Imagination is more important than knowledge

Let your child Daydream: Imagination is more important than Knowledge

Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

My co-conspirator to DadsforCreativity.com, shared an absolutely awesome New York Times article last week. This October marked 100 years since Einstein came up with the General Theory of Relativity, which is something I barely understand and will not try and explain during this post. What I found most fascinating about the story is how Einstein utilized his imagination to generate his world changing theory about our universe (for those of you not familiar with the story, Einstein imagined he was riding a beam of light through space and this experience is what led him down the path to the General Theory of Relativity).

See Also: What if your child’s Imagination could Soar!

As pointed out in the NY Times article titled The Light-Beam Rider, Einstein ‘relished what he called the Gedankenexperimente’, this was his word for experiments and thoughts that he played out in his head. While none of us will likely claim to have the mind of arguably the greatest scientist of the Twentieth Century, we might still have some type of ‘crazy’ question or theory that we Gedankenexperimente with.

At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.
At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.

One of mine first began to manifest during my car journeys to Darbyshire to see my Mom’s family. As we sped up or down the M1 at around 70MPH, I would look out the window at all the objects that zoomed past our window. I used to try and make them go slower by fixing my gaze on an object in front, such as a road sign, and then following it as we passed by. I noticed that if I concentrated hard enough I could make the object almost stop in front of my window for a brief moment, before it disappeared behind me. As I played this game a question began to emerge – what would happen if a wasp entered the car and hovered in a stationary position just above my head? Would it zoom back at the same speed as the outside objects such as the road sign, and thus smash and splatter against our back window? Or would it occupy the same space as our car? While I suspected it was the latter, this only generated more questions – what exactly takes place between the wasp hovering 1mm outside my window and zooming by at 70mph, verses being 1mm inside my window and not?

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I reckon this question might easily be answered by a 12th grade physics teacher, and embarrassingly for me, perhaps it’s common knowledge to everyone, but this is the first time I’ve ever shared this question publicly and I still do not have a solution or more importantly WHY! (Hint Hint – comment below if you know the answer!).

As we think about cultivating creative thinking skills in our children there’s two things to make note of from my question about a wasp. For some reason I’ve kept this question locked up in my head for approximately 25 years. What’s stopped me asking this question? Why didn’t I bring it up during my hundreds of science lessons at school? Why didn’t I ever ask my parents or friends?

In fact, Einstein did more than just notice what the blind beetle couldn’t see. He was able to imagine it by conjuring up thought experiments. That ability to visualize the unseen has always been the key to creative genius. As Einstein later put it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Walter Issacson (NY Times)

I wonder if this is a question that I must answer on my own? Am I forever destined to wrestle with this question until I begin to formulate a theory? Do we all have these types of experiences as a child – and if so perhaps there really is a scientist within everyone of us?

As these thought experiments remind us, creativity is based on imagination. If we hope to inspire kids to love science, we need to do more than drill them in math and memorized formulas. We should stimulate their minds’ eyes as well. Even let them daydream.- Walter Issacson (NY Times)

Read The Light-Beam Rider here.


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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)

Pause

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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Daddy’s Day Out: Creativity is about making connections

Steve Jobs said creativity is all about making connections*. It’s also a creativity skill that was identified by Professor E. Paul Torrance, but in order to make connections children must be exposed to a wide variety of child friendly ‘interesting’ and ‘stimulating’ things that they can connect to their everyday experiences. As parents we must think of ways to add to the types of things children get from school and their home. Obvious examples are day trips to places like the zoo, a farm, or science museum. These types of excursions will certainly stimulate curiosity and may lead to connections that can produce future outcomes that can be considered new and useful (our general definition for Creativity). In other words, it’s important to expose your kids to extra-curricular activities that are outside there usual routine of the after school sports and music lessons.

This picture was taken at the EverWonder Museum. Even my youngest got involved in some of the science exhibits (in the blue).
This picture was taken at the EverWonder Museum. Even my youngest got involved in some of the science exhibits (in the blue).

