October 14, 2015
Have More Fun Parenting by Supporting Creative Thinking
Supporting your child’s original ideas leads to growth in problem solving skills, deeper parent-child interactions, and joy!
When you voice a new idea, you immediately become a “minority of one” (Torrance & Shaughnessy, 2008, p. 445). In the picture book, What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada, a boy finds himself in this predicament. He has a new idea, but he’s not so sure about it. His idea makes him feel different. He is afraid to share it. He doesn’t know if it’s okay to think something new, something that everyone else doesn’t seem to be thinking.
What Do You Do with an Idea? takes the boy through the process of finding the courage to accept and share his originality. But at first, he associates his idea with feeling different and the possibility that people will think he’s odd. As he begins to get comfortable with his idea, he gains a sense of higher purpose for it. He realizes that the idea can help make the world a better place. Ultimately the boy becomes empowered by this ideal which sustains his newfound courage.
This is another picture-book gem that personifies several aspects of creativity in a way that comes alive for children and adults. It highlights the courage and self-acceptance needed to put forth creative thoughts in a world that trends toward conformity. The story can help kids realize that their original ideas are valid, useful, and can help them make a contribution to the world.
When parents and teachers read What Do You Do with an Idea?, they might wonder how they can deliberately support their children’s creativity in practice, to help nurture the fragile seeds of ideas that seek to come forth.
One way is to engage in creative thinking with children, both to reinforce its importance and to practice the skills required to strengthen their problem solving processes. Creative thinking is problem solving: coming up with new ideas (divergent thinking) and then logically analyzing and evaluating those ideas (convergent thinking) to choose the best and most appropriate solution under the circumstances.
Divergent thinking has four main components: originality, fluency, flexibility, and elaboration. When we use divergent thinking, we exercise our ability to generate unique ideas (originality); think of many ideas (fluency); make unlikely connections or find ideas in different categories (flexibility), and expand upon ideas (elaboration) (Guildford, 1977; Puccio, Mance, & Murdock, 2011). Practicing divergent thinking helps us to be more effective and creative problem solvers.
Last year I was at a conference walking with a colleague on a college campus. We saw a mother and her three-year-old child approach us, enjoying an autumn afternoon walk. The little boy started kicking an acorn and said to his mother, “Ball!” The mother quickly and matter-of-factly replied, “No, that is not a ball, that is an acorn.”
Now, let me be clear that there is no condemnation to parents trying to teach their children new words. We want kids to expand their vocabularies and know that acorns are, indeed, acorns. However, my creativity colleague immediately spotted an opportunity for expansive, multi-level creative thinking between mother and child.
Here’s how my colleague imagined a “take two” of the scene, where it plays out as a fun, divergent thinking exercise:
“Mommy! A ball!”
“Yes that looks like a little ball. What are all the other things this acorn might be?”
“Yes! And what else?”
“Yes! What else is round?”
“Yes! How about a monster’s eye?”
“Cookie Monster’s eye! And play dough when I roll it up!”
(Continued until they tire of the game, or the boy goes back to kicking acorns.)
Do you see the difference? In the first conversation, there was one right answer, the boy’s answer was wrong, and the interaction began and ended in all of two sentences. But what if the mom had known to seize this opportunity to engage her child’s brimming imagination in the way that unfolded above? What are the benefits from this conversation?
There are several outcomes, but two are incredibly powerful:
1. A deepened relationship between a mother and her son, and
2. The child’s ability to deal with situations that require executive thinking skills like creativity is strengthened.
This divergent thinking conversation is expansive, playful, and supports the child’s effort to put forth a new idea. It builds the courage and positive response needed for him to be brave enough to voice his next original thought. When we practice creativity with our children, we help them develop essential life skills. They still learn the word for acorn as they fortify their courage to help the world.
To dig deeper into the science of creativity that backs What Do You Do With An Idea?, take a look at my book, Creativity for Everybody. This book simplifies the science of creativity for busy readers in a way that no other book has done.
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Guilford, J. P. (1977). Way beyond the IQ: Guide to improving intelligence and creativity. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.
Puccio, G. J., Mance, M., & Murdock, M. C. (2011). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Torrance, E. P., & Shaughnessy, M. F. (1998). An interview with E. Paul Torrance: About creativity. Educational Psychology Review, 10(4), 441-452.
Yamada, K. (2014). What do you do with an idea? Seattle, WA: Compendium.