Kids are naturally creative and inquisitive beings. They dance, and make art with mud, and they ask Why? until you could pull out your hair.
In 2010, a four decade study (the Torrance Test) determined that creativity in American children is decreasing. The study found today’s children less humorous and imaginative and less able to come up with original and unusual ideas.
Creativity requires both divergent thinking (coming up with many unique ideas) and convergent thinking (combining the ideas for the best results). It’s thinking and acting outside the box.
This dwindling trend in creativity is worrisome for parents. There’s a big payoff for kids who can maintain and develop their creative energy. Studies show highly creative adults tend to have happier, more successful lives.
The good news is that creativity is innate and can’t be lost. But it needs to be nurtured. Here are seven kid-friendly ways to foster creativity at home.
- Be a role model for your kids. The most powerful way to develop lifelong creativity in your kids is to show them. Be curious. Laugh and play with your kids. Ask questions that stretch their imagination. After they play with a toy, you might ask, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?”
- Give your kids plenty of time for unstructured, open-ended play. Children require large blocks of spontaneous, self-directed play for lifelong, creative development.
- Have a wide variety of expressive materials available. Provide your kids with a rich mixture of community and cross cultural experiences. Creative experiences are pathways to self discovery.
- Choose open-ended toys and games that allow children to create a wide variety of pretend/fantasy scenarios. Wooden blocks, balls, LEGOs, train sets, tree swings, and an old trunk stuffed with dress up items are good examples.
- Put your emphasis on the process of creativity and not on the finished product. Competitions that put kids in a win-lose situation, the excessive use of prizes, and unreasonably high performance expectations are creativity killers.
- Children need to make their own choices. Take a step back and give your kids creative space. Hovering chokes creativity and kills risk taking.
- Restrict screen time. (They call TV “the boob tube” for a reason.) Limit computer time as well. Help your kids choose computer games that allow them to learn more freely, rather than ones that aim for a specific outcome.
- Ask your kids questions that expand possibilities and encourage divergent thinking. Here’s a good resource for family games that teach kids to think outside the box. http://growingcreativekids.com/divergent-and-convergent-thinking-techniques-for-creative-kids/
- Free up your busy family schedule to include time for creative play. Soccer is great but kids also need unstructured play every day. Play is essential to problem solving, searching out new solutions, social skills, creativity, and intelligence. Unrestricted play is the magical place where children dream.
It’s through creative play that children discover the possibilities and the wonder of their own lives. With her very first mud pie, a child begins creating her unique place in the world.
K.J. Larsen’s Cat DeLuca Mysteries, are published by Poisoned Pen Press. Larsens’ debut novel, Liar Liar, was awarded Library Journals Best Mystery, 2010. Liar, Liar, Sticks and Stones, and Some Like It Hot are available at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore and on Amazon. Cat’s fourth adventure, Bye Bye, Love, will be released April 2015
Early childhood education is proven to help children succeed in education and life.
- While Heckman’s study focusses on the societal economic benefits of early childhood education, the key point for current parents (or those planning to have children) is that early childhood education is proven to help children succeed in education and life.
Personality and character trait development is a vital component of successful early childhood education
- When deciding on a provider for early childhood education, parents should evaluate the organization’s focus on Personality and Character Traits development (optimism, persistence, self-control, etc) in addition to cognitive learning (thinking, understanding, etc,)
James J. Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics and an expert in the economics of human development. His groundbreaking work with a consortium of economists, developmental psychologists, sociologists, statisticians and neuroscientists has shown that quality early childhood development heavily influences health, economic and social outcomes for individuals and society at large. Heckman has shown that there are great economic gains to be had by investing in early childhood development.
Heckman’s “short summary on how investment in early childhood development can strengthen the economy” can also be viewed directly at heckmanequation.org here:
Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy.
James J. Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at The University of Chicago, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and an expert in the economics of human development.
“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families. Starting at age three or four is too little too late, as it fails to recognize that skills beget skills in a complementary and dynamic way. Efforts should focus on the first years for the greatest efficiency and effectiveness. The best investment is in quality early childhood development from birth to five for disadvantaged children and their families.”
- James J. Heckman: December 7, 2012
Those seeking to reduce deficits and strengthen the economy should make significant investments in early childhood education.
Professor Heckman’s ground-breaking work with a consortium of economists, psychologists, statisticians and neuroscientists shows that early childhood development directly influences economic, health and social outcomes for individuals and society. Adverse early environments create deficits in skills and abilities that drive down productivity and increase social costs—thereby adding to financial deficits borne by the public.
