Recently, I was working with a student on enhancing writing skills. Because this child was very interested in race cars (and had a collection of race car models of which he was very enthusiastic), we decided to use race cars as a topic for writing a book.
Once the writing was done, it was time to illustrate. The child drew a fine cover and then decided to take pictures of the cars in his collection to illustrate the text inside the book. We printed out the pictures and cut them to the appropriate size. After he pasted the pictures on the pages of text they were meant to accompany, we realized there was one picture left that just didn’t fit on any of the pages. I suggested a couple of options for the picture (the title page, the back cover, etc. He did not like any of these alternatives. He sat quietly for a few moments and then said, “We can make it around,” curving the two horizontal ends of the picture. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant but made a comment that it might get squished when we closed the book. “No,” he said, “it will go around.” Still not sure what he meant, I paused for a moment. Then, he took the book and proceeded to show me. He folded the picture at the edge of a page so that half of the car was on the front of the page and half of the car was on the back.
I must say I was a bit astonished. What a creative idea! Although he may have seen pictures like this in a book before (though you don’t see it often), to think of that option in his circumstances – and apply it – is quite an example of breaking boundaries – a good indicator of creative thinking. He stepped outside of the typical thinking with respect to how pictures appear in books to create an effect that pleased him. It may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t. This is an instance of a huge leap in creative thinking and should be recognized as such.
Your children may exhibit similar leaps. What do they do that seems out of place or does not fit the norm – especially if the result is truly functional and/or aesthetically pleasing? We should acknowledge this type of boundary breaking as significant and take pleasure in the creativity it represents – and celebrate these small but big creative accomplishments.
The other day, we spent a lovely afternoon with a group of elementary school students (mostly kindergarteners) making animals out of clothespins. It was a pretty standard activity – grab some painted clothespins, add your run of the mill craft materials (construction paper, markers, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, etc.) and – voila - you have a veritable zoo of little critters.
What made this experience special was that while we transformed the craft materials into animals, many of the children were transformed. As the children worked, they became more and more vocal about their abilities as creative individuals. Not only did they become more confident as they chose bolder and more unusual ways to personalize their animals, but even recognized what they were doing as creative – even though we never used that specific word. At one point, two girls had a discussion about their creativity. One of the girls said, “I haven’t been this creative in years.” (I suppose she was harkening all the way back to when she made mudpies as a two-year-old). The other replied that she “was getting her creative on."
Some groups of the students talked about where their animals would live. Others began naming the animals. Even though one student remarked that the animals were “ not really alive,” I sensed a definite suspension of disbelief for just a short time that perhaps the animals did have a degree of animate qualities and that the students might interact with them accordingly when they finished.
To this end, as they worked, I “performed” a little imaginative play skit with my finished animal. “Oh such a lovely day,” I said in a falsetto Giraffe voice as I moved my clothespin critter up and down as if it was ambling along the plains. “I think I’ll walk over here and eat some leaves,” I added. Then, I reared the giraffe up, crying out, “Eek, a crocodile, think I’ll go the other way,” and turned the giraffe swiftly in the other direction, galloping him away from the dangerous (completely imaginary and unseen) reptile. The children laughed in delight, but more importantly, that was all it took for them to start talking about what their animals would do when finished.
As we walked in our straight line to the exit for the day, I asked the children what they had named their new friends. I expected just a couple of hands. Instead, most of the students’ hands soared, demanding an opportunity to share that vital information about their new creation. The students dutifully waited to take their turns sharing. Speedy, Jasmine, Pony, and Sandy were a few of the names.
It was such a pleasant, and effective, activity which consumed less than an hour’s time. Just a short amount of time and a little effort, and these children had an indelible (hopefully) experience of being creative that will (again, hopefully) transfer to home and other settings. This just shows how little it takes to get kids’ creative juices going. And, upon occasion, it can probably take even less. So, don’t be intimidated by the word “creativity.” Just about anything you do with the kids in your life that involves a little imagination will liven their thinking.
I look forward to next week with this same group to carry those feelings and dispositions further with the next fun, creativity -inspiring activity.
Like many children today, half of my childhood was spent in a car. We pilgrimaged regularly to what was referred to as the center of the universe, Washington, D.C. to visit my grandparents, all 4 of whom lived there. However, unlike children today, we had no electronic devices to stave off boredom. Thus, my mother devised all manner of activities to keep my brother and me occupied.
