Is there a secret recipe for nurturing innovation? Probably not, but there are definitely things we can do to nurture the creativity in our kids so they can get into a habit of creatively solving problems.
Cassidy, creator of The Baby Toon, in the above video is a great example of what a child can do, given the right tools. She looked at a simple problem that her mom had, thought how she can solve it, and came up with an awesome solution. So, the question is, what are the right tools we should provide to our children?
As an engineer, my job on a daily basis is to solve problems. Looking back at the ideas I came up with my teammates, they had somethings in common:
- Changes and tweaks to an existing setup that overcame a challenge. This required grit, persistence and perseverance
- Close collaboration and mix of ideas from multiple contributors. This required everyone to work as team and tackle the problem to reach a goal
- Not scared to ask, “what if.” This required confidence that no idea is too small.
In order to help our children develop an inherent mindset of problem solving, we need to provide them tools around these points. This would enable them to have a lifelong opportunity to create and innovate.
When I look at my 5-year-old son, Ari and my 1-year old son, Kai, I am amazed to see how they are inherently geared to innovate. This is the exact reason we have to “baby proof our houses.” Kids, throughout the day, are trying to get answers to “what if I did this…” by experimenting and experiencing cause and effect.
Ari has always been interested in making things, he calls them his “creations!” When he plays with Legos, his creativity and problem-solving skills shine. For example, one day he was fiddling with Legos thinking about bridges that he had seen on one of our drives. That day, he kept on trying to make a long bridge without support in between. Finally, after many tries he was able to figure it out and came up with the bridge shown in picture below. For a person who has no formal math education, no idea about cantilevers or forces, it’s amazing to see how creatively he solved the problem by reinforcing the joints on top where the usual point of failure is.
As parents, we naturally want to encourage and nurture curiosity, innovation, problem solving and creativity in our children. However, the things we need to do are difficult and, at times, don’t come intuitively.
3 Tips to Help Spark a Little Inventor in the Making
First, children need an environment which allows them to experiment. They need freedom to break things and fix things. What this means is that the house we live in is always going to be in chaos, but that chaos is what feeds their imagination and experimentation. Assigning a place where they can experiment is a good balance that has worked for us. What we did for Ari, when he was young, was to give him a wall to do whatever he wanted to do. He could paint, he could draw, he could experiment on that wall. He made great use of it and it limited the chaos for us. When he was done filling up the wall, it was a great bonus project for Ari and I to paint it over.
Secondly, let the kids be bored. When kids are bored, they activate the imaginative part of their brain and when left in that state, they come up with imaginative ideas and innovative products. As parents, we struggle with this often, we try to provide them with structured activities to relieve their boredom. However, it is important to remember that for kids having a time to be bored is a good thing and essential!
Thirdly, we need to encourage failure. Yes, that’s not a typo. Failure helps kids build perseverance and grit and give them the confidence to take chances. As a parent, this is one I struggle with the most, because as parents our first instinct is to save kids from failure. However, it is important for kids to learn how to fail and recover from it quickly. Although really tough, I make a conscious effort to let Ari make mistakes (as long as he is safe) and learn from it.
These tools would help children get in a mindset of troubleshooting and problem solving. As they approach problems with this critical thinking mindset, they would be geared towards solving major challenges that the future would bring. I won’t be surprised if one of our kids becomes a Nobel Laureate and solves a major world problem.
I am humbled that you read all the way until here, I will leave you with this video of examples of the kinds of inventions kids can come up with support from their parents. Enjoy and keep encouraging your kids to be curious.
Brilliant Kid Inventors!
About the Author
Maulik lives in Carrollton with his wife, Sabeen, and two sons. He is an engineer, inventor and a published researcher. But his favorite job is being a dad to Ari (5) and Kai (1). In his spare time, Maulik likes to spend time with his family and dabble in woodworking & photography.