Early childhood development drives success in school and life.
A critical time to shape productivity is from birth to age five, when the brain develops rapidly to build the foundation of cognitive and character skills necessary for success in school, health, career and life. Early childhood education fosters cognitive skills along with attentiveness, motivation, self-control and sociability—the character skills that turn knowledge into know-how and people into productive citizens.
Investing in early childhood education for at-risk children is an effective strategy for reducing social costs.
Every child needs effective early childhood supports— and at-risk children from disadvantaged environments are least likely to get them. They come from families who lack the education, social and economic resources to provide the early developmental stimulation that is so helpful for success in school, college, career and life. Poor health, dropout rates, poverty and crime—we can address these problems and substantially reduce their costs to taxpayers by investing in developmental opportunities for at-risk children.
Investing in early childhood education is a cost effective strategy for promoting economic growth.
Our economic future depends on providing the tools for upward mobility and building a highly educated, skilled workforce. Early childhood education is the most efficient way to accomplish these goals:
- Professor Heckman’s analysis of the Perry Preschool program shows a 7% to 10% per year return on investment based on increased school and career achievement as well as reduced costs in remedial education, health and criminal justice system expenditures.
- It is very likely that many other early childhood programs are equally effective. Analysts of the Chicago Child– Parent Center study estimated $48,000 in benefits to the public per child from a half-day public preschool for at-risk children. Participants at age 20 were estimated to be more likely to have finished high school—and were less likely to have been held back, need remedial help or have been arrested. The estimated return on investment was $7 for every dollar invested.1
Make greater investments in young children to see greater returns in education, health and productivity.
Keep these principles in mind to make efficient and effective public investments that reduce deficits and strengthen the economy:
Investing in early childhood education is a cost effective strategy—even during a budget crisis.
Deficit reduction will only come from wiser investment of public and private dollars. Data show that one of the most effective strategies for economic growth is investing in the developmental growth of at-risk young children. Short-term costs are more than offset by the immediate and long-term benefits through reduction in the need for special education and remediation, better health outcomes, reduced need for social services, lower criminal justice costs and increased self-sufficiency and productivity among families.
Prioritize investment in quality early childhood education for at-risk children.
All families are under increasing strain; disadvantaged families are strained to the limit. They have fewer resources to invest in effective early development. Without resources such as “parent coaching” and early childhood education programs, many at-risk children miss the developmental growth that is the foundation for success. They will suffer for the rest of their lives—and all of us will pay the price in higher social costs and declining economic fortunes.
Develop cognitive AND character skills early. Invest in the “whole child.”
Effective early childhood education packages cognitive skills with character skills such as attentiveness, impulse control, persistence and teamwork. Together, cognition and character drive education, career and life success—with character development often being the most important factor.
Provide developmental resources to children AND their families.
Direct investment in the child’s early development is complemented by investment in parents and family environments. Quality early childhood education from birth to age five, coupled with parent coaching, such as home visitation programs for parents and teen mothers, has proven to be effective and warrants more investment.
Invest, develop and sustain to produce gain.
Invest in developmental resources for at-risk children. Develop their cognitive and character skills from birth to age five, when it matters most. Sustain gains in early development with effective education through to adulthood. Gain more capable, productive and valuable citizens who pay dividends for generations to come.
Early childhood education is an efficient and effective investment for economic and workforce development. The earlier the investment, the greater the return on investment.
1National Institute for Early Childhood Education Research
Zest. Approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated. What an amazing concept! Can you imagine, as an adult, waking up every day with excitement and energy for what the day is about to bring? Of course this is an unlikely scenario as an adult but for children the opportunities are far greater with their young imaginations and the world in front of them.
Zest is a key component to child happiness, success in education and living a fulfilling life. Therefore, as parents, we should look for opportunities to encourage zest and help this trait flourish in our children for the long term. This is nothing new to parents of course. For example, if you google, “Getting kids excited about”, the search engine populates the top 5 searches as:
- Getting kids excited about reading
- Getting kids excited about writing
- Getting kids excited about engineering
- Getting kids excited about exercise
- Getting kids excited about school
Why is Zest Important
In summary, Zest (aka Enthusiasm; Excitement; Energy) is important to child happiness and child education as research has identified it as one of the top seven characteristics that can predict life satisfaction and high achievement.
Prior to authoring How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (2012), Paul Tough contributed an article to the NY Times titled, What if the Secret to Success Is Failure (2011).
In the article (and the subsequent book for that matter), Tough discusses efforts to improve the success of their students by Headmaster Dominic Randolph at Riverdale Country School (a prestigious private school in New York City) and David Levin, the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and the superintendent of the KIPP schools in New York City.
