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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Creativity and Stones

Heart Stones dw

I recently spent six days at Kripalu where a true visionary, John Milton, ( guided a group of sixteen people from across the country on an extraordinary spiritual practice in nature. John taught us the basics of Tai chi and Qigong in the mornings and in the afternoons sent us out solo into the surrounding hills of the Berkshires on a “sacred passage.”

Using Taoist teachings as a starting point, he instructed us in how to use our five senses (and more) to make authentic connections with nature. Slowly we began to respond mindfully (moment to moment) and not automatically to sights, sounds, smells and source messages in nature. I found it difficult at first to shed the patterns of response that often surround and protect me. The daily practice of Qigong enabled me to begin to interact with people, occurrences and nature in creative and perceptive ways that I had never experienced.

Or so I thought.

I realized that I had experiences similar to the ones I had a Kirpalu – when I was a young kid: Playing games and going on backyard adventures – making spontaneous and imaginative connections that amused, surprised and, at times, frightened me. The channels of creativity were wide open and flowing. Then school took over specifically around fifth grade – at a strict, tie and jacket all-boys school where hard work, strict regimentation and order were rewarded. Imagination and creativity were left to wither.

Before I left Kripalu, I found five heart-shaped stones that I planned as gifts for my wife and ten year-old daughter. I was drawn to one stone – it had the color of the night sky with a shimmering white line like a shooting star.

When I got home, I wasn’t sure how to give 5 presents to 2 people.

But my daughter did.

We went to my outdoor writing studio and I laid out all the stones and asked her, “Which one are you drawn to?”

Natalie quietly looked at the heart shaped stones – experiencing each in her own way. She picked the most colorful one. “It’s the most childish – see all the colors,” she explained. “Automatic connection,” she smiled playfully, pointing two fingers to her eyes and then toward her stone.

She patiently looked from one stone to the other, and discovered a creative order and design to them that was crystal clear to her:

“This stone is for Mom because it has two paths – the big path is the one she’s taken for family and the other path is a developing path for her new business.”

“Why are you smiling?” Natalie asked when she chose the night sky stone for me. “It’s my favorite,” I told her.

I saw Natalie was very focused, but also having fun as she teased a story from the stones in front of her:

“And you see,” she added, “My stone is a combination of the colors in yours and Mom’s – because I’m a combination of both of you!”

Here were the basics of visual literacy in the form of a creative activity:

Playfully she was utilizing creative thinking skills to explore and map out information in the form of an image.

Two stones remained on the table in front of us:

She chose a dark stone with a moon-like circle for my wife to keep in her truck – because she explained, “It’s like yours and it will remind Mom of you. And it has different patterns – and she looks for style when she hunts for mid century furniture.”

She chose the final stone for me – “Look – the sand colors are like the colors in my stone and Mom’s.” “Okay, can I go now?” she asked me – already through the deck door and on to something new…..

The stones from nature launched my daughter into a creative and intuitive activity which parallels the wonderful cloud game that my colleague Matt Worwood wrote about in his posting:

Visual literacy is a key skill today as information is increasingly exchanged in a digital multi-media format.

As parents we can encourage a wide range of creative thinking skills in our kids. One way is to become more present and patient as they explore and map out designs and ideas that spring from their imagination. These journeys often take routes that are beyond what we as parents can imagine – but that’s fine.

 -Nature provides endless opportunities for parents and children to expand their senses and to open and channel creativity into new and different ways.  

-Watch young kids play – they do this spontaneously and intuitively.

 -Encouraging creative activities can be a central focus of how we interact with our kids especially as they begin to inch away from us and shape their own identities.

 -As parents we sometimes have to be reminded of this as our kids leave their single digits and move into their tens and elevens where school regimentation and social pressure can inhibit their natural creativity.

 -Take as many adventures into nature with your kids as you can – and together you may discover new connections there.

 -As a parent be aware of how you might change the patterns of how you interact with your kids – to encourage more creative activities – and journeys that may take you and your kids to places you’ve never imagined.


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