The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: Ten Ways to Encourage Creative, Independent Thought

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ten Ways to Encourage Creative, Independent Thought

When I was young, I had few toys.  I made my own fun from available resources, like natural objects and discarded items around the house.  I wasn't particularly poor ... there just weren't that many toys to be purchased in those days.  I didn't have TV until I was five years old, and even then the program choices for young people were limited. As a result, I read, drew pictures, made crafts, and played with my dog.  Our phone was a party line.  That meant I might lift the receiver and hear someone else's conversation.  I would politely lower the receiver and try again later ... and later... and later.  Consequently, I wrote letters to my friends during the long summer months rather than calling them on the phone.

Where am I going with these reminiscences?  To the unthinking generation that can pick up a plastic toy for amusement, turn on the TV for entertainment, and use a phone to talk to friends.  Where's the creativity?  Where's the thought?  Where are today's youth headed?

My daughter recently gave her accelerated seventh graders the ubiquitous bridge project.  I'm sure G&T teachers around the country have offered the same challenge:  Build a bridge from paper and tape that will support (fill in the blank).  As a child, I would have been thrilled with the challenge to consider different bridge designs for stability and endurance.  I would have tested and retested my designs until they met the required criteria.  However, my daughter's class was disappointed that they were not able to use the computer lab that week.  What?  They wanted to sit in front of a screen rather than get their hands and minds busy with a real project?  What's wrong with this picture?

Similarly, when I was teaching and would pose a thought-provoking question to my students, many times they would answer, "I don't know."  ACK!  I would not allow that answer.  Sure the student might not actually know the answer to the question, but I expected an intuitive response - anything is better than "I don't know." 

So, the bottom line with today's rant is that I've developed ten ways that you can get your children to start thinking and stop receiving all their information:
  1. Offer more choices and reduce the number of requests.  (Instead of saying, "It's time for bed," say, "It's bedtime - do you want to brush your teeth first or get on your PJs first?"  A simple choice, but one that still involves thought.
  2. Encourage your children to read some of the choose your own adventure variety.  Here are a few examples: Books at Amazon.
  3. Encourage outdoor activities, none of which involve TV, phones, or computers, all of which involve creative exploration. Let your kids get dirty!  They'll have more fun in the tub later.
  4. Teachers: Develop more bridge-building style activities, even if you don't teach G&T.  Average students crave the need to get up and move around to explore your curriculum rather than completing a tedious worksheet.  (See my book, The Kinetic Classsroom, for ideas!)
  5. Ask open-ended questions.  Questions that require a one-word answer don't usually involve creative thought. (Example: What kind of bird is that?)  An open-ended question usually begins with Why or How rather than What or When.  (Example: Why do some birds migrate south and other birds stay in the area?)
  6. Buy thought-inducing games and toys.  Puzzles, legos, logic problems, and similar activities encourage children to think creatively.  Single-use toys like a silly Magic 8-ball don't encourage creativity or thought.
  7. Discard coloring books and replace with plain paper. Let your children develop their own pictures to color!  You might be amazed at how creative they become when presented with a blank piece of paper.
  8. Encourage letter writing, especially to grandparents and other older relatives who may not understand computers and email. 
  9. Encourage dramatic play with costumes, props, and a list of possible scenarios (child-produced, of course!).  If your children are old enough, ask them to write a story about their dramatic play.
  10. Supply your children with the opportunity for craft activities.  Dollar stores are a treasure trove of junk, useful for holiday craft experiences.  Play doh allows children to create anything without criticism.  What a great rainy day way to develop creative thinking!
Research has proven that children who think independently and creatively are more socially aware and morally considerate. So turn off the TV, send your kids outside, and make the phone off-limits for a mutually-agreed upon period of time.  Help your children at home and in the classroom to think before they act by encouraging creative thought when they are young.  You'll be glad you did when they are presented with life-threatening choices as teenagers.

Happy parenting and happy teaching!

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