School’s Out: What has your kid learned this year?


There is an Aboriginal tribe in Western Australia – they don’t celebrate birthdays chronologically – but only celebrate if a person has truly learned something. What if you didn’t celebrate each passing year just for the sake of +1 – but only if you really learned something – gained a knowledge tool that you didn’t have in your belt last year…or the year before…or ever.

What has your kid learned this year?

End of June – you’ve received your kid’s report card. You’ve scanned the pages of columns with the checks and grades – and gotten a snapshot of what? Do you really know what your son or daughter has learned? I’m talking about navigational knowledge – not rote knowledge. Rote knowledge is important – it’s the foundation – it’s the starting point. Truth north. It’s great for calm seas and clear sky.

Is that the future our kids are heading into?

Here’s my question & concern: Are we doing enough to teach our kids the creative problem solving skills that will serve them – when as futurists point out:

We simply cannot know what students will need to know in their future lives.

But we know one skill students will need to know in the future: learning how to learn.

Back to today: We do fine with assessing how a student did on a 6th grade math final.

Report Card lgr

But show me a report card that emphasizes innovative thinking or creative problem-solving skills. These are essential skills our kids will need to navigate a digitized world with boundaries so fluid that student avatars will fare better than classical cartographers.

It is our challenge as educators and parents to take a more creative and far-reaching approach to what we teach & grade in school and reinforce at home.

Below are three categories that probably didn’t appear on any year-end report card. I turned them into a discussion with my daughter about her 6th grade year:

  1. What have you learned about how to learn?

 “We did coding this year,” Natalie said, “and what’s cool is you get to create your own world…your own alternate universe.” I don’t know coding – and Natalie explained that in developing code there are gaps when you don’t have all the necessary information:

“Sometimes it’s like an incomplete puzzle – you may just get a few pieces,” she explained, “but it’s your responsibility to try and imagine the whole picture – as part of solving the problem.”

She added, “It’s like one move can determine the outcome. Might be right or wrong – but you have to try.”

 Research has shown that trial and error is a key component of the creative process and of all learning. Hearing Natalie mention making a mistake or failing at something led to a second question:

  1. What have you learned about how to approach a “difficult” or “confusing” problem?

“At first I got frustrated a lot. You and Mom tell me that mistakes and failure are part of learning. Like figuring out something new on my computer. I still get frustrated sometimes – but I learned – it’s okay not knowing what to do at first. I try to persevere. It doesn’t always work but…..when you’re down – there’s no other way but up. It’s really okay to make mistakes. ”

Time for me to step back – startled that this was an eleven-year old talking. I know when I was a sixth grader in a strict all-boys school – Dickensian schoolmasters publicly shamed and damned anyone who made mistakes or, even worse, failed.

 As parents – it’s so important to allow our kids to make mistakes on their own as part of the learning process.

It’s also important to celebrate their successes. But “What is a success?”   An A+ in history. Yes – acknowledge the accomplishment.

But parents must also be aware of less obvious accomplishments such as:

  • When a student struggles to understand any academic problem (and the fear and insecurity that bubbles forth) and then perseveres and solves it independently.
  • When a student fights through an uncertainty or insecurity and discovers a voice they didn’t know they had and expresses it as an idea or opinion or in a project.

Accomplishments like these are as important as any A+.

  1. What have you learned about creative problem solving?

“That it’s fun! It can be like the best playground. Anywhere!” Natalie said.

Natalie told me about a “great assignment” her science teacher gave the class. Students had to use their imagination to create an environment similar to a cell. My wife and I and Natalie sat around the dining room table one night and brainstormed about different possibilities. Some made sense. Some were ridiculous. But, most important, we tried to create an environment where it was safe to express any idea.

After some trial and error, Natalie came to us with an idea that we hadn’t discussed – the environment of a farm for the model of a cell: the farm house as the nucleus; the silo as vacuoles; tools, shovels etc. as lysosomes; and the surrounding fence as the membrane.


Often times our kids don’t realize the significance of a particular breakthrough. As parents we must make our kids aware of and celebrate their developing abilities in learning how to learn, discovering their unique voice and in creative problem solving.

Hopefully our kids will then circle these points on the map of their developing consciousness. We can help calibrate the compass they will use when facing new territories. But before we feel too self-important – we have to realize it’s the kid’s first compass – a starting point – and they may decide to throw away that compass – or use it in ways we can’t even envision.

