Do multipotentials attract other multipotentials? Is that why I’m drawn to all things child-related, because I’m still living by the child like rules of multipotentialism?.
It’s like a light bulb went off in my head. The question from my old exam paper kept nagging at me. Was there an answer somewhere in there to a question I hadn’t really formed yet, or was this just another pathway my brain was wandering off into.
ARE CHILDREN NATURALLY MULTIPOTENTIALITES
There is still no definitive answer for me. I have been unable in 30 years to favour either nature or nurture as a deciding factor in the outcome of a child’s growth and development. Depending on my own personal experiences, I have favoured either or both at multiple stages in my career and life. There is still so much missing from our knowledge about the human brain. Studies tell us how much experiences in the uterus affect a baby’s physiological reactions? Nature and nurture are inherently connected and inseparable. That’s why multipotential caught my interest. Maybe it was another common denominator of early childhood forming the adult.
For me the definition of a multipotentialite is not a single descriptor but a link in the puzzle of how children tick. Could it be a term that is fundamentally linked to environmental development rather than an innate skill set we are born with, or is it the reverse that physically children are born with the programming of multipotential already hardwired?
My take on this is that all of the children I have come across in my life begin in my humble unscientific opinion the same. They are all conceived with genetic pre-dispositions alongside an immediate need to connect those physical, and chemical and genetic factors to any available kind of environmental information highway. This is the food of development, the sustenance of growth, and it is an extraordinary interdependence built originally from nature and sustained by environment.
The second the neurons begin their work in the spinal cord and brain, is the second the environment even in the uterus is influencing that child. In turn the ongoing foetal development is dependent on the environmental interaction to stimulate growth and movement and grow the synapses that form the foundation of so many abilities later on.
WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY ABOUT BRAINS AND A CHILD’S POTENTIAL
Science tells us that a child is born with pretty much all of the neurons it’s supposed to have for life. It’s the synapses, or connections that are massively accelerated in quantity during the early years. In fact, the brain creates way more than are needed.
Lets consider if the neurons and synapses have any influence on the idea of multipotential. Neurons are the first and most fundamental physical and genetic factors that create the foundation of the developing brain. The neurons are extremely helpful and welcoming, in fact they are the sent by the genes initially to specific locations in the body a bit like soldiers to a post.
I’m not a scientist, but what I understand is that when they get to their fixed post, they are pre-disposed to listen to and facilitate input via newly forming and multiplying synapses from environmental and other stimulus, for example the senses. The chemical messages that pass along this matrix of synapses allow the brain to further develop and establish more solid wiring.
It is the repeated incoming experiences that take advantage of the plasticity of the brain to form as many connections in the early childhood period as possible. Eventually the extra unused synapses are naturally pruned as a response to the external stimulus the brain receives. The brain discards the synapses that are not used enough or needed.
Why is this important? Well those neuron soldiers are so welcoming to the experiences that build connections that they don’t refuse access to any of the environmental stimulus. Their sole purpose is to facilitate the growth of the synapses, not to decide what stimulus is allowed. The physical body we are born with which so brilliantly facilitates access for the environmental exposure necessary to allow the brain to develop as a child, is in effect powerless to guard against the negative experiences that may eventually get hard wired into our brains as much as it is powerless to stop the positive ones.
The fact is that the brain is physically pre-disposed to accepting and hard programming both the negative and the positive experiences equally. So, the potential good is there but so is the potential bad. It’s all only just potential to the brain after all.
SCIENCE AND THE MULTIPOTENTIALITE
How does all of this relate to multipotentialites? As I said earlier I believe all children are born as multipotentialites. What I meant by that is that the multipotential for every child is genetically there for the most part unless something caused damage to the physical development, during conception or in utero. Nature does not dictate how many synapses are then manufactured by the genes and neurons, the child’s exposure and experiences do. That means that multipotential is there already, its what is done with it that matters next.
I believe children continue to build their synapses experientially, in the early years as multipotentialites. Children naturally are driven to experience as much, as they can and to perfect it.