Randolph and Levin had become intrigued by research conducted by some of the world’s most renowned experts in psychology. The studies included a set of character strengths that were, according to research, likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement.
The list of traits began with 24. They came from the book titled, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, by Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. (NOTE: At 800 pages, the book is more of a text book rather than a nice ‘how to’ book for interested parents).
Tough explains how Randoph and Levin had asked for a more concise list from Peterson. A shortened list of specific traits that, again, were likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement. Peterson was able to narrow the list to the following seven traits (in no particular order):
- Social intelligence
It makes perfect sense why Zest is on their list of seven traits to help a child succeed and help with child happiness. Consider the Google searches noted above. Each of the top searches are items that, as parents, we’d love our children to be excited about. But being excited about reading or writing or exercise, etc is not necessarily something that can simply be expected of our children. Rather, they are activities that we hope our children show zest for. They are activities that parents encourage excitement for because we know it is in their best interest.
How to Encourage Zest; Excitement; Enthusiasm
There are many resources dedicated to helping parents learn how to encourage excitement in their children. However, every child is different and what works for one may not work for yours and vice versa. This isn’t a bad thing though. The creativity and experimentation to get our children excited about a specific topic or activity is also a way for us parents to be engaged with our children on a daily basis.
With that being said, here are Kidamentals 2-Steps to helping deliver Zest in your child:
Step 1: Identify the activity that your child could benefit from added enthusiasm
This sounds simple but there are many opportunities that may go unnoticed. Let’s use the example of a toddler putting together a puzzle. It’s hardly rocket science and certainly isn’t necessary to their future college entrance submission. However, if the child consistently gets frustrated (after all, they are difficult) then they may have the tendency to stop and move onto other activities. Why is Zest important here? Because the enthusiasm and excitement for finishing the puzzle helps the child learn to push through those adverse situations. Some people call this particular trait “Grit” and it is also one of the aforementioned traits that can help predict life satisfaction and high achievement.
Step 2: Utilize creativity and experimentation to learn what excites your child
Continuing with our previous example, perhaps it’s reminding the child how they ‘feel’ when they work hard and then accomplish a goal. Or perhaps you have an artistic child who loves to see the finished picture. Or perhaps you have the child who loves animals and will be so excited to see the giraffe when the puzzle is complete.
The above example is specific to a toddler. But as our kids get older the sheer number of activities and implications of such activities increase. For example, those that are concerned with their child’s excitement to read. Or those looking for cool math games to encourage excitement for math.
A fun experiment for parents can be to google search what other parents are trying to excite in their child. I like the example of encouraging excitement for a kid to play piano.
There are a wealth of credible resources for such a topic and by reading through a few of them we learn the extent of creativity and experimentation that is needed. How would you encourage your child to be excited about playing the piano? Did you consider if your child is even at the appropriate age? Did you consider hiring a private instructor (even if you have the skill set yourself)? Did you consider a system of rewards and milestones?
Given time and effort, your creativity and encouragement will shine through in your child. Kidamentals firmly believes this.
Kidamentals also believes that fellow parents are an amazing resource and that we can all learn from each other’s trials, tribulations, and successes. Let’s keep this discussion going. We are all in this together!
Kidamentals is reprinting this blog with the permission of Daniel Willingham at www.danielwillingham.com/
Daniel Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education.
The blog and comments can be viewed here:
As Mr. WIllingham states within the comments, "note it's an article in a technical journal not one that was designed for advice to parents."
This is in direct response to facts around benefits of enriched Formula for babies vs Formula that is not enriched. The concern from readers is that breast milk contains the same nutritional benefits as the enriched formula but the article fails to reference this fact.
In short, it should be noted that the article is not stating that feeding formula to infants is better for child education than breastfeeding. When it comes to formula vs breastfeeding, the key point is that research found benefits from "polyunsaturated fatty acids" that can be found in breast milk or some enriched formulas.
With that said, Kidamentals recommends reading this blog and considering the "four marquee findings" that may help increase a child's IQ.
How to Make a Young Child Smarter
If the title of this blog struck you as brash, I came by it honestly: it's the title of a terrific new paper by three NYU researchers (Protzko, Aronson & Blair, 2013). The authors sought to review all interventions meant to boost intelligence, and they cast a wide net, seeking any intervention for typically-developing children from birth to kindergarten age that used a standard IQ test as the outcome measure, and that was evaluated in a random control trial (RCT) experiment.
