“What If?” Teaches Kids to Think Creatively

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Want an original thinker? Use the “What if?” exercise when your child comes to you for homework help this school year.

“Come on, kids! You can do better than that! ‘Think outside of the box!,’” the teacher demands, but what does she mean? Kids hear the command, but don’t really know how to do what’s being asked. What is “thinking outside of the box?” What is thinking creatively? Some sort of vague way of saying, “Use your imagination?”

“Out of the Box” Means Innovation

    While there’s hardly enough time to teach out-of-the-box thinking in the academic setting, it means for kids to approach problems in innovative ways. To think of things originally. To be intellectually curious and interested in exploring the unknown and to bring it out into the open. Adults are right to encourage kids to “use imagination,” but plenty of children and adults don’t and in fact, feel a deficit in that department.
     In an era where kids are often absorbed by electronic devices in their spare time, how can you build up imagination? Your brilliant child may have the aptitude to conceive of something innovative, but if he won’t use imagination, he won’t be able to come up with much.

Do Your Part

The National Education Association says the “Four Cs” — creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration — are the skills most important for learning. Those “Cs” mean nothing without action. Start at home while your children are putty in your hands. Purposefully raise kids in an environment where screen time is balanced like daily meals. Give your kids a head start in discovering their unique abilities as they grow by teaching hands-on activities exploring their unique imaginations.

The Great “What if?” as a Tool

1. Use “Possibility Thinking”
Ask your child “What if?” in as many ways as possible. When he comes to you for help, turn it around on him rather than jumping in and solving it. Asking “What if?” helps him think of creative possibilities, says Colleen Kessler, former teacher, gifted specialist and author of numerous books including Raising Creative Kids: A Collection of Simple Creativity Prompts for Children (Create Space Publishing Platform; 2016). It will change his thinking from “What is this and what does it do?” to “What can I do with this?”

2. Nurture Interests
Creativity and imagination blooms when kids feel passion for activities they enjoy. Let THEM choose their activities and explore them in depth, Kessler says. If your child loves playing with trains, then find train activities for him — build trains, go see trains, study train history, write about trains, color trains, paint trains, act like a train.

3. Read, Read, Read
Parents lose the reading battle daily to electronic endeavors. Yet the late, great Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) advised craftily, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Read stories at bedtime, read at the table, read while kids are in the bath, read, read, read. Go to the library, go to story times, read in front of them, love it, talk about it … READ! As your child grows, ask questions about what he’s reading. Ask “What if?” a lot and don’t fill in the blanks. When you ask “What if?” … wait, then listen carefully to what happens next.

4. Allow Mistakes
So many times, maybe it’s because we hate to see our children struggle, we rush in and save them. This is actually the opposite approach if you want your child to be creative, says Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., author and research psychologist. “Children develop self-confidence when they figure things out on their own. Letting your child try and try again — and eventually getting it right on his own — teaches him about himself, about life and about problem solving.”

5. Minimize Screen Time
A kid’s right brain is often underactive when it’s hooked up to a screen device, says Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., author of Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen Time (New World Library; 2015). Creative activities stimulate the right brain, so many educators now say it’s the most important battle to wage for your child’s creative abilities.

6. Take an Arts Class
Over and over again, research supports the importance of arts in a child’s education, but many times academics are put first. Take matters into your own hands if you know your child’s arts education is lacking.
     “If children are exploring and thinking and experimenting and trying new ideas, then creativity has a chance to blossom,” says MaryAnn Kohl, an arts educator and author of numerous books about children’s art education.
     After all, WHAT IF you just let your children be on their devices all day long without talking or doing anything else but that?

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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