Recently I asked you about the type of adults we want to create, and I got some great answers. Many of them have been the same as my answers, and some are different. I want to address education from this point of view because the conversation can get so caught up in the details, the teaching, the assessments, and the philosophies that the goal of this whole thing is lost: raising future citizens of our world. We need to keep in mind the type of adults we need in our country, our economy, and as future parents of our grandchildren. Once we know who we want our kids to become (in a general way, not in a control-freak way), then we can extrapolate the ways to get them there.
The first and most common comment, and the one that tops my list, is that we need a world full of problem-solvers. We need people who are creative, think “outside the box”, are resourceful, and can improvise. By one estimate, 65% of kids entering grade school this year will have jobs that haven’t been invented yet. This means that we can’t just prescribe a list of facts that every child must learn, because we have no idea what their lives will look like. They need to be able to adapt to the world of the future, and solve problems that we cannot even fathom.
So how do we go about creating creative people? First, give them plenty of chances to use their imaginations. Give them space. Unstructured time is the primordial ooze from which creativity can spring. You can’t be creative on a time table. Children, just like the rest of us, need lots of free time to let their minds wander. Imaginary play is the basis of creativity, and authentic imaginary play cannot be forced.
Second, give them toys that are 90% kid powered. A blank piece of paper allows so much more than a picture from a coloring book. A set of Legos allows a child to go in many more directions than a toy that can only be played with one way.
Third, allow them to solve real problems. Don’t jump in and fix everything for them. This doesn’t mean hanging them out to dry or letting them get overly frustrated. Coach them through a problem, talk about it. Say something like, “It seems like we have a problem here. You want to play with the train, and your sister wants the same train. What can we do to solve it?” If they are too young to come up with ideas on their own, offer a couple of options. Then let them decide on the solution. If you automatically referee for them, handing down solutions for everything from how to share to how to pour their own cereal to how to save up for a toy they want, you are robbing them of the opportunity to come up with their own solutions.
Finally, foster an environment of peace. Studies have shown that people are more creative when they are happy and relaxed. This means allowing a child to do what he or she is interested in; their passion. It means valuing that interest, even if it is different from your own. It means making relaxation a priority for you and for your kids. It means letting go of control and letting your kids follow their own intuitions.
So, what’s the action plan here? Start by looking at your weekly schedule and limiting scheduled activities to about 2-3 times a week. If your child is in school, really consider dropping all other scheduled activities. Unless he or she BEGS to continue a sport or an instrument, plan to have after school time completely free. If your child is not in school, protect his or her free time vehemently. Be judicious about your scheduled activities. Is that mommy and me music class really important? Or could you turn on the music and have a dance party at home? Then, enjoy your free time. Let the mood take you where it takes you. If you need to have a plan (I’m with you there), be willing to change it. Plan things that you can cancel, like park days or trips to the library. They give you a loose structure, for your own sanity, but no one is really counting on you being somewhere.
Then, stand back and let your kids amaze you with their creativity. If you give it space to grow now, it will become part of their very essence.