Sahara Hillman-Varma goes for a jog most mornings before school then practises golf for two or three hours every afternoon.
The 12-year-old is an elite junior golfer aiming for a successful, and potentially lucrative, career. She juggles golf with adjusting to Year 7 with its strict expectations for homework, plus weekly classes in karate and Indian dance.
"It's a lot harder now than in primary school. Back then, I would manage by doing all my homework at night but now, if I don't finish, I have to do it in the morning," she said.
Many families are familiar with the juggle of hobbies, school work, family time and free play. But for prodigies and gifted children, this can involve hours and hours of training and competition or performance. When is enough, enough?
Associate professor Jae Jung, in the school of education at the University of NSW, is reluctant to suggest rigid time limits.
“Generally speaking, if a child has an interest and demonstrates ability in a particular area, he or she should be able to devote as much time as he or she wishes to that area,” Dr Jung said. “The important thing is the activities, the work, is self-directed and self-motivated. If that’s the case, parents should be supportive and doing their best to help.”
Sahara's mother, Carin Hillman, won't sacrifice her daughter's schooling for sport. “If she’s too tired, we’d pull back - her education is extremely important,” Ms Hillman, said. “You have to have a fall-back career - she can’t count on this one thing. She needs to program her golf around her school work and make it all gel.”
Nik Robinson from Rozelle had to found a business to support his son Harry’s passion for the environment and desire to tackle the problem of plastic pollution.
Inspired by what he was learning at school and watching David Attenborough wildlife documentaries at home, Harry, 8, spent months badgering his parents about what they could do to help.
“It was ruining the environment and we had to do something,” Harry said. “It made me feel sad because I didn’t want that to happen. I really love animals.”
Harry and his dad have started a business called Good Citizens, which turns one 600ml plastic beverage bottle into a pair of sunglasses and partners with an environmental organisation to remove additional plastic waste from the ocean.
Mr Robinson is working on the business as his day job but Harry is highly involved. The mini-entrepreneur has a business meeting with his dad for half an hour every night to get an update on the company and make key decisions. He devotes several hours to it on the weekend, as well as spending at least an hour a week collecting plastic bottles from harbours and beaches.
“He honestly believes it’s his business and he’s the CEO,” Mr Robinson said. “I have to remind him that actually Dad does do a lot too.”
Mr Robinson said Harry is never forced to work on the business but he is happy to let him spend as much time as he wants on it, especially since it’s one-on-one time with a parent without screens. Mum Jocelyne Simpson takes Harry and his younger brother Archie to soccer training and games and makes Harry study for Naplan.
Keeping up with the demands of school was a challenge for singer Leo Abisaab when he missed four weeks of Year 10 to compete on The Voice last year.
''I support him with his singing fully, but I was concerned, for me the more important thing is education,” said his mother, Helen Abisaab.
The 16-year-old practises for up to an hour a day along with weekly out-of-school singing lessons.
“I try to do as much music practice as I can but not tire myself out,” Leo said. “I don’t think music gets in the way of school I always try and keep a healthy balance between the two.”
Agnes He recently realised she might have a second musical prodigy on her hands.
Her daughter Isabella Lu, 9, is a pianist who recently became the youngest musician to headline a performance at the Sydney Opera House.
Isabella, who is in Year 4, practises for about six-and-a-half hours a day on school days and has a strict time management regime.
Now Mrs He has discovered that Isabella’s younger sister, age 4, also has a gift for piano that the family will do their best to nurture.
"She started very early as since she was a baby she had to listen to her sister playing the piano and started herself before the age of 3," Mrs He said.
Dr Jung said parents had a responsibility to help all children - whether gifted or not - develop their capabilities and talents. But he said parents should only do what was possible given the time and cost restraints and the needs of other family members.
“The amount of time devoted to this interest should not impinge on [the child’s] other development,” he said. “It might also be excessive in cases where one of the children demonstrates high level of ability in a particular area and so the family dedicates all its time and resources to that child at the expense of other children.”
Dr Jung, who is also director of UNSW’s Gifted Education Research and Resource Centre, said a “prodigy” was a child who is performing at the level of a trained professional adult at a young age, while a "gifted child" was in the top 10 per cent of their peers.