Review the report cards you received in the mail. But go beyond the listed categories and check marks – try to discover the less obvious but equally important areas where your child may have broken new ground.

 Revisionist history has not been kind to Christopher Columbus – but he said something that rings true for any learner in a physical or virtual age:

 “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”


If you’re a parent you might be interested in the following articles from DadsforCreativity:

Let Your Child Daydream: Imagination is more important than Knowledge

Role of Trial and Error in Creativity

12 Books to read before you’re 12!

What if…Your Child’s Imagination Could Soar!


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Helping with Homework: Turkeys, Art & Creativity with My Son


Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for a multitude of reasons; family, dinner plans, travel, traffic, and family all contribute to The Holiday Headaches. However, nothing is more challenging than being an oversized turkey in your underwear just trying to hide from becoming Thanksgiving dinner.

This was just the challenge that was leveled from Mrs. Lefebvre to her first grade class, and was sent home as a “family homework” assignment [helping with homework!].   My son, Logan, came home on a Thursday and explained to me that we had to come up with a disguise for his paper cutout of Tom The Turkey to help save him from becoming dinner. He further explained that last year all of the first grade students had turned his or her turkey into SpongeBob or Spiderman, and that he had to come up with an idea to help “hide” his turkey.

SEE ALSO: 3 Question Interview with Science Wiz, Marc Balanda

As we sat down to discuss options, his first idea was to copy the first two ideas that had already been mentioned in the teacher’s homework handout. I challenged him and told him that these ideas have already been taken, and that he would have to come up with his own. He sat for a while and only repeated designs that were discussed in class.

I asked him to think about things that he and I like to do, something that he finds interesting, and told him that he would find his inspiration there (of course it took some time to explain the concept of inspiration!).

Then the light bulb went on…Logan stated, “we are going to make a cowboy costume for Tom!”

Logan began by describing what this costume should look like, and on his artistic command, I cut out a pair of cowboy boots, a vest, and a hat. He watched me spray paint one boot and then took over and finished the rest under careful watch. Using masking tape, we planned where the sky would meet the grass, and again shared in the spray-painting duties.

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Once the background dried, Logan’s inspiration really kicked in:
 He told me that the cowboy would need to be roasting a marshmallow and that we would need to build him a fire. He ran outside to get some sticks and rocks and together we glued them in a circle. He placed the stick in Tom’s hand and ran to get a cotton ball to complete his masterpiece. I was patient as he placed and replaced his rocks, glued his fingers together, and thought about how he could add more. Soon Tom was clothed and looking well disguised.

In my work as an associate principal, I have the privilege of observing some of the most impactful art teachers in the profession. During a recent observation I watched a teacher challenge her students to tell her “What is Art?”


I took a moment to start this conversation with Logan and asked him, to tell me what he thinks art is. He told me that it is “beautiful” and “colorful” and sometimes it is “expensive.” I explained that art sometimes has deeper meaning, and that ordinary things, like a rock, can stand for something else, like the number of kids in your class.   I told him it was like a secret meaning and he gets to be the creator…pretty heavy stuff for a 6 year-old!   Then he jumped up. He told me that we “needed 17 stars, one for each kid in my class and a crescent moon that would watch over all the stars, that would be Mrs. Lefebvre.”

I think the final product is proof that our art homework was a success, but like art well done there was a deeper meaning to this experience.

The project took patience, listening, and finding new ways to communicate with my son. In the end, I’m not sure who inspired whom, but I know I was reminded of some very important lessons that will be helpful in art and life.

  • First – Anyone can be an artist. It does not take a masters’ degree in the arts to create meaning and share ideas.
  • Second – It takes patience to allow your little artist to make a mess, take risks, and test theories (and some acetone to remove the glue from the countertop). It took reflection and creativity on dad’s part to incorporate lessons I have learned from talented teachers to help inspire my son. It took courage to test those lessons on my 6 year-old and hope that he would understand.
  • Third – Being fully present and disconnected from the interruptions of the digital world truly helped bring out the creative process. It allowed me to enjoy each moment with my son as we worked on this “family homework” As a result, he has created a project with his dad that he is overwhelmingly proud of, and is excited to share with his classmates.
  • More importantly, he brought the picture to class on Monday and asked Mrs. Lefebvre when he would get the next “family homework” assignment. I have to admit, I can’t wait to see what “we” can do next!


