3 Unique Ways to Foster Creative Thinkers

Family Matters on 06.26.12
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Photo: Laura St. John / Discovery Kids Puterbugs

Take up a real one-on-one conversation with any 5-year-old, and you're in for a treat -- kids' imaginations at the younger ages are soaring with ideas. As a mom, an educator, and an entrepreneur, it made me wonder: When do kids lose their imagination? And what can we do to foster creative thinking skills at home?

After my recent business trip to the International Licensing Show, where brands like Mattel, Disney, Discovery, and Nickelodeon all meet to share brands and new product ideas to bring to market, my mind has been non-stop swirling with ideas. This was no ordinary meeting between CEOs: People were oozing creativity -- thinking outside the box about their ways to brand new products.

Then it hit me -- where do creative people come from? Somewhere along the way in our childhood, we're either guided to learn how to comfortably self-express ourselves, or just follow the rules, ace tests, and listen when we're told what to do. Or someone -- a peer, a family member, or even a teacher -- puts down our ideas or creative work, and we get squashed. Some of us build enough confidence to get over it, but many of of us do not.

Since I was on this business trip with my mom, we chatted on the airplane ride home about how exciting it was to meet with people who could sit there with us, envision a brand that we've developed over twenty years, and watch them think about what they'd do to help us grow it globally. It's not everyday we get to watch people think alongside us. I reflected with my mom about what she did with me and my sisters to foster creative thinking while we were growing up that helped make us the entrepreneurial family that we are today.

1. Let Kids Design Their Own Bedroom. My friends thought my family was crazy growing up. I was always prompted to move around the furniture in my bedrooms, change things up, and make it my own creative space. Not only was this fun, my two sisters would sometimes completely switch bedrooms with each other and really throw our friends for a loop.

My parents really applauded us for our design, color choices, and decor, and never put it down. I learned to step outside the box from their way of thinking and feel comfortable expressing myself. Today, I see so many parents decorating their kids' bedrooms as if I stepped into a magazine, instead of the other way around. Let your kids take the plunge! Soon they'll be drawing plans, measuring, and problem-solving about if their desk will fit under their window.

2. Answer Their Question with a Question. This drove me nuts growing up, but whenever I had a question, my parents never (ever) told me an answer. Instead, they prompted me with another question right back, which put me on the creative problem-solving side. Rather than telling me what to do, or even argue, I was prompted to think. Fast forward to today, when I see my own kids ask Grandma, "Why this" or "Why that" rather than getting annoyed, she asks them, "What do you think?" Sometimes their answers may surprise you.

For questions you both don't know answers to, it's also important to model how to figure it out. For example, when my 7-year old recently asked me, "Why is the sky blue?" I said "What do you think?" then since I honestly didn't know why the sky is blue, I followed up with, "Well, let's Google that one together." If you get to the answer first, continue to prompt your child with questions that will gently lead them to the answer. It makes them feel the success of figuring it out for themselves. That success will give your kids the confidence to ask more questions, find more answers, and become more creative.

3. Ask Your Child to Describe His Work. My five year old sometimes makes pictures that look like my 1 year old made it -- a series of lines, circles, and a mess of color. But what may look like scribble can be a whole lot more when you ask your child, "Tell me -- what did you make here?" I've learned to never assume, and once my kids start telling me about their scribbly looking masterpieces, I realize they are just that -- a masterpiece of the ideas that went into it. Not only that -- drawing and describing pictures is a very early step to literacy. The same skills it takes kids to dictate what they colored will someday be the same skillset they'll use to formulate and write a story.

To take it to a whole other level, be sure to motivate versus just praise your child. Point out something very special about their work by pointing out their effort that went into it. For example, instead of just saying "Good job," or "Nice picture," you will encourage your child a lot more by saying "I love how you shaded the sunset with the colored pencils so carefully," or "I can really tell you worked hard on drawing the little boat" -- pointing out something specific will motivate your child to be even more creative the next time he sits down to color.

Gosh, now that I've written this article, I realize why i get an itch every few months to draw up plans for my future house renovations, and why I have a hard time answering any question with a direct answer. But one thing is for sure -- not only do I know why the sky is blue -- I can still think creatively with the imagination of a 5-year-old, and that's really good for my business today.

Will your child be the next big entrepreneur?

Laura St. John and her family created Discovery Kids Puterbugs, the largest network of computer classes for kids up to age 8 years old. Fun, teacher-created lessons build creative thinking and problem solving skills while kids learn typing, reading, and writing. Find classes at locations near you, or register for an online membership at Discovery Kids Puterbugs and enter promo code, CAMP2, for a special 50% discount available for a limited time.

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