Why The D-School’s Alice Shi Kembel Lets Her Children Play With Trash (Part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about why I let my children play with trash. Here’s a hint: Not only will the ability to think innovatively help children develop a love for learning, but it will eventually prepare them to enter the workforce of a rapidly-changing world that faces complex challenges in the areas of technology, health care, the environment, and the global economy. Here’s the second suggestion in this 5-part series in how to foster innovation in children:

Emphasize that there is no “right” way to create something.

As adults, we often take a “teacher-learner” approach with children; we teach, they learn, and we tell them when they’re doing something right or wrong.  When it comes to innovation, use a “learner-learner” approach.  Resist the urge to instruct your child in the “right” way to do something; allow children to experiment on their own.  Children can often surprise us with the unique ways that they utilize materials to design what they imagine.  They may incorporate a material in an unexpected, novel way, or use a completely different process to create their ideas.  Instead of saying, “You should do it this way,” or, “That’s not going to work,” use neutral language that encourages independent thinking, such as, “That’s interesting, I wonder what else we could do with that,” or, “I wonder how that’s going to work.”  Give your child the opportunity to think for himself without the idea that there is a “right” or “wrong” when it comes to innovating, and both of you will likely learn from the process.

When my oldest son was a toddler, in a never-ending quest to keep him occupied and out of mischief, I found a painting activity in a book that I thought he would enjoy.  After spending twenty minutes setting up the activity, I presented the materials to him and said, “Look, you can use these paints on the sliding glass door and then wash them off with the hose!”  He performed the intended task for about three minutes, and then proceeded to experiment with mixing paint colors for the next twenty.  As a rule-following, structured person, I was tempted to tell him that he wasn’t using the paint the “right” way; I had, after all, invested twenty minutes of my time to create the experience that the book described.  Instead, I refrained from saying anything and followed his lead, and his paint mixing experiment ended up being far more intriguing for both of us.

Join us tomorrow for the next in this series: Provide scaffolding for children in their creative processes.

Alice Kembel and her husband, George, are recent CA–>CO transplants, having just arrived in town after immersion in the Stanford D-School. You can find Alice at www.aliceshikembel.wordpress.com.

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