My daughter dressed as a garbage can for Halloween.

Menlo-Atherton High School Graduation. Photo by Charlene Margot

Amidst a sea of Disney princesses, witches, and SF Giants jerseys, my daughter wore a costume of her own design: a plastic garbage can (new, in our defense) carved out at the bottom, black leotard adorned with trash from the recycling bin, green suspenders, and a garbage can lid affixed to her bike helmet. Not your typical Halloween attire for a fifth grade girl, but Brittany was undeterred.

I make this point because my daughter is now a graduate of Stanford University, majoring in Human Biology with a minor in Education. Yes, that Stanford — the very school that strikes fear and envy in the hearts of most parents and students in our little community of West Menlo Park, situated roughly a baseball throw from Stanford. Why are these things connected? Because they are.

Character education or “soft skills” may be the educational buzzwords of our time, but they are created — not born. Independent thinking, resilience, perseverance and creativity are the product of children The italics are mine, but I want those words to sink in. You can’t send kids to grit camp (at least, not yet) or offer enrichment programs on how to be creative. These things grow out of children given the time to daydream, to be bored, to discover what makes them tick.

Steve Smith, PhD, clinical psychologist, says that every child — especially boys — need to find their “fastball.” For some kids, their fastball may be something they find on the baseball diamond, but for others it may be that they are kind, love animals, make friends easily, or enjoy making cookies from scratch. The important thing is that children need to discover what — because every child is unique.

The girl who dressed as a garbage can went on to learn that you can combine art and science, even at a school like Stanford. For her senior thesis, she created a circular art quilt that expressed the socio-political factors that impact a mother’s choice to breastfeed. This fall, she will begin a master’s in public health (MPH) program focused on maternal and child health. But what I remember is a little girl, sitting on my bed with Charlie the cat, happily sewing stuffed animals out of furry cloth and fabric scraps.

Sometimes you just need to connect the dots.

Founder and CEO, The Parent Venture. Palo Alto native, mom of two young adults, lifelong advocate of kids, schools, and families.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store