THE IMPORTANCE OF INDIVIDUALITY AND THINKING DIFFERENTLY

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WHETHER I WAS teaching preschool, kindergarten,

first grade or graduate school, almost every year, for more

than 20 years, there would be one student who moved to his

or her own beat. Whereas most students followed the crowd

and succumbed to peer pressure, these few individuals were

content, or perhaps determined, to do their own thing. They

thought individually, uniquely, and what could be considered

outside the box.

That thing that they were determined to do—whether it

was Drew’s interest and knowledge of trains, Paige’s interest

in tennis, Carolyn’s interest in math and numbers, Jeremy’s

interest and knowledge of animals, or Nathaniel’s fascination

with dinosaurs—was to follow a passion. It was a focus that

guided them throughout their school year. This focus did not

make these students aloof and unpopular with their peers;

in fact, their peers often looked up to them as experts in their

“fields”—even in preschool and kindergarten. Their interests

were occasionally passing fancies that lasted all or part of

one school year, but sometimes these interests became selfmotivated,

lifelong studies.

Over the years I have come to realize that the major characteristic

these individuals shared was not related to IQ,

socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or personality type, but to

parental and teacher encouragement. When a parent, or

teacher, acknowledges and encourages a child’s interest, it

fosters feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. It reinforces

that significant adults respect and value their interests, which

serves as the foundation for furthering the student’s desire to

learn, discover, and explore. Such encouragement provides

the unique and individual child with the confidence to go

forth and be the person that he or she is with fortitude and

self-assurance.

The importance of parental support as the crucial underpinning

of a child’s eventual success is demonstrated by the

many stories contributed by eminent achievers to this book.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Hayden Planetarium in New

York City and one of these eminent achievers, followed his

pursuit of astronomy and the stars with the support of his

parents. Spike Lee recognizes his mother’s expectations and

standards as a significant element in his success. Many other

notable participants refer to beneficial parental support in

their narratives, which leaves the reader with the feeling that

positive parental support played a vital role in who they’ve

become and what they’ve accomplished.

It is indeed important to provide encouragement not only

to the children who think outside the box, but also to the

parents of these children. When your child pursues interests

that differ from those of children in his or her age group, it

can often be difficult to nurture the distinctive qualities. This

book provides such parents and other motivated readers with

different scenarios of children who thought differently while

growing up, the obstacles they encountered, and how they

got through it all to become the accomplished adults they

are today. These personal narratives, authored by notable individuals

who have changed or added to our world in some

way, are inspirational, aiming to encourage and provide parents

with the feeling of certainty and confidence regarding

their child who thinks differently.

Through my work and my teaching, I have also seen that

it is often the intrinsic, unique characteristics and passions

that outside-the-box children possess that fuel their future

success. I have become an advocate for such children, especially

at the preschool level. I have learned that if a topic is

interesting, meaningful, and relevant to the child it has optimum

potential for educating and entertaining. When a parent,

caregiver, teacher, or a child finds that special topic, there is

no limit to what that child may accomplish. If a child’s fascination

is with dinosaurs, encourage that child to delve deeper

into the world of dinosaurs. You may soon find that math,

science, reading, art, writing, music, social skills, almost any

discipline can be taught through a study of dinosaurs. By

permitting young children to be themselves and follow their

passions—be it dinosaurs or something else—parents and

teachers are allowing their children to pursue their dreams,

live up to their true potential, and become their best.

Part III, The Source Book: Exceptional Programs, Adventures,

and Voyages for Your Child: Ages Youth to College, is a

directory of programs divided by distinctive qualities and

characteristics. These are often the very things that, with or

without parental help, inspire a child to great accomplishments.

This book provides the parent, caregiver, and teacher

with helpful tools. There is a wealth of knowledge in these

pages that allows you to unlock the unique qualities and characteristics

in your child, helping each child realize his or her

true potential. If your child is a strong debater or is fascinated

by world politics, then the section entitled Leader: Negotiator,

Debater, Peacemaker can provide you with some insight

into the types of camps and programs that might work for

your child. If your child is interested in humanity and helping

the world, then the section entitled Altruist: Community

Servant, Healer, Teacher might be of interest. Kids Who

Think Outside the Box is a book that tells a parent that it is

not only okay to have a kid who thinks differently, but that a

child who is an individual thinker has many roads of possibility

ahead of them.

My career goal, first as an educator in early childhood

development and now as lead educational consultant for many

highly successful properties of children’s programming, has

always been consistent: to relay a message that without fail

includes the importance of encouraging the individual self

within a child. When producing quality entertainment that is

developmentally appropriate for the intended audience, I place

this message first and foremost. The message of encouraging

the individual self within a child is what Kids Who Think

Outside the Box is all about. Through the poignant writings of

thirty contributors, who themselves were kids who thought

outside the box, you get a front row view of the importance

of embracing your child’s individual self.

Most importantly, I believe that this book will encourage

you to look anew at your own “outside of the box” kid. With

that second look, you will find what you always knew in your

heart was there: your child is unique, distinctive, different,

and certainly something special.

This is a must-read book for all parents and teachers. It is

a book that will allow you to see how truly wonderful and

unique your child or student is. Open these pages and discover

the encouragement and strength you need to allow

your child to realize their maximum potential. This book is

your guide to fostering your child’s individual self and helping

your child achieve amazing accomplishments.

Mary Ann Dudko, Ph.D.

Dr. Dudko earned her doctorate in early childhood education and

child development and has taught preschool, kindergarten, elementary

school, and graduate level courses during the past

30 years. She is the Vice President of Content Development for

Barney & Friends®, Bob the Builder®, Thomas & Friends®,

Angelina Ballerina®, and all other properties produced by HIT

Entertainment. She has also authored or coauthored more than

30 books for Barney Publishing.