One of these activities related to what is called ideational fluency, coming up with as many different ideas as possible. On a sheet of lined paper, my mother drew a table that had the name of a category across the top line and the alphabet going down the lines along the left side of the paper. (She made one of these for each of us). Then, she would start a timer (which back in those days meant she looked at her watch until it was exactly on the minute) and said “go,” timing us until three minutes had elapsed, at which time she would stay “stop.”
In that three minutes, my brother and I would list as many examples from the category as we could for each letter. For example, if the category was “Animals,” we would list “ant” and “aardvark” next to the A. (These were our go-to starters in the “Animals” category). “Zebra” would be listed beside the Z, of course, and so on. One point was awarded for each (accurate) item on the grid, though scoring is not a necessity. And, the time can be adjusted based on age, ability, etc.
Ideational fluency is an important aspect of creativity. Although we hear stories that seem to suggest that brilliant ideas come unprompted in a spark of inspiration, the reality is that the inspiration comes after a lot of hard work. Part of that hard work is trying to think of ideas. Neurologically speaking, generating ideas is the firing of neurons across different cells to search memory and bring together pieces of information from different storage places inside the brain. Ostensibly, the more we practice firing these neurons, the better we get at it. And, the more often we tap into different storage places in the brain and activate information there, the more primed each of these places is to be tapped again and connected with information from other areas.
Although this activity does not task the participant with generating unique ideas (making unique combinations of concepts), the act of generating as many answers as possible, does give the brain practice in forging connections as memory is scanned to meet the letter requirements within a category.
In addition to improving my creative thinking skills, this activity did keep us entertained for a little while, and I learned a lot from items my brother (4 years my senior) entered into some of the more difficult categories. Invariably, my father would chime in from the front seat, throwing out exotic animals and other unusual entries to whatever category we were tackling.
Other categories you might use as you play include: Foods, Names, Colors, Body Parts, Machines, Furniture, Clothing, Sports, Games, Toys, Schools Supplies, Famous People, Things with Wheels, Cars. You get the idea. And, there may be categories that fit with your family’s interests. We were history nerds, so we often had categories that related to historical people and events. As the categories got narrower, the game got harder, and the benefit greater.
This is one variation on the theme of generating ideas. There are many others, including commercial games that are tons of fun for families and other groups. Here are a couple of examples:
If you have similar games that you play, let us know about them.
If you’re as old as I am, one of your fondest memories of childhood might be watching the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The scenes with the father’s inventions completely delighted me and motivated me to try to make some similar inventions of my own. These types of contraptions, series of simple machines that engage a domino effect where the movement of one simple machine triggers the movement of the next, are known as Rube Goldberg Machines.
Reuben (Rube) Goldberg was, among many other things, a cartoonist and inventor who drew whimsical cartoons of elaborate machines. In time, the machines in his drawings came to be known as Rube Goldbergs, an even have an entry in Webster Dictionary – Rube Goldberg: “a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.” You can see some examples of his cartoons here.
Rube Goldberg, Inc., an educational non-profit, sponsors the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, and right now is the time to get involved in the 2018 competition. You can check out the goals and rules, as well as register, here. In a nutshell, members of a team work together to build a Rube Goldberg type machine that achieves a specified goal. This year, the goal is pouring a bowl of cereal.
RGI (Rube Goldberg, Inc.), also offers an online game inspired by the man’s works. While playing Rube Works, gamers build online versions of Rube Goldberg Games. You can play Rube Works on your computer or mobile device (App Store, Google Play, Amazon Appstore, etc.).
If you’re not up to a contest (it is a bit costly), consider introducing these captivating machines at home and having your children make them just for fun (and learning!). In lieu of actually building the invention, your children might at least draw cartoons of machines that someday could be devised. There are several books (by and featuring the work of Rube Goldberg) to use as guides, or just for entertainment. The only limit is their imaginations – and science. 😊
Just for fun - here's the breakfast machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a modern version (which is a true Rube Goldberg).
If your children are interested in birds or you just want a good excuse to get outside, check out The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).
