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We must make more of the ‘Micro Bursts’ of Creative Thinking

I first heard about the concept of ‘Micro Moments’ from Susan Keller-Mathers, at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, she was referring to the brief moments of creativity that occur during the day and may only last for a few seconds. I’m going to call them ‘Micro Bursts of Creativity’ as I think the word burst is better associated to the little ones, but they’re certainly moments. They’re usually associated with a creative response to a question, or responding to a presented problem in a new and surprising way. Usually we notice these actions and perhaps might respond with a ‘well done’ or ‘hey did you see that… my girl just did this’… but because they’re so brief we usually let them glide by and fail to celebrate the creative thinking within the action.

Here’s a perfect example, my little boy was helping me prepare the Christmas cards. It was kind of annoying as I wanted to get through them quickly, but he’s currently in this fix of wanting to join in with adult jobs and gets very frustrated if he’s not included, so I suggested he write his name in each card, which then turned into drawing pictures. I confess I didn’t look at any of the pictures as I was too busy writing each address on the envelopes, but I noticed him looking a little puzzled after we’d got through about 10 cards. ‘Lucas, what’s the problem’ I asked, ‘I’m thinking what to draw next, I’m trying to draw a different picture in every card’. Wow, this was a really cool creativity exercise that only a three year old would invent! Through his many years of studying creativity, E. Paul Torrance identified a creativity skillset, and one of the skills identified was the ability to produce and consider many alternatives, it’s often referred to as the Fluency Principal. This would have been an excellent fluency exercise, and has similarities to activities like ‘come up with as many alternative uses for a bathtub, or a brick, or a bucket, etc. The goal of this type of exercise is to focus on quantity over quality, to resist the temptation to find the one ‘right’ idea and instead generate a variety of ideas. This is one of four principals of brainstorming and has proven to be effective in the production of innovative ideas during ideation sessions.

What’s the point of this article you might be saying… well I believe the action above has now dwindled from Lucas’s mind. He probably doesn’t realize the recognition I gave it, and certainly didn’t associate it with anything special, but when he first spelt his name I reached for my phone and immediately pushed record. If I ask my family if they’ve heard Lucas spell his name they’re all going to say ‘Yes Matthew’… if I ask them if they heard about the story above they’re going to say ‘No… and might not be that interested’… so my point is we need to value these micro bursts of creativity as much as the micro moments of academic development. I mean seriously, most kids know how to spell their name by five or six (and who cares when they started). If we want to better nurture creative thinking we need to recognize the ‘coolness’ of generating twenty-five different pictures* in the space of 5/10 minutes? I’m not even sure I could do that!

*Full disclosure, I didn’t actually take note of the pictures Lucas was drawing so he actually might have failed miserably if this was one of E. Paul Torrance’s Tests of Creativity.

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Curiosity: Keep is Alive, Keep it Active!

We’re are all born with natural characteristics that allow us to think creatively, unfortunately many of these characteristics diminish as we grow older and interact with society. There’s a hot debate about education and how some of its methodology might be negatively impacting our creativity. We regularly talk about originality and how children have the ability to engage their imagination to produce and consider many alternative uses and activities with everyday objects. Play is another obvious activity that engages the imagination and allows creativity to flourish, but for me one of the most useful characteristics that we squander as we grow is our curiosity for the world around us. Sitting back and watching my six-month old boy look around a new room always gets me wondering… ‘What’s he looking at now’, ‘what does he make of the television screen, the moon, the stars, the new wall paper’. ‘What does he think they are?’ ‘Something to eat?’ Probably, he’s a baby who’s about to start teething, but we know that as soon as the terrible twos arrive, and even worse, the threes (which I’m living now with my eldest), this characteristic will surpass these basic survival instincts and begin to engage his imagination so that his curiosity can challenge him to explore his world. Unfortunately, he’s likely to get into trouble along the way and as parents we’ll be quick to deliver punishments when his or her curiosity takes them to the electrical plugs, the air vents, the fragile glass objects sitting on the coffee table, and every other thing that you’re quietly chuckling to yourself about right now.

