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Creativity ≠ Getting A’s on Every Assignment

Miles Davis is one of my favorite musicians. He once went to an LA Lakers game. Miles didn’t exactly see the game the way most fans do. He heard the game. He listened to the squeaking sounds and changing rhythms as sneakers stopped and started – and got louder (coming toward him) and softer (farther away) – and then the silence…….when the ball was in the air. That’s how Miles saw the world around him. He heard it everywhere.

Thinking creatively does not always sync with the grades your kids get in school. We all want our kids to do well and succeed. But according to whose standards? Nurturing the natural curiosity and imagination all kids are born with is one of the most important & challenging aspects of parenthood. And one of the enduring adventures you can share as a family.

My ten-year-old daughter is now in 5th grade and I’m hearing specific words and phrases from her with increasing regularity: “tests, grades, how many did I get wrong, what if I fail?” What is a parent to do?

The pre-occupation with “right v. wrong” is a huge philosophical shift from the Multi-Age Group (MAG) program that runs from 1st – 4th grade in her school. In MAG, imagination & curiosity set the tone as teachers guide students to create projects that incorporate (but are not ruled by!) the curriculum. The students in MAG learn the curriculum as well as students in the mainstream program – and maybe even better as a large proportion of them are subsequently invited into the Talented and Gifted Program.

By tapping into students’ specific passions and interests, the MAG teachers enable their students’ curiosity to take flight and then shape the creation of projects. They require students to demonstrate mastery of specific course material. But they do so much more. They instill in students a love of learningand a foundation of utilizing their natural creativity to solve problems:

In a 4th grade MAG science unit– a student designed and built a kayak out of duct tape and pvc piping. Would the kayak float or sink? No one knew until the class carried the kayak down to the school pool and launched it. With the student on board and the class cheering – the kayak glided across the length of the pool!

With my daughter now in the mainstream school & in a more structured & grade conscious environment, what can be done at home to nurture and keep alive her curiosity, imagination and creativity?

Be the best Safety Net you can: allow and encourage your kids to play and explore and walk the high wire with their ideas and experiences. They may see and hear and experience things you’ve never imagined – they are wired differently than we are – go beyond validating their explorations and expressions. Take part in them. Share in their adventure. Reverse roles. Let them be the guide – for a while. Some of their ideas may sound crazy & off the walls – but (as long as there is no danger involved) let them discover that – let them walk the high wire – and if they stumble and skin their knees – they have to know there’s a net to catch them – and that trial and error (and failing!) is not just okay – but necessary to all discovery and learning.

You may have all the answers but Let Your Kids Make Their Own Discoveries.

-Remember “Play is the highest form of research.” That’s Einstein’s idea and it sure rings true.

I’ve told my daughter I don’t care what grades she gets. I mean it. There is another value system beside A-B-C-D. It’s okay to fail – and learn from that and move on. I do care that she learns. I do care that if she doesn’t do well that she tries to figure out why and what she can do next time. If that’s asking too much of a ten year-old – I’m here to help.

Allow your kids time for their ideas to grow and develop – try and instill in your kids that ideas need time to percolate. Absolutely be cognizant of deadlines, but discuss this with them to avoid the craziness of getting it all done the night before something is due. Trying to solve it all the night before is usually not the best scenario.

-Talk to your kids about a timeline for their homework. In the film class I teach at the high school, we work in terms of pre-production (brainstorming and planning), production (doing the work), post-production (reflecting on the whole process – what worked? What didn’t? Why? What would you do differently next time?)

This summer my daughter and I walked together by the beach. She began to snap pictures on a camera. A lot of pictures. Seemed random to me as she snapped dozens and dozens of photos. The film teacher in me thought – she’s not planning her shots. And the “exercise” walk I was looking forward to never happened. But it was an amazing exercise for her. Later when we got home she uploaded the photos to the computer. She saw so many things on the walk that I didn’t notice. And in ways I couldn’t imagine. She took the photo above of the two of us. Can’t really tell it’s a father and his daughter. But it is her vision of us. And it has become one of my favorite photos of the two of us.

Jonathan Furst
Jonathan Furst is an Apple Distinguished Educator and works in the Arts and Media Department at Amity Regional High School. He is co-founder of the blog DadsforCreativity.com and talks education technology on the blog EdReach.

Jonathan Furst

Jonathan Furst is an Apple Distinguished Educator and works in the Arts and Media Department at Amity Regional High School. He is co-founder of the blog DadsforCreativity.com and talks education technology on the blog EdReach.

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