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 Chitchat: Recognizing a child’s ability to INVENT

“I also am driven by the notion that our intelligence is not measured by our knowledge, but rather in our ability to take knowledge and invent something new.”

– Joy  Paul Guildford, 1958

Joy Guildford is an American Psychologist who in 1958 planted the seed toward the study of Creativity. In a speech to the American Psychological Association, and in reference to the recent launch of the Soviet Satellite Sputnik, he challenged his peers to start thinking about what makes people creative.

“I think of creativity as being something that lies behind behavior; behavior that is imaginative and inventive. Such behavior can be found in clearest form in the lives of certain people – scientists who make new discoveries and construct new theories; artists, designers, writers, and composers; and architects, designers, and builders.”

See Also: Introducing Design-Based Thinking to Young Children

Guildford believed that individuals should show their intelligence by being inventive in some way, and not merely on their ability to memorizing facts and figures. As we look to cultivate creativity in our children, we must take this advice and provide opportunities for our little ones to be inventive.

“It is up to us to teach the child that there are still many areas of life, which problems must be faced and in which creative thinking is needed…”

If you take time to observe your child, you’ll quickly notice how often they apply creative thinking in order to solve everyday problems that manifest in their lives. From fixing toys, or discovering how to reach for the Cookie Jar; to coming up with excuses to delay bedtime, or offering reasons why they shouldn’t take a bath –our children are highly inventive within their world. As parents we must make an effort to recognize when our child is being inventive, and within our home, celebrating it equally to the development of new vocabulary or learning to subtract. As they begin to get older, we must then actively seek out opportunities that challenge them to apply this type of thinking to the real world. Whatever their interests, they should be challenged to, and praised when, they invent something new and useful.

“I also am driven by the notion that our intelligence is not measured by our knowledge, but rather in our ability to take knowledge and invent something new.”

My eldest using items we put in an invention box to make a house on wheels for his toy worm.
My eldest using items we put in an invention box to make a house on wheels for his toy worm.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking is squandered, or in some cases made dormant in educational environments that measure progress on what knowledge has been committed to memory, as opposed to how well that knowledge is applied to a real-world problem.

As parents we can partner in education, by recognizing and celebrating the ways our child likes to invent. For example, my eldest likes to ‘invent’ stories – so we make a point to sit down and let him read his book to us. Simple additions to our home such as an ‘Invention Box’ can help encourage our children to be inventive. Invention boxes can build up over time, and include things like broken toys, boxes, string, and even old power cables, or discarded electrical devices. With some facilitation from the parent, children can be challenged to invent products that solve real-world problems, and as their knowledge for the real world increase, so will their solutions.

As parents we shouldn’t feel the need to master in-depth studies in creativity in order to cultivate creative thinking skills in our children. We simply need to first recognize our child’s ability to INVENT, and then find ways to encourage this further, by knowing what our child likes to invent and then making opportunities for it to happen.

What to know more about Creativity? Try our ‘Parents Guide to Creativity’

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Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance, is a documentary film that explores Creativity in education. The film is available on Amazon or can be access for free by simply commenting below or subscribing here.




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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.

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Creativity for Everybody: 3 Question Interview with CREATIVITY EXPERT, Jane Harvey


‘Too many people think creativity is exclusive to the arts and don’t understand that creativity is about a way of thinking and seeing’

-Jane Harvey

‘I’m not creative – I don’t know where they get their creativity from!’ I’ve heard this sentence uttered far too many times from fantastic and highly creative adults – many of them parents. We are all creative! We have natural characteristics that help us think creatively, and the challenge is to continue to develop and nurture these natural characteristics as we grow. As parents one of the ways we can support this effort is by developing a better understanding of creativity and challenging some of the misconceptions that exist within society. In this 3 Question Interview, Jane Harvey who recently co-authored a book called ‘Creativity for Everybody’ will challenge this misconception and explain how creative thinking expands far beyond the arts.

SEE ALSO: Parent Partners in Education: A Beginners Guide to Creativity

What do you consider to be some of the greatest myths about creativity?

Myth: Some people are born creative and some are not. I would prefer to say that it varies in how people find their way into (or out of) creativity.

Myth: Creative people are the odd weirdo-types. Yeah, thanks.

Myth: Too many people think creativity is exclusive to the arts and don’t understand that creativity is about a way of thinking and seeing. I have heard from parents “you can either choose a career that will earn money, or you can choose the arts and not make money”. Why is it either/or? Why can’t the arts be integrated into everything, so our brains get play time and freedom of expression for the full benefit for learning?

What advice do you have for parents who what to cultivate creative thinking skills at home?

Encourage multiple perspectives of a situation. Not everyone thinks the same or sees the same. Have your children get into a habit of considering different views and then talk about it. To build fluency and flexibility for creative thinking, kids need to try out alternatives. There is no one right answer, but we all get caught up in the mindset of efficiency and immediacy. Have your children think beyond a fast answer, and play along yourself. Reward imagination, curiosity, and deep thought.

Jane with her daughter, Molly Gibbs (who took the photo above) Jane says she encourages her twin daughters to think for themselves and honor their need for freedom to play and think and explore.

What are some of the creative characteristics that you’ve seen in your children and how have you tried to nurture these skills at home?

I don’t see myself as intentionally nurturing creative skills in my daughters (age 17 identical twins). I encourage them to think for themselves and honor their need for freedom to play and think and explore. I support their interests and strongly believe in variety and diversity and making ‘newness’ available to them. I am accessible when they have questions. Teenagers are a different kind of creature. I don’t have the same influence or access as when they were younger, so it’s hard to take credit for their creative characters now. They both have a great sense of humor and clever wit, are perceptive and intense. Deep thinkers, curious, thorough, they do have artistic sides. I mostly try to fan the flames of their creativity and just get out of the way!

SEE ALSO: 3 Question Interview with Kathryn Haydon, co-author of ‘Creativity for Everybody’

Creativity for Everyone is available to buy on Amazon. Alternatively, simply comment below or share this article on Facebook* for a chance to receive a FREE SIGNED COPY.

Jane Harvey is a freelance designer, graphic recorder, artist, and creativity consultant. She is valued for her openness, empathy, and humor, and skills in simplifying and designing content. She earned a Master of Science degree in Creativity, Creative Problem Solving, and Change Leadership from the Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State, and has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design.

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