Article by Dr. Jason Tracy

Jason Tracy is an associate principal at Amity Regional High School.  He has served as a school counselor and conducted research focused in the areas of social-emotional development, self-concept, and school climate.  He spends his free time engaged in fostering the academic, social, and athletic development of his two young sons.

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Reading and Creativity: Ask QUESTIONS that engage CREATIVE THINKING

Questions leading to direct and simple answers do not improve […] thinking skills.

As parents we hear that regularly reading to our child is one of the most important contributions we can make to their educational development. In this article I’m going to reflect on the ways this pastime might enhance Creativity by asking questions that go beyond merely recalling information, and instead challenge skills in Creative Thinking – with specific examples at the end of the article.

My wife and I started reading to our boys as soon as they were born, and while I confess it can be difficult to make this happen every night, we’ve obviously done it enough to establish a routine, where they both happily jump up on the couch when presented with a book.

See Also: What id your child’s imagination could soar!

It's important to start reading young. Start with baby books that show pictures with contrasting colors.
We’re advise to read baby books that show pictures with contrasting colors.

As I begin to reflect on the relationship between reading and creativity, I look at my son’s love of making stories, that not only have a clear beginning, middle and end, but also a resolution integrated at the end of the story. Below is one of his short stories that we turned into a movie.

Looking at the subject of Reading and Creativity a little further, I’ve recently accessed some articles on the subject, and found that asking questions that stimulate the thinking process is one of the most important things we can do when reading to our children.

‘Questions leading to direct and simple answers do not improve […] thinking skills. However questions related to old and new information and which leads the individual to reach some particular values are beneficial for thinking skills.’*

What does this mean? Well I think its safe to say that we’re ok asking our toddlers to point out the Chicken, or the Duck, but as they get older we need to find ways to challenge our children to evaluate the new information they’ve been presented with, and combine it with what they already understand in order to make judgments or reach new discoveries.

Here are some specific examples:

  • For a new book you can start with the front cover and challenge your child to tell you what the story is about, and then follow up with questions on how they reached their conclusions.
  • When reading the new book you can engage your child’s imagination by challenging them to tell you how they think the problem will be solved. Again follow up with questions on how they’ve reached their conclusions. You might even ask them if the story/ or problem reminds them of another book you’ve read together.
  • Things can become more challenging when you revisit the book for a second or third time, but actually there’s an opportunity to engage creative thinking by asking the child to relate the story to their own experiences. For instance, you could cask them would do if the Big Bad Wolf knocked on their door, or if you want to challenge them further – help them identify the wolfs problem (he’s hungry) and then ask them to find another solution that doesn’t hurt the little pigs.

There’s a lot of information here, but the main take away is when reading, ask questions that engage thinking, and avoid those that are closed ended (have a yes or no response) or merely require them to recite what you just read.

To conclude – Read, Read, and Read (but don’t force it if a routine hasn’t been established).

*Nevin Akkaya, M. Volkan Deirel (2012)

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What is Creativity?

Creativity Chit-Chat: A Parent’s Guide to Creativity

It’s always energizing to be in the company of fellow educators who are passionate about the cultivation of creative thinking skills in the classroom, it’s doubly exciting when most of them are parent’s as well.

On Friday I presented at the New England Association of Gifted and Talented annual conference, on the subject of creative thinking within project-based learning. The title of my presentation was called Project-Based Learning: The Role of the Creative Thinking Advocate, and followed an article I wrote on the blog Keep Learning. Most of the conversations centered on Creativity and how we can cultivate these skills in education. As many of the attendees were parents, the conversations naturally expanded to ways we can develop these skills at home as well, and more importantly the need to share our understanding of Creative Thinking skills. Inspired I updated the page  ‘What is Creativity? A Parent’s Guide, and shared it on Facebook. What is Creativity? A Parent’s Guide.

COMMENT BELOW for FREE FILM on Creativity in Education

You can also view the entire film for free by simply commenting on one of our articles. Anyone who shares or contributes content via the comments below* will receive a FREE download to Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance.

If you choose to comment via social media be sure to sure to include reference to #dadsforcreativity or share from our Facebook page. We’ll follow up with details via a private message.


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