Lets take something as simple as walking. Not so simple if you look at the science and what is needed to make that happen. There are a huge variety of influences that contribute to learning to walk. Physical and genetic, such as body shape and size, the brain input directing and controlling, the environmental factors such as diet to give strength, a safe and stable place to explore and experiment, a parent who doesn’t constantly carry a child but allows them to use their body, etc etc. So many factors influence and direct this process.
Ultimately walking is the perfecting of a skill, the steps of which are practiced over an over until it is mastered. When mastery is achieved the next step is to keep extending, for example running, hopping, jumping, hand standing, cartwheeling etc. Children are learning and perfecting all the time. Like I said, multipotentials naturally!
SOCIETY AND IT’S VIEW OF MULTIPOTENTIAL
Society tells us that it is normal to find something and stick to it, whether it is a diet, a fitness regime, a hobby, a job, a relationship, treating an illness, whatever it happens to be. Society is set up and structured for non multipotentialites. I have observed personally and professionally that children who’s natural developmental energy, and force is too strongly directed, controlled or stifled, results in one or maybe all of the following.
The child’s may begin to conform to what is being requested of them and may sometimes accept this happily or rebel against it. They may hide away the things that are not considered acceptable, that doesn’t mean they are gone, but that they will do them when you aren’t monitoring, or they will keep them hidden until they can’t any longer. They may suppress their desire to flip and change and keep testing boundaries because it is expected of them and this may manifest in other behaviours. They may just naturally settle into a pattern they got used to but that in my experience is not usually the first response.
If we look at life stages, I believe at every turn the child is pre-disposed to multipotentialism. As a baby grows, they are, observing learning and perfecting everything. At school age, children don’t want to sit still and just study. Ask any early years or KG teacher what their biggest challenge is and I can guarantee high on the list will be keeping a child’s attention focused on one thing, including sitting still! It may be expected in school but it is NOT a child’s natural state.
Children naturally want to fidget and use their bodies, touch, climb on, poke, taste, test every single new idea, experience, person and environment they are exposed to. Rules spoil all that and I’m not saying that they are not necessary, of course some are, but within that our little multipotentials are bursting at the seams to be freed and supported in their life’s work – for the young child, play is that work. We are already aware as a society that a child who doesn’t play, simply won’t develop the same as a child who does.
A tween or a teen, may be considered an unknown quantity or as challenging as the labelled ‘terrible two’s’. Teens don’t conform, they don’t want to obey, they don’t want to contribute, they actively rebel and don’t want to even answer you when you ask a question. Another sign in my opinion of multipotential. The teen simply wants to go their own way testing and perfecting their relationships, their hair style, their computer game, their BMX riding skills and occasionally their maths, but life gets in the way – how annoying is that! Like the toddler who runs away just to test your reaction and to see what’s around the corner and to follow that interesting creature, or that trickle of water going downhill, or that butterfly, life is just one great big experiment and they are just the scientists. Life is so interesting to be in when you free. Bedtime is a waste of time to kids, they want to keep going as long and as hard as they can.
I can already hear the voices of the people reading saying but society demands things of us and we have to conform to some rules and regulations. It’s great for any of us to do what we want but what about the ‘hard work’.
My observations are not written here to annoy you or to frustrate you or to criticise your choices. They are a kind of cathartic relief for me, rather than a test for you to express what is so ingrained in my very beliefs about life and children and how we raise them. Its just great to be able to express what I see in children in relation to the term multipotentialite.
WE NEED MORE UNDERSTANDING THAT CHILDREN ARE NATURALLY MULTIPOTENTIAL
As much as is possible wouldn’t it be a much more appealing world to live in, if children were allowed to flit and fly and hop and jump wherever their passion takes them, for a period of time. Eventually life experiences pull an adult towards their calling, even if it’s a temporary one that changes monthly or as and when you get bored of what came before. Exposure is all I’m talking about. The more your young child is exposed to, the more tools they have in their tool bag. Rich life experience and observation is critical to early development in my opinion. Knowledge and understanding of the world cannot be underestimated in value for the young mind.