At Arts and Smarts, Inc., we talk a lot about experiencing nature as a context for developing creative traits. Getting outside sparks curiosity, ignites passion, and engages children in a complex world that helps them build background knowledge and illustrate broad connections. Paradoxically, while nature can be a foundation for all of these activities, it is also a great place for quiet contemplation that allows for reflection and subconscious creative activity.
Coming up soon is this great outdoor activity in which to participate. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual bird watching event coordinated by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society.
What – A worldwide count of birds
When – February 16 – 19, 2018
Where – Your backyard!!
How – Sign up online (ahead of time preferably) through the website and download a checklist of birds found in your zip code and an observation form. Then, for as little as 15 minutes, go outside and count (and identify if possible) the birds you see.
You can conduct your count in your backyard or any other location of your choice. You can even make your observations at more than one location during the course of the weekend. Then, sign in to the GBBC site and submit your observations. There’s a slideshow posted to the GBBC website that walks you through what to do and how to do it.
· Take pictures of and make notes about the birds you see – after you make your initial count, sit back for a few minutes and record the birds in more detail through photos and notes on their behaviors. You can prepare for these notes by making a nature journal ahead of time.
· Draw pictures from the photos – once you get back inside, look at the photos and use them as a reference for drawing pictures of the birds (either in the journal where you left a space for the drawings or on a separate sheet of paper). This is a great opportunity for building those observation skills.
· Research the birds – either online or at the library. Peterson’s guides are a great place to start, but the Internet is full of sites devoted to learning about birds.
· GBBC Photo Contest – consider submitting a photo to the Great Backyard Bird Count contest. Rules and procedures are explained on the GBBC website.
· Explore Data – There are all kinds of things you can do with the data collected by the GBBC. You can learn more about birds. Learn about birds and their behavior, compare overall findings with your own, acquire map skills, and much more.
We'd love to hear about your experiences with birds!
Recently we shared the Inventor’s Challenge, a contest featuring problem solving skills. Today we’re sharing a contest that focuses on the problem rather than the whole process. Like Inventor’s Challenge, the folks at Engineer Girl, are asking children (yes, both boys and girls) to identify a problem in the community. Engineer Girl, though, wants children to focus specifically on a problem related to infrastructure. Then, after researching the problem a bit, children draft a letter to their local government (city council, for example) outlining the problem and a couple of solutions.
There are three categories for submissions: Elementary (grades 3-5), Middle School (grades 6-8), and High School (grades 9-12). But, you need to act fast! Entries are due February 1st (sorry – just learned about the contest).
If you don’t have the time to squeeze in the contest, you can take your time to get acquainted with the Engineer Girl website. Yes, it’s true, the site is aimed at girls, but even if you have boys, it’s worth your time.
The site features famous women engineers, details what engineers do and provides career information about the engineering field, and activities (including other competitions) children can get involved in to develop their knowledge about engineering.
It’s a visually pleasing, user friendly, interactive website full of information that inspires and educates future engineers.
Looking for something to ignite your child's creative thinking? Have a child who likes to really dig into a big project to solve a problem or come up with something new? The Inventor's Challenge is right up your alley.
The Inventor's Challenge is a contest, sponsored by AT&T and Imagination.org, designed to provide children with an authentic context for engaging in the problem solving process "that both fosters 21st century skills and is rewarding and fun."
The steps are easy:
1. Find a problem you want to solve in your home, school, or community.
2. Invent something to solve it - it could be physical or digital.
3. Make a video sharing your invention to the world!
Children can enter as individuals or groups. Entries are accepted from Feb. 1st to Feb. 28th.
Submissions are judged on the following criteria: originality, level of inspiration, and overall creativity.
There are four different entry categories for individuals - Thomas Edison (for children in Grades K-2), Alexander Graham Bell (Grades 3-5), Nikola Tesla (Grades Pre6-8) and Leonardo Da Vinci (Grades 9-12).
Individual entry prizes include Certificate of Appreciation, Tablet, and BitsBox. Group winners receive a prize package with a $1000 grant.
For more information and specifics on registering, visit the Inventor's Challenge website.
Brrr! It is cold outside. Well, here in Florida maybe it's just cool, but the days are definitely shorter. So, there is not as much outside time for children. Although we heartily encourage adventures in nature for nurturing creativity, this may not be the time for it.
