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Curiosity is linked to creativity, and both are important skills to have and to hone. However, there is a decline in both curiosity and creativity between the ages of five and eight, bottoming out in pre-adolescence. Parents can nurture these lost skills by reinforcing children's habits of curiosity. Our expert Diana Rosen shares some tips to inspire your child to be curious and creative.
Seeing curiosity in action strengthens this habit for your child. Routinely ask “why, how, when, who, what if?” Importantly, ask open-ended questions that your child can’t answer with yes or no. For example, “What did you most like/ dislike about this book?” “Tell me about your favorite character.” Or, “if you could interview ________, what would you ask her?”
Even so-called experts don’t know everything. Adults understand that; kids may not. That’s why an important condition for asking questions is not being afraid of the consequences of being unsure. Show your child it’s okay to feel uncertain sometimes, especially in trial-and-error problem-solving. This ability to recognize and make effective choices even in unknown territory promotes creativity.
As psychologist Mark Runco points out, “creativity boils down to a kind of freedom of thought.” Basically, any thinking or problem-solving that constructs new meaning is creative, including everyday acts such as preparing food a in new way. Acknowledge creative thinking wherever you see it—in what you read, see on TV, and especially when your child solves any kind of problem creatively, whether for school, family or friends.
Rearrange. Play with odd juxtapositions of random words or images to see what comes up: Take some unrelated magazine images and make a collage; write a story about what you see in the arrangement of images. Use metaphors or analogies (transferring meaning from a known context to an unexpected one) to find parallels and provoke fresh perspective, like this: What animal is like scissors? What animal is similar to a fire extinguisher?
Reverse/redefine. Imagine the opposite to solve a problem. For example, role-play: “If you were your teacher, how would you make lessons more interesting?”
Combine. Brainstorm lists of 20-30 different uses for objects such as a stick, a shoe, a paper clip, etc.
Take a conditional view. Conditional thinking flexes problem-solving muscles: “This is a drinking glass, but in different situations it could be a vase or a pencil holder.”
Assumption-busting triggers alternatives: “What if this rule, boundary, definition didn’t always apply?” Practice with puzzles that force thinking outside the box like the classic Nine Dots (see below); and optical illusions that shift perspective from ‘either-or’ to ‘both-and’ possibilities. Start by listing assumptions about a problem or subject, then ask, “What is the opposite? Could both things be true? How can I use that?” For example: “Writing this essay is boring because I don’t like the topic.” Take another viewpoint: “Writing the essay interests me because I like this topic from angle X.”
Positively reinforce creativity as an ongoing process. Provide space where your child can work on projects that interest her, with permission to leave things messy between sessions.
Nurture creative thinking by rewarding effort even when outcomes are not ideal. In addition to asking your child about test scores, ask: “Did you ask any good questions today?” “What surprised you?”
Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, by Michael Michalko
How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, by Michael Gelb
Not A Box, by Antoinette Portis (great for younger kids)
The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do About It, by Tony Wagner
Odyssey of the Mind
Provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college; team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and World level.
Oracle Thinkquest Education Foundation
A learning environment for primary and secondary schools, featuring an online learning community to easily integrate technology-based activities into curriculums, plus a library of more than 8,000 educational websites created by students for students broken into a wide array of categories.
A simple puzzle that encourages creative thinking—and has multiple solutions.
Diane Rosen is a New York-based artist, writer, and educator who has taught English and Studio Art at secondary and college levels, emphasizing curiosity as a universal driving force in the creative process across disciplines. She earned her M.A. in English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and studied painting in Paris on a French Government Fellowship. Rosen’s book, “Bringing Inquiry In: A Curriculum Guide,” was published by SPI Press, Teachers College, in 2010. Visit Diane's website to learn more.
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