Educational measurements have shown that there is some truth in exploration and less structure. Historically, in European tests children who were put into structured study programs in the UK were measured against a system where the children grow up and until 7 years they are in the forest, learning through play, exploring, experiencing and gathering life skills and knowledge. Academincally at 11 plus testing those children who had been in flexible learning were equal academically if not advanced in some criteria as their counterparts who had been in formal schooling since age of 4 years. I bet they were happier too!
Boredom is a fact of life. It would be self indulgent of me to preach that we can all choose to raise our children just doing what they want, or that we can pick and choose all of our circumstances and still manage to pay the bills. I ask only for you to consider your own multipotential child inside in reference to any opportunity to fulfil the desires of life, in a way that still allows the potential or multipotential energy to be fulfilled.
As an aside. I have rarely met an unhappy entrepreneur as I believe entrepreneurs are naturally adapted to finding what it is they like to do and make a living out of it. Instead of looking at at job as a whole, I too have an entrepreneurs perspective and have a tendency to select the components within a role that appeal to me and their pliabilty rather than a more traditional job description which after so many years of self governing would feel alien to me. So there is strong evidence that multipotential can provide a very solid material wealth for the future for those who chose an alternative pathway. Multipotential skills are extraordinarily useful in so many ways, don’t underestimate this.
Would there be very much wrong with the world if we encouraged our children to be more entrepreneurial? I don’t think so. I have a 9-year-old, who is bursting at the seams to invent something and says she is an inventor and to be an inventor she needs a lab now! Am I an indulgent parent by allowing her to make the kitchen counters and the bathroom sink her lab for now – the current trend is to create the biggest variety of gooey, sticky, or noisy slime in every possible form with every possible material including gel, toothpaste, flour, liquid soap, shaving foam, contact lens fluid and whatever else she comes across in the cupboard! I knew what I had in my hands when she began picking up snails and slugs and examining their ability to stick and slide. As long as she does a little bit of the life essential, boring practical bit of clearing up the mess, I think that’s ok. She is acting freely, testing and trying and succeeding and failing, all I believe, very important life skills.
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A MULTIPOTENTIALITE – I AM ONE
My half century birthday is fast approaching and I can honestly say I don’t’ care bring on the next 50. Age doesn’t frighten me, its always been my perspective that life is a journey not a destination, what comes up, I face. I still love getting lost in life and moving without a fixed direction. I seldom look at my watch unless it’s essential. Time is a relative thing, I use when I need to. Change is something I love it’s never been a fear for me. I have been rewarded with some of the most amazing experiences in life when I’ve taken a chance and wandered off the beaten track or allowed my multipotential to have free reign and avoid conforming. The very person who introduced me to the term multipotentialite is another potential leaf, or branch of the very tree of life I am nurturing and experiencing, another connection that came out of the blue and who knows where it may lead to in future. Friendships can appear out of nowhere and I believe we are where we are meant to be.
Some people hate the idea of a life that is unknown or unwritten, they love to plan and they like a different kind of order. That is ok because you are still following your way, irrespective of somebody else’s view of it.
As parents, I believe it is up to us to try to make sure that we don’t stop filling the vehicle of potential in our children with fuel and providing it with an open road to drive and stop at random. It doesn’t have to be all the time, but definitely as much as possible. If your child doesn’t blossom on one road, try another and keep letting them drive.
For me a dream childhood from home to school, is one which understands and accepts and supports all potential as multipotential and fosters a freer less conformist environment for the child in order to naturally reach his or her potential. It will remain my dream until it becomes a reality that I hope to perfect to create such a place of learning and to spread it as far across the world as I possibly can in the hope that the world recognises all potential as precious.
Back to my original observation about nature and nurture, my conclusion so far, (although it may change with more life exposure, I can’t say it wont), is that we are blessed with a great physical start, we have the equipment, the human processes, the chemicals, the science in our bodies and minds to launch into the world at full speed and as budding multipotentialites.
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with not settling, not choosing, not sticking to, not staying still, the problem comes when the perception of others about that, starts to matter to us and we change in response.