Part 1 of 3 - Four Essential Skills
20 September 2017
Last weekend, my daughter Claire, my grandson and granddaughter-in-law were reminiscing how great they remembered kindergarten was for them. My grandson’s daughter would be going to kindergarten the next week and they were telling her how much they remembered and loved it. They all wished that school stayed like kindergarten and wondered why it had to end. Michael Resnick, director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory, named his research group Lifelong Kindergarten, because he also was inspired by what he observed in the kindergartens he visited. He described these classrooms as filled with creativity. The children explored, experimented, designed, and created things in collaboration with each other.
The creative thinking that Resnick observed in these kindergartens and that we all did as kindergarteners-- and that he hoped would infuse his research group-- demonstrates how young children can imagine what they wish to do, create a project based on their ideas, and play with or use their creations. These children were actively learning, trying new ideas and taking risks. They talked and listened to each other and reflected on their experiences which generated new ideas.
Yet, Resnick expresses concern that our culture is beginning to favor a more passive style of education that does not emphasize active learning. Our pre-primary programs are moving more and more toward more teacher-directed activities with an academic focus, such as worksheets teaching alphabet letters. This move limits opportunities for our children to identify and problem-solve on projects based on their own interests. He also realized, in today’s world, children are living with more technology than any other generation before them. This is a two-edged sword. One the one hand, the vast availability of information is fantastic. Yet, on the other, too many devices foster a passive learning style in young children. The device gives the answer, within the boundaries of a screen, with no exterior discovery necessary.
As we face the 21st and 22nd centuries, your young child’s success depends on their ability to be a creative thinker and doer. Here are the four essential skills that will foster your little one's lifelong creativity:
- Creative thinking - The ability to deal with practical and abstract issues, some of which have not yet even arisen.
- Flexible thinking - The ability to adjust to an increasingly complex world filled with information, technology, and diverse people.
- Problem Solving - The ability to face problems and work through answers to them.
- Innovative thinking - The ability to generate new ideas.
You can encourage these key skills to grow in four ways:
- Creative Thinking - Provide your preschooler with creative experiences that intrigue them. Asking "why," as annoying as it sometimes can be, is a sure sign of interest. Encourage your preschooler to keep those questions coming! Chatting with your child about what happens and why is key to growing and sharing their interests with others. Our Kitchen Science collection activities are designed to do just this. For example, when you make Instant Rainbows your preschooler will see an amazing spectrum appear right before her eyes. Look out for our activities' Skilly-sparks, which we created to give you many, diverse opportunities to encourage conversation with your preschooler. During these explorations, you might find that you want to ask some questions yourself. Check out our article, Yes, You Are Creative to encourage your own creativity as well as your child’s.
- Flexible Thinking - Encourage your preschooler’s sense of curiosity. Grow your preschooler’s curiosity by giving your child many opportunities to follow their interests. For example, if your child shows an interest in animals, go to the library and search for books about all kinds of animals. You can check out our Skilly-do Book Reviews for suggestions on appropriate preschool books that could pique your little one’s interest, too. Search together online for their favorite animals all over the world. Take a trip to your local zoo or natural history museum. Carefully observe how animals move, eat and play. Then exercise your child’s large motor skills and dramatic play with our Chatty-do, What's your favorite animal? or Enchanted Animal Crackers. The point is to build and expand on what your child is interested in. You can find more ideas for developing your child’s interests in my article, Support Your Child's Tinkering - It's Full STEAM Ahead!
- Problem Solving - Provide your preschooler open-ended materials that give them the opportunity to figure out their creative use. Open-ended materials are considered super toys. They are “super” because their use is not limited to a single, prescribed use. Blocks, for instance, are super toys. Your preschooler can figure out endless, unlimited uses for them. Using blocks in different ways to achieve balance in building things is a clear example of problem solving. Other open-ended materials like crayons, clay, paste and paint also provide your little one a multitude of problem- solving experiences. For example, figuring out how much glue works best when adding details to the puppet in our Skilly-do activity, Popsicle Stick Puppets, is problem-solving at its core. Give your little one materials that will challenge their minds and encourage them to be open and creative using them. Now, go and check out our article, Super Toys, to get lots more helpful information on these creativity-inducing toys.
- Innovative Thinking - Encourage your preschooler to expand their view and knowledge of the world. Your little one’s adult world will be vastly different than the one you grew up in. Just think of all the changes you’ve seen in your lifetime. You can bet there’s more to come! Your child’s ability to generate and embrace new ideas in order to adapt to changes will be an essential skill to develop. Our article, Raising an Entrepreneur with Active Learning, is about this very issue. New ideas are encouraged by exposing your preschooler to many different experiences. And you don’t have to travel abroad to experience new views of the world. Seek out the diversity of your own neighborhood, city and friends. Seeing how different groups live, work, and play will expand your child’s knowledge of the world around them. Our article, Celebrate Diversity Before Kindergarten is an easy way to learn more about growing inclusive thinking and its benefits. Also, every single one of our Skilly-do activities is designed to help generate new ideas. At the end of each activity, you’ll find suggestions for additional ways to expand the activity and keep the fun going. And we feel confident you’ll come up with ideas of your own!
So, it’s obvious that in educating for the twenty-first (and second!) century, creativity will be a crucial skill. Skilly-do is ready to help you preserve and grow your preschooler’s creativity. Speaking of, some children possess creative character traits that aren’t always our favorites. Check out my article, Kids’ Creativity, It’s a Love-hate Thing to learn more about these not-always-pleasant expressions.
As usual, let us know your thoughts right here and find out more about supporting your early learner in the next article in my Children's Creativity series, about the creative role of your child's play.
+Inspiration/thanks goes to the artworks that Claire first remembers seeing as a preschooler: Marc Chagall’s "America Windows," Chicago Institute of Art, 1977, pictured here in detail by Sharon Mollerus.