Spending more time outdoors, preferably in natural settings, may be the simplest, healthiest, and most economical remedy for the terrible increase in numbers of children diagnosed with social, emotional, and learning problems over the past two decades. It may also be the answer to many problems suffered by adults in our increasingly rushed, technology-focused lives. And on a global scale, there’s evidence that more people spending more time in natural spaces would contribute to solving the environmental challenges that are increasingly disrupting our lives.
Play Outside! Twelve Ways to Health, Happiness, Intelligence, and Creativity, and to Environmental Sustainability
New evidence supports the importance of rote learning demands in education. It’s all about balance– yes, kids need creative problem-solving and autonomy and engagement in their schooling, but they also need to acquire basic skills that are best mastered through memorization and repetition. Multiplication tables, word roots, and penmanship are best learned the boring old-fashioned way. Once mastered, these skills provide a foundation for more interesting and engaging learning.
In another great thought-piece, ‘ Why Kids Should Learn Cursive (and Math Facts and Word Roots),’ Annie Murphy Paul discusses these ideas:
Real creativity starts with passion, with a keen interest in learning something, and then taking it farther. So the starting place for parents who want to encourage creativity in a child is to expose her to as many different kinds of experience as possible—scientific, musical, visual, physical, etc., —so she has enough knowledge to figure out what really interests her.
From there, it’s about giving her what she needs to take her interests as far as she can. If it’s painting, see if she’d like art classes, and try to make that happen. Get an easel if that’s helpful, and enough paints or crayons or pencils, and paper so she can explore and develop her skills. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You and your child can exercise your creativity in solving the problem of getting the right kinds of supplies. What you need to do is provide as much support and encouragement as you can.
Give her the opportunities, challenges, and support she needs to work hard at what interests her, and discover if she wants to take it farther. Your belief in her ability to go forward is what’s important in the early stages. Do what you can to help her learn as much as she can possibly learn about her area of interest. The more a person knows, the more they have with which to be creative.
As your child gets farther along in her mastery, she’ll discover conflicts and ambiguities, the way that ‘truths’ appear to contradict other ‘truths’. It’s good to start by understanding the rules in the domain—e.g., musical scales, or grammatical standards—but then it’s good to break those rules. This is confusing and difficult until she’s learned to tolerate ambiguity, and can let it be okay that apparently opposing ideas are both valid.
Although knowledge is essential to creativity, it is also a double-edged sword—too much knowledge can limit creativity. So help your child keep growing, keep moving forward in her learning, thinking, exploring, and developing. That means generating lots of ideas, reframing problems as they’re encountered, and it also means learning to critically analyze her ideas. Nobody has good ideas all the time. Some are worth pursuing. Some aren’t. Help her learn to think about her ideas, and ask herself and others if they’re worth developing before she proceeds.
Once she’s far enough along to have a reasonable level of proficiency, help her learn to share her creative work with others. Communicating her work with others—whether it’s dance, writing, or math problem-solving—allows her to take it to the next stage, and opens up further possibilities for growth and learning. When others start reacting to what she produces—her ideas, her songs, her inventions—she’ll learn more about where it might need more work, and where she wants to invest more effort.
Every innovator encounters opposition, so as she moves farther along in her creativity, your child also needs to learn how to believe in her ideas, take sensible risks, surmount obstacles, and stay strong in the face of opposition.
The very best thing you can do to encourage your child’s creativity is to apply all these recommendations to yourself. Find your passion, and pursue it as far as you can. Learn more about it, develop skills and expertise, decide what rules you want to break, and share your ideas and products with others. Challenge yourself to keep growing. Find ways to believe in yourself, to surmount the inevitable obstacles, to look for ways to sell your ideas. By engaging in creative activity yourself, you’ll be a great role model for your child. She’ll see how good it feels to engage in creativity.
If you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve got chances every day to encourage the creativity of the children in your life. There’s no more exciting or important work you can do!
For more on these ideas, go to www.raisingsmarterkids.net
Sources: book in progress with Joanne Foster on raising smarter kids; Dan Keating’s work on defining creativity, specifically his article entitled ‘The Four Faces of Creativity’; Bob Sternberg’s work on deciding for creativity, especially his article called ‘Identifying and Developing Creative Giftedness.’
February 22, 2012
Children need more unstructured playtime in their lives. They need time enough to get bored. If they’re going to learn and grow and achieve as much as they can in the long run, they need ample opportunities to develop their self-regulation, imagination, self-awareness, and other important life skills.
Over the past few decades, playtime has become more about things—toys, educational puzzles, electronic games, etc.—than about imagination and activities that children invent for themselves. It’s also become a lot more adult-directed, with an eye on academic learning and productive use of children’s time, a lot less child-directed and apparently aimless. Instead of being filled with spontaneous improvisation and discovery, children’s time is increasingly being scheduled by adults and gobbled up by electronic devices.
While many parents think that an increased focus on the productive use of their children’s time will give their kids a leg up in the competitions to get into the best preschools, schools, and—eventually—colleges and universities, there is increasing evidence that it does the opposite. By robbing kids of ample time for imagination, exploration, and collaborative invention, we are taking away essential opportunities for them to develop the skills prerequisite to real achievement and fulfillment over time.
Self-regulation skills include managing and controlling one’s feelings, moods, behaviour, and intellectual focus. Like self-regulation, collaboration skills and self-awareness are key components of emotional intelligence, which is a much better predictor of academic, career, and other kinds of success than IQ or other intellectual or academic ability scores.
Kids who spend good chunks of their time building forts, playing house, or constructing narratives of pirates, paupers, cowboys, and circus clowns are more likely to take ownership of their own learning and their own environments. Interestingly, they’re also more likely to co-operate independently in cleaning up after a free-choice period in preschool. In an interview on National Public Radio in the USA, child development expert Laura Berk reported, ‘Children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that [clean-up] responsibility with greater willingness, and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting.’ (To see the complete article, go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514)
Although it may look like they’re wasting time or doing nothing much at all, kids involved in imaginative play may be investing their time as productively as possible for the long run. When they’re making up their own rules and their own games, they’re learning about themselves and others, exploring and finding out what they like doing, what they want to learn more about, and how to interact successfully with others. So, let’s not insist on giving kids the scripts and the props we think they need for their play, but rather, let’s allow them to find and invent their own ways of playing and learning, at least for good parts of their day.
Children do need planned stimulation and enrichment opportunities—classes, clubs, puzzles, building toys, educational activities, museums, performances, outings, etc.—but their lives shouldn’t be so jammed with these good things that there’s no time left for imagination and unstructured playtime. Somewhat counter-intuitively, too much focus on enrichment and achievement can actually impede their cognitive and emotional development. Do-nothing times can be the most productive times of all.