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.