A feature of the paper I especially like is that none of the authors publish in the exact areas they review. Blair mostly studies self-regulation, and Aronson, gaps due to race, ethnicity or gender. (Protzko is a graduate student studying with Aronson.) So the paper is written by people with a lot of expertise, but who don't begin their review with a position they are trying to defend. They don't much care which way the data come out.
So what did they find? The paper is well worth reading in its entirety--they review a lot in just 15 pages--but there are four marquee findings.
First, the authors conclude that infant formula supplemented with long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids boosts intelligence by about 3.5 points, compared to formula without. They conclude that the same boost is observed if pregnant mothers receive the supplement. There are not sufficient data to conclude that other supplements--riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, zinc, and B-complex vitamins--have much impact, although the authors suggest (with extreme caution) that B-complex vitamins may prove helpful.
Second, interactive reading with a child raises IQ by about 6 points. The interactive aspect is key; interventions that simply encouraged reading or provided books had little impact. Effective interventions provided information about how to read to children: asking open-ended questions, answering questions children posed, following children's interests, and so on.
Third, the authors report that sending a child to preschool raises his or her IQ by a little more than 4 points. Preschools that include a specific language development component raise IQ scores by more than 7 points. There were not enough studies to differentiate what made some preschools more effective than others.
Fourth, the authors report on interventions that they describe as "intensive," meaning they involved more than preschool alone. The researchers sought to significantly alter the child's environment to make it more educationally enriching. All of these studies involved low-SES children (following the well-established finding that low-SES kids have lower IQs than their better-off counterparts due to differences in opportunity. I review that literature here.) Such interventions led to a 4 point IQ gain, and a 7 point gain if the intervention included a center-based component. The authors note the interventions have too many features to enable them to pinpoint the cause, but they suggest that the data are consistent with the hypothesis that the cognitive complexity of the environment may be critical. They were able to confidently conclude (to their and my surprise) that earlier interventions helped no more than those starting later.
Those are the four interventions with the best track record. (Some others fared less well. Training working memory in young children "has yielded disappointing results." )
The data are mostly unsurprising, but I still find the article a valuable contribution. A reliable, easy-to-undertand review on an important topic.
Even better, this looks like the beginning of what the authors hope will be a longer-term effort they are calling the Database on Raising Intelligence--a compendium of RCTs based on interventions meant to boost IQ. That may not be everything we need to know about how to raise kids, but it's a darn important piece, and such a Database will be a welcome tool.
Allowing young kids to play with kitchen tools can be a great sensory experience as well as encourage interest and excitement about cooking and eating. And it can give you a few minutes in the kitchen to get some meal preparation done without a toddler clinging to your legs… priceless!
Kitchen Play Activity 1:
- 2 or 4 cup liquid measuring cup (approximately half full of water)
- Muffin tin
- Turkey baster
- Cookie sheet
Fill the measuring cup with about 2 cups of water. Place all of the materials in the cookie sheet and watch your child do some creative water play as they move water into the muffin tin. Kids love to pour and this gives them some good, not-too-messy practice too! Pretty soon they will be pouring their own drinks, which one mom told me is “life-changing”!
Kitchen Play Activity 2:
- Rice, pasta or beans, uncooked
- Stacking measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Cookie sheet or large bin
Place all utensils and materials inside the cookie sheet or bin. Add the rice, pasta or beans. I use about 2 cups worth but if you’re willing to clean up more, then have at it! Watch as your child does some creative kids play by moving different materials to different places. This is also a fun way for children to learn math concepts as they pour the food into different sized containers.
Whatever you call it, the trait is essential to success in education and life. In recent research it has been most commonly called, “Grit”.
I vividly remember the first time I saw my son show “grit”. He was just mastering the use of his hands. I had 1-finger in front of him. He tried to reach out and grab it. You could see the struggle on his face yet he persevered and managed to grasp my finger for the very first time. It was an amazing moment for me as a father.
As our children grow up, it is this grit that enables our children to learn and achieve. As parents, it is our job to help this trait flourish. A simple example is with homework. Who hasn’t watched our child struggle with a math question and thought to ourselves, “I want to give you the answer!” Yet we don’t, because we know this is how they learn.
KIPP is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools (http://www.kipp.org/about-kipp). KIPP was discussed quite extensively within the popular (and highly recommended by Kidamentals) book titled How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough
Within the book, on the KIPP website, and within the KIPP curriculum are seven highly predictive strengths that correlate into long term success in education. Grit, of course, is notated as one of them. KIPP defines Grit as:
GRIT -- finishing what one starts; completing something despite obstacles; a combination of persistence and resilience.
- Finishes whatever he or she begins
- Tries very hard even after experiencing failure
- Works independently with focus
There are many opportunities in our daily lives to teach children to be persistent towards attaining their goals. Working on homework. Working on a puzzle. Climbing on a playground.
There are also many programs that can help with this trait as well. I was pleased to learn about The First Tee program’s nine core values. The First Tee program uses golf as a stepping stone to help children learn the stated Nine Core Values.
One of them happens to be Perseverance. To quote directly from The First Tee’s website:
Perseverance: to persist in an idea, purpose or task despite obstacles
To succeed in golf, players must continue through bad breaks and their own mistakes, while learning from past experiences
Learn more about The First Tee and their Nine Core Values.
Kidamentals highly recommends that children learn to keep pushing forward despite the many obstacles that they’ll face in life. Kidamentals highly recommends that caretakers of children take this message to heart and look for opportunities to meet this goal.
Share your stories with us. What organizations or activities have you found to help teach children about grit?
Sometimes a fun family activity has many other benefits. We just experienced such an event when we went clam digging!
Most importantly, the kids loved it and it’s so great to have them see where their food comes from and be a part of the whole process of harvesting, cooking and eating. Additionally, this fun summer weekend activity promotes getting outside, being curious, and eating a healthy food!
Even if you skip the digging part, eating clams is an adventure in itself. Trying new, different foods builds kids palates as well as their confidence. Tasting a new food can be scary and overcoming that fear shows children that they are able to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. It’s also a lot of fun having to dig your food out of a shell at the dinner table. To top it off, it’s even nutritious, offering a good source of protein, iron and vitamin B12.
While I’ve only dug for clams a couple of times, I’ve been steaming them for years – such an easy, yet impressive food! For a steaming clams recipe, I use what I have on hand as the the recipe is very flexible - you can substitute different herbs, or use beer or vodka as the liquid – experiment to find your family’s favorite combo!
- 2 pounds live hardshell clams
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2/3 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- Scrub the clams with a brush under running water.
- Place all ingredients into a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered.
- As soon as it comes to a boil, cover and boil until all clams are open (about 3-4 minutes), shaking the pot occasionally.
- Discard any clams that do not open.
- Serve with crusty bread for dipping in the awesome broth!
Kidamentals cannot say enough positive things about Khan Academy.
After all, the Kidamentals mission is, "To help the world raise children who are happy, healthy, educated, and all around good people" and the Khan Academy mission states:
"We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere"
That is certainly a monumental task and the Khan Academy happens to be achieving their worthy mission. The Khan Academy provides free, online tutorials on a wealth of topics ranging from Math to Science & Economics, Computer Science, and more. For example, by simply viewing the various math subjects, you find the following available:
- Arithmetic and pre-algebra
- Trigonometry and precalculus
- Probability and statistics
- Differential equations
- Linear algegra
- Applied math
- Recreational mathematics
- And More!
I have found Khan Academy to be especially useful when trying to teach my son a particular topic. My son could certainly watch the tutorials on his own (they are quite fun and amusing as well as informative). However, I like to watch the tutorials to receive ideas on how to teach complex ideas. Let me give the example of basic arithmetic.
Khan Academy has a 7 minute tutorial on Addition and Subtraction. Of course I have been trying to help my son learn the concept for quite some time. Teaching him to count. Showing him how adding two more fingers in the air adds up to a greater number. But then in watching the Khan Academy tutorial, I am reminded of the number line concept. By drawing this number line on a piece of paper, I can then teach my child arithmetic in another manner.
This is a real basic example but the importance of it cannot be overlooked. As parents, we all want our children to succeed in academia. And we do our best to help teach our child. But there are many different ways to be taught and all children vary in how they best learn.
My example is for a young four year old but the Khan Academy is great for many levels of education, including well into college. Continuing with math as an example, a child can watch tutorials on their own and then practice their skills directly on the Khan Academy site.
As our children enter Elementary, Middle, and High School, the Khan Academy is a terrific resource to augment what they are being taught in the classroom. Children will learn new ways to address a specific topic. Children will have more places to practice. Children will find new ways to be energized on a particular topic that they have found to be boring or too difficult to grasp
In this day and age it is rare to find such an amazing resource (that also happens to be FREE)!
Kidamentals highly encourages you to become familiar with the Khan Academy and their wealth of materials to help in your child’s educational endeavors.
Kidamentals highly encourages you to share your new knowledge with others who can benefit from the Khan Academy resource.