Divergent Thinking with Preschoolers

Divergent Thinking Activity

Divergent thinking: a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

Young kids do this naturally yet by the time they reach fourth grade creativity scores show a steep decline (source, source). So the question becomes: HOW do we harness children’s natural creative thinking abilities when they are young so that they can develop and strengthen into strong independent thinkers well into the middle school years and beyond?

The answer is both simple and complex.

Simple because like strengthening any muscle – physical or mental – the answer is practice, repetition, consistency and ultimately forming the habit. In this case the creative thinking habit.

Where this becomes more complex is the actual implementation of HOW to do this? One such way is to practice deliberate creative thinking skills.


How To Strengthen Creative Thinking Skills

Today, let’s start with one simple first step you can take in the direction of celebrating creative thinking in the children in your life or classroom through a divergent thinking exercise!

The key to establishing an environment for this type of creative thinking is to follow the following guidelines:

1) Welcome All Ideas

Establish an open environment where children are free to express their ideas.

2) No Wrong Answers

Whatever comes to mind goes!

3) Best To Not Judge Responses (Good or Bad)

This goes both ways – positively OR negatively. To establish a climate free of judgment we must not diminish or praise ideas presented. That goes for ideas of others and also ideas of our own.

I’ll be honest, I often find it hard not to smile the entire time new ideas are shared and it’s perfectly okay to celebrate the thinking –  it’s just best to refrain from passing judgment on any one idea.

4) No ONE Right Answer

The whole idea is to get away from the type of fixed mindset thinking that we are striving for one ‘right’ way of completing a task. Instead we are promoting possibility thinking!

5) Build On Other Ideas

We’re sometimes afraid to give a response that is similar to another but this is encouraged! Build on other ideas. Let your mind make associations, improve upon or modify what’s been stated.

6) Wild And Crazy Ideas Are Encouraged

This is all about having fun and pushing our thinking to come up with new and different solutions to challenges.


How To Set Up The Experience

If you have a group of children gather in a tight circle and start by holding up an object and asking ‘What is this?’ The answer may seem obvious ‘It’s a stick!’

stick

‘Yes, it is a stick. But what else could it be? Let’s use our imaginations to think about what else this could be!’

Explain that this is a silent turn taking activity. The person holding the object has the chance to show (demonstrate) and share (through words if necessary) their idea for what the object can be.

Give children a moment to think about it, then demonstrate by showing ONE way you might use the stick (i.e. playing golf, vacuuming, as a cane, a kite etc.).

Remember to remind the group that there are no wrong answers. Encourage the children to look at the object in different ways. Share what comes to mind. Build on others’ ideas!

Young kids diverge quite easily. The key here is to celebrate novel thinking and establish a climate where new ideas are welcome.

Depending on the size of the group consider going around the circle more than one time. Often more original and unique ideas come later in the idea generation process.


Extend The Learning

Follow up the activity by reading Not a Stick, or Not a Box by Antoinette Portis for more fun ideas to stretch their thinking.

Further extend the learning by encouraging children to select one idea they liked and make it using a stick (or whatever was used)!

Do This Regularly Using Different Objects

Ideas For Found Objects In Nature That Can Be Used:
  • a stick
  • a leaf
  • an acorn
  • a pinecone
  • evergreen bristles
  • a rock
  • a log
Additional Object Ideas:
  • a hat
  • a mug
  • a box
  • a hula hoop
  • a book

Creative thinking skills need to be practiced, celebrated and rewarded. Keep track of the number of ideas generated. Do this regularly and let me know if you see the difference over time!

Please leave a comment below letting me know how many ideas you come up with!

Child-Led Solar System Exploration

I’ve been greatly influenced by both Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies in which we are encouraged to “follow the child” and explore using “the hundred languages of children“. This is where this next exploration came from: V’s interest in working on a project and exploring it through different materials.

A few weeks ago V was telling me about a project some of her classmates had been working on at school. She decided that she wanted to work on it at home. She needed: black paper, pencil crayons, and play doh. The project subject: The Solar System.

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Her first task was to draw the planets. Referring to a Magic School Bus Space poster that we had, Violet started by drawing the sun, followed by colouring each planet in relation to it’s proximity from the sun all while carefully selecting colours that reflect the planet’s characteristics.