Unfortunately zoos can certainly be expensive and are not always conveniently located, as can some aquariums and private museums, which make it difficult for them to become a regular occurrence. This can lead to the connections being short lived or the inability for your child to revisit an experience with newly acquired knowledge (which lets face it they get everyday). Some of us with the time and skills can go about substituting these day excursions with home grown activities and projects, I know of a number of Dads that have the skills to build hen houses in the garden, or create illustrious baked goods, but I like to get out and avoid making a massive mess that will need to be cleaned before Mommy gets home. So, if you’re like me I encourage you to search out low cost, hidden gems that are located not too far away from your home. Connecting with other parents is a great place to start, but searching Google maps is also helpful in locating hands-on child friendly museums to explore. Once you’ve found a few you can determine which ones are worthy of a yearly membership, which pays for itself by the third or forth visit.  Below are some of the regional organizations I visited (or plan to visit) in Fairfield County, CT.

Visited:

  • EverWonder Children’s Museum: The EverWonder Children’s Museum was founded in January 2011, by a group of mothers who enjoyed bringing their children to other children’s museums. I have always been interested in weather so anything that has a Tornado maker has my vote. This is a great regional attraction to all parents living West of Hartford CT, and wanting to ignite curiosity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This is certainly one to watch, and I’m look forward to it’s future growth.
  • Minds in Motion: Minds in Motion is a weekend event that travels to schools across Connecticut and offers exciting, fast-paced, interactive workshops for every child with every interest, Kindergarten – 8th grade. Adults can attend a keynote and thought-provoking, special-interest workshops, free of charge at every MIM event. At Minds in Motion you’ll be in a good company, and get to meet follow parents interested in cultivating creative thinking skills.
  • Stepping Stones: Stepping Stones opened in March, 2000, and was founded by Gigi Priebe in response to the needs expressed by parents, educators and community leaders actively seeking quality educational offerings to help children learn and grow. This museum has a MASSIVE water attraction that has wind tunnels, waterfalls, and opportunities to get wet.
Lucas explores the power of wind and water in the highly popular water attraction at Stepping Stones Children Museum
  • Danbury Train Museum: So my first boy loved trains, my second is certainly on his way (though he likes soccer balls as well – that’s right I have a ‘creative’ soccer player brewing). General admission to the Museum includes entry to the Museum building and its exhibits and operating layouts, and a tour of a 6-acre Railyard with over 70 pieces of historic railroad equipment and artifacts – basically massive trains for children to explore – over the holidays they also offer a Santa ride.
  • New Pond Farm: is celebrating its 30th year as an environmental education center with a small working farm. Our mission is to connect people with the land that enriches and sustains us all. This is a great opportunity for a nature walk with your bug box, but also has a little reptile house.
A young Lucas discovers a tiny bug on a nature walk at New Pond Farm in Redding, CT.
A young Lucas discovers a tiny bug on a nature walk at New Pond Farm in Redding, CT.Beardsley Zoo: A nice little Zoo that has offered free entry for Dads on Fathers day. We tend to go twice a year and enjoy it every time.
  • Danbury Airport: On the right day there’s a few spots where you can have planes flying over your head every 5-10 minutes. It’s not a whole day experience, but a nice detour on your way to whole Foods. I’m also aware that some local and regional airports have airshows, which are well worth a visit.
  • Norwalk Aquarium: This aquarium has sharks, seals, and opportunities to touch stingrays, crabs, jellyfish (which I’ve found out they now call Jellies because they’re not fish). If you go early it’s not too busy and during the summer they have a fantastic butterfly garden.

On my list to visit:

  • Dinosaur State Park: The Connecticut Valley has a long history of fossil track discoveries. Outstanding specimens uncovered in 19th century brownstone quarries found their way into museums throughout the world. A new chapter in the history of such discoveries was written in 1966 when hundreds of tracks were exposed in Rocky Hill. This remarkable site became Dinosaur State Park, and I hear has life size sculptures, and pretend digs for young children.

I’m sure there’s more out there so please comment below to let me know what I’m missing.

RELATED ARTICLE: If you’re looking for activities at home, check out ways to turn stories into movies with the iPhone.

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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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