The New Definition of Smart: How Does Your Child Measure Up?

Family Matters on 03.20.12
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Photo: Laura St. John / Erin Reilly

As a parent, I want all three of my kids to be smart: Not necessarily smarty-pants smart, but equipped to figure out problems and make creative decisions. But there is one way that we measure our children's intelligence that has to stop.

How We Measure "Smart" Today

The definition of smart is having or showing quick intelligence, like a smart student. But in most schools today, smart is measured by how well students can spit back exactly what was taught. They learn a bunch of facts and information, then get tested on how well they remember it. Of course, there are a few little brainiacs in each class that astonish us the kind of things they can absorb like a sponge -- like a 5 year old that can rattle off the names of every president -- but in today's high-tech world, I don't think they should be the only ones considered the smart ones.

Knowledge No Longer Equals Power

If our society defines smart by the knowledge you have, then in today's world, we're all smart! With the explosion of the Internet, knowledge exists everywhere. And within two seconds, we can access it anytime, from anywhere.

So how does that change how we measure our children's intelligence? Today's smarts should be determined by how well our kids can take that all this information and do something with it. We need to tap into more thinking skills: Instead of just memorizing, kids can focus more on analyzing information and applying it in creative ways. This gets tricky when we're focusing on preparing kids for standardized tests. State standards are scrambling now to adapt to the fast-changing world, but I don't want to wait years until those changes take place. For my young kids, that's way too late.

How to Practice With Your Child

Kids are so used to being told what to do with spoon-fed information that over the years they lose ability to think for themselves. To start changing this thinking process at home, prompt your child by turning every command into a question. Stop when you hear yourself just barking out orders like a drill sargeant, and erase the "do this" and "do thats" from your vocabulary.

Start with everyday things. For example, instead of "Go brush your teeth," say, "What do you need to do before bed?" and followup with, "Why do we need to brush your teeth?"  Instead of "Finish your vegetables," ask them, "Do you know why our bodies need good growing food?" Once you get in the habit of asking questions instead of commands, opportunities for learning open up everywhere. You empower your kids to be more inquisitive, think more for themselves, and build independence. Another bonus -- your job as a parent becomes easier because your kids won't be relying on you every two seconds to be told what to do next.

Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more powerful than knowledge." And we all know he certainly wasn't just a fact-cruncher: He took information and discovered new ways of using it. If we refocused energy on teaching kids to use information to be creative and solve problems, can you imagine how many more budding inventors and entrepreneurs we'd produce?

What an exciting time to be a parent, an educator ... and most importantly -- a child!

Laura St. John is co-creator of Discovery Kids Puterbugs, a program that inspires children to believe in themselves and reach their potential by harnessing the power of the latest technology. Classes for kids 8 years old and younger are offered both online and in over 700 US locations through a network of entrepreneurs who bring the classes to their area. For more information on licensing the program, check out Laura's latest webinar.

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