But we have to remember that curiosity is one of the most important characteristics to keep alive in our children, to keep active, but it’s also one of the most challenging. You see curiosity leads to questions that we want to answer, because it makes our children ‘smarter’.  We can brag that our child knows where the sun goes at night, and why the leaves turn a different color in the Fall. Obviously Science has provided us with answers that we want to share and will learn about at school. But lets back up and ask how we came to these answers? It was the curiosity of past scientists or scholars who had a question and wanted to find out the answer. Scientists regularly utilize curiosity to generate new knowledge for our society, so lets be conscious of its value and do our best to cultivate it as parents and educators. I’ve shared a few ideas below that I practice at home.

  1. LUCAS: Daddy where does the sun go at nighttime? DADDY: Where do you think it goes at nighttime? He’s way to young to start talking about the gravity and the shape of our planet!
  2. Take Nature Walks in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Nothing is better at engaging my son’s curiosity for the world around him then finding insects. Challenge them to think where an ant leaves, spiders go, frogs swim, etc. When you find an instinct catch it, take it home, and examine it with your little one. Ask them to count the legs, guess what they eat, investigate the colors. Once they’ve compiled some information in their head I then reach for the iPad and get some ‘Wow’ facts to share. After this experience I always let them go.
  3. Allow them to examine their bodies. Within reason. My three year old does far too much examining of certain parts of his body, but he has begun to discover bones, and muscle which we’ve begun to talk about. He’s even developed curiosity about his size and which parts of his body will grow. These are great questions for a three year old to start asking.
  4. Providing that it’s not scary! Watch some nature and dinosaur documentaries on TV. Dinosaurs have a massive Wow factor for infants!
  5. Ok this is a tough one. Monitor how you respond to his curiosity when it gets him into trouble. We need to be careful that he doesn’t stop exploring objects because he’s scared he’ll get into trouble. If he reaches for something fragile, try and get it before he does, but then careful allow him to explore it and explain why you might not want him to hold it. This will likely lead into a variety of new questions that allow you to divert your attention away from the fragile object.
  6. Finally, children will be curious about the objects that dominate the life of their parents. It’s a big tease to not let them touch the remote controller, sit in the driving seat of a car, or event get to touch the keyboard of your computer. Supervise, supervise, supervise, but don’t shut them out of your world. They’re just too curious!

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Simple bike ride turns into an adventure with a Gruffalo, fairies, a magical wood, dinosaur bones, and a scary forest

I was recently at Cape Cod on a family vacation. Apart from my three year old catching Pink Eye it was an extremely enjoyable and relaxing experience. One of the best things about going on vacation is the opportunity to spend quality time with the family, more importantly the little ones. Lucas, my three-year old terror, can be a handful, but his imagination is something I cherish dearly, and helped turn a simple bike ride into an adventure with a Gruffalo, fairies, a magical wood, dinosaur bones, and a scary forest.

My brother-in-law was kind enough to offer his bike that comes with a little seat for Lucas to sit on. The two of us, bursting with excitement, embarked on our journey around a little beachside community in Mashpee. As we travelled down a path we eventually came to some woodland. At first Lucas was a little scared, calling it a scary forest that has scary skeletons in, but I decided to challenge his imagination to go beyond this current obsession, and come up with other things that might live in the scary forest. To my delight, as its my favorite picture book, he decided that we were in the deep dark wood were the Gruffalo lives, well not just one, lots of them. They were popping up all over the place and poor Daddy had to peddle really quickly to get away from them. After my legs began to burn I needed a change in the adventure’s setting, and with a little bit of encouragement we eventually crossed over into a magical forest with fairies and dinosaur bones in the form of broken branches on trees. I was particularly happy with the fairies as they cast dancing spells on the Gruffalos, which meant I didn’t have to peddle away every time we saw one, also the fairies froze the scary skeletons in their domain so Lucas didn’t have to fear them as much.

On our way back our creative efforts turned away from our adventure and toward the arts with some make up sing-along songs. Obviously it started with a song about Scary Skeletons, but soon we were singing songs about bones, and dancing princess skeletons (they got back in there at the end). It turned into a fantastic bike ride that would compete with an afternoon at Disney’s Magical Kingdom, more importantly, and to the reason why I’m writing this article, simple leading questions from Daddy provided a wonderful opportunity to nurture the imagination and curiosity of my little pal.

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Jumpstart Creativity = Read to & with your kids!

