I have talked a lot of about various attitudes and skills we can inculcate in our children. I also wrote about efficient learning. Today I want to talk about something that comes as naturally to us as breathing – Thinking. My 20th blog for the #blogchatterA2Z challenge is for the letter T – Think Out of the Box. Even though thinking comes naturally to all of us, we can improve it significantly by using exercises and strategies to develop critical and creative thinking skills.
Creative and critical thinking is becoming more and more important in our rapidly changing, competitive and information rich world. As our children grow, they don’t only need a brain full of facts, figures, formulae, theories and so on. They need to be equipped the ability to think flexibly, critically and creatively. Some of the most successful firms today are those that think out of the box. Take Apple for instance – it has consistently engaged in creative thinking which has led to a strategic advantage over its competitors and thereby to its huge success. All of our inventions and advances have come from out of the box thinkers.
Let’s look at a few ways in which we can encourage our children to think our of the box:
- Ask open ended questions: ask questions in a way that encourages children to think before answering. What are a few different ways to draw the sun? let’s think of 5 different recipes to make a sandwich. How can we do this differently? Ask them to arrive at 2 -3 different conclusions for the same questions. Think of ten ways in which a paper napkin/pants/mug or anything can be used. Or how would you use a nail cutter if it was twenty times is actual size? Also ask what if questions. What if we had a tail? What could be the different uses of our tails? What if we got water only two hours in day? You can introduce questions from their studies – how do you think King Ashoka would have protected his citizens from coronavirus? Do this at the dinner table or when you are driving with them or just lazing on a Sunday afternoon.
- Give them free time and reduce screen time: I know it is very difficult these days – I am struggling with it myself – especially during these days of lockdown. Just this afternoon my ten year old had a meltdown because he was getting bored and I wouldn’t let him play on the phone. We need to encourage them to use their boredom to think of a new game or a way to entertain themselves. Whether they are using bedsheets and pillows to make their castle or the mud and pipes in their garden to create a scenery – let them do it. My son used to put all his toys together and create scenes and movies out of them and invite us for the screening. I remember I used to love pulling out all the coins from my piggy bank and make designs. Ask them to take apart their old Lego sets and make something new out of the pieces. Encourage role play and imagination.
- Tell them what to do and not how to do it: give them activities basis their interests. E.g. make a diorama or a castle or house. Or you could ask them to do a flower arrangement. Or cook a dish with egg. Maybe a write a story. If you want them to get even more creative, give them some ingredients or material and ask them to make something out of it. – e.g. give some paper, glue, colours and ice cream sticks and challenge them to make something fun. Or give them some ingredients and ask them to dish out something. Or a canvas, brush and 3 colours to make a painting. Just tell them the end goal and then let them be. In this whole activity – don’t look at the end goal – just focus on the process. After they are done, you can ask how they went about it, why or why did they not choose something. Did they face problems? Did they have to change tack? Are they happy with the result? Could they have done better and how and so on.
- Encourage them to build a strong knowledge base: creativity builds on the existing knowledge base. It is the ability to pick up that knowledge and put it together in a new way. New inventions come from the knowledge of past inventions and discoveries. For example, each new version of a mobile phone builds on the previous one. Or take a chef. A chef will know all the flavours, the textures, the colours of his ingredients. He will know how different ingredients interact together and then use this knowledge to create new dishes and combinations. In my blog on knowledge, I shared many tips on how to increase the knowledge base of our children. Do have a look.
- Give them the opportunity to solve their own problems: when children come to you with a problem, first ask them how would they solve it. Encourage them to look at the issue from various angles and think of different approaches to the solution. Many times, with help, you will see that they are able to find their own solutions. This would not only help them think through the various issues, it would give them confidence once they succeed in resolving a problem.
- Allow them to differ from you: it might be difficult for many parents. I know it is easy to tell children to do as we say and not question us. However, we should encourage divergent thoughts. Let them disagree with you or suggest alternative ideas or solutions.
- Go beyond existing constructs: we don’t even realise it, but often the world has already created the box around us and unwittingly we create it around our children. Our education system, revolves around very specific ways of doing things – the focus is on learning the answers rather than arriving at them. Has anyone ever thought of the kitchen as a chemistry lab? Existing constructs – whether gender or racial or societal norms on how one should behave or act, constrain our thinking and creative processes. Let your children question them – this is what will lead to new ways of living life and new solutions.
- The process is more important than the end: finally, always, always encourage the process and not the end. Praise the effort and not the achievement. Tell them that failure is a way to learn to do things better or differently. Did you enjoy doing it? How did you feel? I could see you put in a lot of effort and hard work. Your dedication to your project was great and so on.
I hope you find these ideas useful and do let me know how they work out for you.
Read my other blogs on the series here: