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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Revisiting Tips for Raising Wild Butterflies

As it’s spring I thought it would be the perfect time to revisit one of my favorite articles and share some tips for raising wild butterflies. This experience was a fantastic experience and I was sad that we weren’t able to find any caterpillars during the fall – but don’t worry I plan on taking the boys to a local pond to collect some frog spawn (don’t tell Mommy!)


Raising Wild Butterflies

There are few things more exciting then exposing your child to the wonders of nature – it’s literally magic to them and will engage their curiosity in ways almost unobtainable elsewhere. Last fall Lucas found a number of colorful caterpillars in Nana’s garden. This particular species were fond of parsley and could always be found munching on the storks of the parsley bush. Lucas would go and visit them regularly and eventually wanted to take them home. So, reluctantly I gave into his demands (as we do!) and gathered up a caterpillar – soon to be accompanied by a second one. We took them home, knowing absolutely nothing about raising caterpillars, and encouraged Lucas to observe and draw.

See Also: Capturing Wonderings With our Mobile Devices: 3 Question Interview on Phoneography

However, after a few days things Lucas wanted to feed them, so we offered them some lattice, fruit, and even greens from the Dill family, but these guys are incredibly picky and would only eat the fresh goods from Nana’s garden. This meant a we had to run to Nana’s house every other day to top up on food, and the more they ate, the more they pooped – these things literally transformed into our pets.

Creativity in Children: Raising Wild Butterflies.
This is a picture of Lucas looking for the caterpillars

After a month or so I realized that they might want to form their chrysalis soon, so I took sometime to consult Google and added a coupe of sticks to their habitat in preparation.

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Literally two weeks later the magic happened and within a couple of days both had begun to form a chrysalis. First it was green, but then it took on the same shape, color, and form of the branch that I had added – it was really cool! As you can imagine, Lucas was ecstatic and took the cage to school so that he could show his classmates.

Creativity in Children: Raising Wild Butterflies
These guys stayed in the chrysalis for the entire winter. I did NOT expect them to ever come out!

These little guys stayed in their tiny homes throughout the winter, until this month when Lucas came screaming upstairs to let us know they one of them had hatched into a beautiful Black Swallowtail Butterfly. After a few days, and on a bright sunny day, we let him go, ending what has been a wonderful journey that I hope to repeat again in the fall. Should you want to follow, I’ve identified a five pointers when raising Black Swallowtail Butterflies:

  • Be sure to identify the plant where the caterpillar was found. This is likely their favorite food and ideally should be what you feed them.
  • Place a slightly damp kitchen towel on the ground of your cage/box. These guys will poop little black pellets all over the place and it will be easy to keep it clean if you can simply change the floor once every few days.
  • Find a stick or branch that can be placed at an angle in your cage/box. Make sure it is secure because the caterpillar will form his chrysalis on this thing so you want to make sure it’s not going to come loose.
  • Don’t worry about adding water. These guys get all the fluid they need from their food (at least that’s what Google told me).
  • Once the chrysalis has formed it’s reasonably secure. If you’ve found a caterpillar in the fall it likely won’t hatch until the following spring, but during the summer it might only take a couple of weeks. Whatever the case, when the butterfly eventually hatches, don’t panic, most butterflies don’t need to eat in their first 24/48 hours, when they do they’ll be looking for nectar so find some fresh flowers or fruit (water mellon is great). That being said, they’re certainly more fragile then their caterpillar form so I encourage you to let them go unless you plan on taking it to the next level and breeding them.
Creativity in Children: Raising Wild Butterflies
Once they hatched we had to move them into a larger enclosure. We kept them there for a couple of days and then let them go.

*For disclaimer, this is my first year raising butterflies, and my only experience was Black Swallowtail Butterflies. 


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Creativity Chit-Chat: I NEED MORE INPUT Daddy!

Creativity is about Making Connections – Steve Jobs

I need more input Stefanie! Who remembers this line from an eighties movie classic? Short Circuit was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I was glued to the television as Number Five, speedily read through every book in the house as he craved more ‘input’. In some ways, the characteristics of this robot resemble our own little ones as they seek to obtain information about their world. The ‘Why’, the ‘How, the ‘What’ questions are all associated with their desire for more input – even if they become annoying after the Zillionth time of asking.

SEE ALSO: Hollywood’s Hidden Call for Creativity

What does this have to do with Creativity? Well some folks believe that in order to produce ‘something’ creative within a particular field, you need to master knowledge for that field. For example, if we’re going to produce something new and useful for the New York Subway, then we need to have knowledge of how subways work, it’s infrastructure, the commuters, and existing problems that need solutions, etc. – we need ‘input’.

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This example is perhaps too far into the future for our little ones to appreciate, but as parents we can better understand how information about a topic, combined with the ability to think creatively, will more likely lead to an outcome that can be considered creative, even if it’s audience is not as large as commuters of the NYC Subway. Creativity is about Making Connections – combining new and old information to make something new and useful.

SEE ALSO: What is Creativity

So where do we start? Well not only must we cultivate creative thinking skills such as the ability to produce and consider many alternatives, but we must also create an environment that supports our child’s need for input. Now some of you might be thinking – ‘that’s what school is for’. Yes, this is true, but I would argue that the system of education should really begin at home, and more importantly school is a place predetermined knowledge, so we need to offer opportunities for a variety of ‘input’ that expands beyond the classroom environment, and occasionally better accommodate our child’s individual interests.

Museums provide 'more input' for children. Here my eldest examines ancient artifacts at the British Museum.
Museums are a fantastic location for ‘more input’. Here my eldest examines an ancient artifact at the British Museum, in London.

Reading a variety of books is a great start, but with the World Wide Web we have access to so much more. I make use of YouTube, and was pleased when Google recently published their YouTube App for Kids. This new addition from Google offers more child friendly content, an easier interface to navigate, and the search bar appears to be better at formulating questions from keywords.

Promoted by Hurricane Patricia, which recently made landfall in Mexico as the most powerful Hurricane ever recorded. My eldest became intrigued in tropical storms. In his desire to know more– to see more – I put him in front of the YouTube app and set him up with some videos of Hurricanes, as well as educational content. Almost independently he was able to learn about category five being the strongest type of hurricane (though occasionally in his world he gets a Hurricane 1000), and he knows that they cause floods, and destroy towns near the ocean. Like Number Five, each new input takes him to somewhere new, and he was able to build upon this new knowledge to make connections and discover something new about his world.

Son: Daddy, Hurricanes don’t come here right because it’s too cold?

Daddy: Yes, they do sometimes…

Son: WHAT!!! (Being very dramatic)


Son: But they’re not very big right?

Daddy: No…

Son: ‘And we’re not near the ocean’…

Daddy: No (this might have been a tougher conversation if we lived further down South)

The brief summary of our conversation demonstrates how my boy was able to make connections with the new information he had obtained from YouTube. The thinking can be considered creative because it led to a new discovery, and while it might not have been useful to a larger group, it had value to him – this is Little C Creativity!


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Creativity Chit-Chat: Hollywood’s Hidden Call for Creativity

Lets be honest – one of the best things about being a parent is having an excuse to watch kiddy movies. This weekend we re-watched The Croods, for the zillionth time. For a while it was my eldest’s favorite film, but has since been replaced with A Night of the Museum.

This typical Hollywood blockbuster follows the journey of the last cavemen family – ‘The Croods’. Unlike other cavemen families, they have managed to survive being eaten, or getting sick, or consuming poisonous berries, or freezing in bad weather, all achieved by staying in their cave and resisting the temptation to be curious. In his desire to keep the family safe, the Father teaches his children to never think differently, he believes that thinking differently is bad and will get you killed. Obviously we know where the film is heading – the Croods are about to survive certain doom by thinking differently. Forced to leave their cave after an Earthquake, the family embark on a journey and meet Guy, another cavemen who brings with him new ideas (though I think he’s meant to be from a more intelligent species as well). The Father sees the character of Guy as a threat at first, but after a number of close calls he soon realizes that Guys ideas are the only thing that will save his family from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that are consuming the land around them.

The Croods is a great movie, and I believe a sequel is in the works, but there is also a hidden call for creativity sandwiched within the storyline. Young children naturally think differently, they’re curious, open-minded, can tolerate ambiguity, and produce and consider many alternatives. Unfortunately, we as adults are not always great at cultivating this type of thinking and very quickly impose rules and ways of thinking that can threaten the natural characteristics that allow their creativity to flourish. This challenge only increases in education as the required learning of specific content quickly assumes priority. Education institutions are becoming increasingly aware of this situation and some are making genuine attempts to change, but parents must assume some level of responsibility and allow for some level of curiosity and ambiguity within the home.

We’ve certainly written a lot on this subject during our creativity chit-chats, but as I reflect on storylines in recent films that I’ve watched I’m able to quickly  reference other titles that offer similar calls for creativity. For example the storyline in The Lego Movie, centers on the battle against Lord Business who requires everyone to stick to the instructions, and adult films such The Divergent series is about a culture that considers thinking differently a threat. What exactly is Hollywood trying to tell us? Or rather, why are we as a society producing these types of storylines?  If we already know it’s a problem, then surely the next stage is to do something about it – as our child’s first teachers it’s important that we’re conscious of the situation and make efforts to recognize and encourage creativity in the home.


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