Read. Read with your kids. Read to your kids. You can’t start kids early enough. And why stop one of the most creative family activities on the planet when your kids can read on their own? One more thing: it doesn’t matter what they read!

Too often in education reading seems punitive. I’m not enthusiastic about school mandated summer reading in its present form. What could be one of the greatest adventures for kids (or anyone!) becomes an onerous task for too many kids.  The summer before I entered 9th grade, I remember having to read an 800 page Dickens novel. Did you do your hour of reading my parents asked daily? Yes I did. Sort of. And I also learned about Cliff’s notes and Spark’s notes. I never finished the novel….

But something very special happened that summer.

A Hollywood screenwriter had rented the summer cottage next door to us. The lights were on in that house all night as music played and funny smelling smoke filled the air as visitors from LA stopped in – Felix from the Lovin’ Spoonful, Shelly Winters swimming nude in the moonlight. Much to my parents disapproval, I went over there. All the time. And I saw grown-ups reading books. Reading on their own and aloud to their kids. At all hours of the day and night. One night as I reluctantly headed home, the screenwriter handed me Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird and said, “Let me know what you think.”

I got home and read. All night. The book frightened me – the images were terrifying and beautiful and I couldn’t stop reading.  The next day he came over and wanted to know what I thought of the story. My parents listened to us. They had never heard me so passionate about anything I had read. Afterwards the screenwriter told my parents, “Just let him read. It doesn’t matter what he reads – as long as he reads.”

My wife and I read books at home at all hours. My daughter, like all children, watches and studies her parents.  One Friday night when she was six or seven years old, she climbed into bed between us with a book and asked, “Can I stay up and read with you?”

Natalie is ten years-old now and reading together has become a family activity that we all enjoy. We ask each other about what we’re reading and share passages and images and ideas that amaze us as well as things we don’t understand. The opinion of what we’re reading is as valued as what we’re reading. When she asked her brother for a subscription to the teen magazine Tiger Beat (People magazine for juniors)  (http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Beat/dp/B00AZ9P6O6), we gave it our okay. We weren’t thrilled that she wanted to know the latest “news” about 1D, but we tried to discuss with her why so much attention is showered on celebrities.

On the other hand when she came home one day and asked me to buy her the wondrous book  Monsterology, I ordered it immediately. A friend of hers had told her about it. When it arrived we both went over it page by amazing page. With its pull-out passport to adventure and scientist-like tactile slides of: “hairs from the hide of a unicorn (12 years); skin from tail of a sea serpent (age unknown); and a sample of the yeti fur (white winter coat) presented by the monks of Dragon Mountain.”

If you don’t know this book – check it out:

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http://www.amazon.com/Monsterology-Complete-Book-Monstrous-Beasts/dp/0763639400

 

One of the best ways to nurture creativity at home is through reading with and to you your kids. Reading will ignite your kid’s curiosity. Tell your kids what you like about what you’re reading.  One night as we were all reading in bed, Natalie asked me about a book I was reading. Saint-Exupery’s Wind Sand and Stars.  “It’s an adventure story,” I told her, “pilots flying in unchartered territory – almost 100 years ago – trying to discover safe routes to deliver the mail – through mountain passes – over deserts  – across oceans – in planes that sometimes fell apart in mid-air!” Natalie took the book from me and curiously stared at its cover with a photograph of an old single prop plane. She opened the book and started to read…

There are some rules we have about reading. During the school year, she has a set bedtime. But on Friday and Saturday nights she can read as late as she wants as long as she isn’t grumpy in the morning. I have my good friend Bill Gosselin to thank for that insight into teaching kids to take responsibility for their actions. Play by the rules and she can read into the night. Wake up grumpy and no more late nights. Natalie loves the independence of reading late.  And even better, she has begun to learn why we set those rules as well as her own limits.

We just came back from Martha’s Vineyard where my cousin has a small cottage in Oak Bluffs. After a full day of fishing, swimming and hiking (and eating plates of local oysters dockside at http://www.larsensfishmarket.com/index.shtml) we returned to the cottage. It was close to 11pm and bedtime.  I looked across the small room that we shared and saw this:

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Nat read 2.1 mbNat read 2mbAnd she wasn’t grumpy in the morning.

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