Animals hibernate in the winter but only after they have spent all fall gathering the resources they need to fuel their hibernations. We recommend winter as a time for children to gather their resources. This process is part of the stage of the creative process known as “preparation.” Probably the most important resource gathered during the preparation stage is background information. This information then can be used for incubation (thinking and reflecting on information to come up with ideas (which might be akin to animal hibernation) and ultimately used to generate new ideas.
Reading is one of the best ways to prepare and gather information to use for creative ideas later. We could write a whole book on reading and creativity (and in fact we are working on one currently), but here we want to talk about two activities that encourage reading and facilitate the connections between reading and creativity.
Not only does reading provide an opportunity to gather information, it allows individuals to develop their imaginations and visualization skills. Furthermore, it stokes curiosity while providing the means to satisfy that curiosity. And finally, reading helps individuals see topics, events, and issues from different viewpoints and develop multiple perspectives.
Hands down, we have found in our research that the most commonly held trait of highly creative individuals is avid reading.
So, what can you do to engage your child in reading in a way that accomplishes all of these? We will address this question periodically in our upcoming blogs, but today we focus on two methods for getting your children reading in ways that spur creative thinking.
Having your child write and publish book reviews is a great way to motivate them to read, but it also engages him/her in extending the reading. Because the child is evaluating the book and forming an opinion, he/she is putting his/her imagination into play and sharing his/her perspective. Plus, when children have a passion for a topic or genre, publishing a review is a great way to express that passion and share it with others.
There are several places to publish book reviews online or in print. We have included a couple of ideas below that we feel are relatively safe options for this type of activity.
Common Sense Media is a website whose overall mission is to provide parents and children with information about media (books, movies, websites, apps, etc.) so that they can make decisions about what they want to read, watch, etc. One feature of the website is the ability to review items. To review a book, you simply click on the title, scroll down, and post your review. You must be a member, though, which means providing an email, entering your name and zip code, and agreeing to their terms. Your published review does not have to have your name on it.
An option for getting a book review into print is Stone Soup magazine published by the Children’s Art Foundation, a highly reputable non-profit organization that was established over 40 years ago. The magazine is published digitally each month with an annual print compilation of the year’s editions.
Humans are social animals, and hibernating (gathering resources) completely alone may not be appealing. Thus, we also recommend book clubs as a way for children to get motivated to read and extend their reflections on the books they read.
If you are lucky, your local library has a children’s book club already in place and your child can just join the fun. If they do not have one, you might volunteer to start one at the library. Some libraries have kits ready to go for this purpose. See this example from the Montclair Public Library in New Jersey.
If this is not an option, consider starting your own book club. You can start a book club by identifying your child’s friends who would be interested and inviting them over for an organizational meeting. Depending on the age of the child, you might want this meeting to have a slightly party atmosphere with snacks and games.
For younger children, it might be good to keep it simple and let them read books together at the club meetings and talk about them with each other. This would require having several books on hand, but these can be obtained from the library.
Older children and adolescents can work together to decide on books they would like to read and then set schedules for reading them and meeting back for discussions. When they meet, in addition to discussing the book, you can provide activities to further their understanding and appreciation. The children can act out scenes in the book or conduct a Reader’s Theatre with a selection from the book. Or, each book club member might assume the identity of a character in the book and then they can interact with each other based on a prompt you provide for them.
Variations on the usual theme of all reading the same fiction book include:
· Organizing a group of children who have similar interests with your child and reading non-fiction books on that topic. Children can all read the same book, or better yet, read different books on the same topic and then share what they read.
· Having children bring their favorite books to the club and sharing about them.
· Organizing a virtual group or meeting virtually. You can use Skpye or a closed Facebook group for this purpose. Skype provides real time interaction, but Facebook allows you to monitor content. If you use the latter, children can video themselves talking about the book and other children can comment with their responses.
Several organizations have their own recommendations for starting children’s book clubs. Here are a couple of them:
· PBS Parents
· Multnomah County Library
As with anything you do online, please be sure to vet organizations appropriately. Our links are just suggestions.
Leave your own ideas and experiences related to book reviews and clubs for kids in our comments section below.
Happy hibernating with books (and gathering valuable information for later creative use)!