I’m not going to say she was all that careful about her drawing! At times I wanted to say “Slow down!” or “Colour more carefully” but I resisted critiquing and instead quickly became envious of her free flowing approach to drawing. I might have reminded her to make it a sphere or circle here or there… I couldn’t resist!

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

As we went along we discussed some key characteristics of each planet:

Mercury: Lots of craters, Very hot and no water.

Venus: Clouds of deadly yellow poison called sulfuric acid. Covered with rocks.

Earth: Only planet in our solar system with oxygen and liquid water. Rocky planet.

Mars: The iron in soil makes the planet red. All water is frozen in polar ice caps.

Jupiter: Largest planet and has 16 moons. Made up mostly of gas.

Saturn: Surrounded by rings of ice, rock, and dust. Made up of gas.

Uranus: The gas methane makes the planet look blue-green. Travels around the sun on its side.

Neptune: Cold, dark, and blue. Strong wind.

V went on to sculpt some of the planets as well as the sun and the moon. I went off to do something else and came back to Saturn…

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

.. and Earth.. V: “The green is the grass and blue is the water.”

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.comI’m not sure she ever completed every planet but she felt satisfied with her solar system exploration.

A few days later, V came home with her school solar system project! Goes to show that just because they’ve done it once doesn’t mean they can’t practice it again.. especially when the interest is there!

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

A Purposeful Online Game Experience – Quandary

With all of the discussion around how much screen time children should or shouldn’t be getting and with it being Screen Free Week, I was intrigued when I came across this online game with the goal of engaging students in practicing decision making with the focus on ethical issues and solving moral dilemmas.

The question Quandary in the Classroom raises for me is: In what ways can technology in the form of games challenge students to practice critical thinking, decision making and collaboration?

“The aim of the game Quandary is to solve moral dilemmas on behalf of and for the good of the colony Braxos and you are the captain of the colony who is in charge of making those decisions.”

Children are given facts and problems then empowered to make decisions.  One little guy in the video says “I come from a big family so I never get to make decisions..” It was cute, yet sad and probably true for a lot of children in all sorts of families big and small.

Another little guy in the video says “The game had a pretty good UI…” !  He knows what a UI is?!  Impressive!  (User Interface for anyone reading and wondering…)

His comment reminds us that children are living in a world much different than the world we grew up in, particularly if you were born before 1990… Which makes me think that technology based games that engage kids and teens to think independently and practice decision making based on ethical principles is nothing short of really awesome.

What’s more is that it’s a free online game! Check it out. What do you think?

This game reminds me of ‘The Adventures of Meep on Earth’ game that my team and I created back in 2000 to help children manage emotions and feelings of anger. As our alien, Meep, experienced new encounters on his journey on earth for the first time, he would model ways to self regulate his emotions.  Children learned the technique of Stop – take a deep breath, Think and Talk – express how you feel. That was back in the days of cd-roms! I bet that UI kid doesn’t know what a cd-rom is!

Video: The Importance of Creativity

The Importance of Creativity is a video that speaks to my passion for nurturing creativity in children:

Our children need key 21st century skills like the four C’s of COMMUNICATION, COLLABORATION, CREATIVITY and CRITICAL THINKING.

Oh how I wish there was a Children’s Creativity Museum close to me like this museum that’s in San Francisco! Truly an inspirational place, this museum features an animation studio, a community lab, a design studio, imagination lab, innovation lab, music studio, and spiral gallery which is currently showcasing an exhibit called: The World Through the Eyes of Children. How beautiful would that be? It’s an exhibition showcasing over 100 pieces of art work created by children from around the world that “aims to promote insight and understanding of children and youth art and culture from various parts of the world.” Oh, how I wish I could attend this museum on a weekly basis!

Video Screenshot: The Importance of Creativity

Every time I visit their website and blog I’m full of inspirational ideas to create and make and innovate! Forget the kids, I want to make stuff! 😉  Just kidding, (well, not really) but I have a few ideas for March Break projects…

 

Don’t correct! …Oops, did I just correct you?

FRAJIL sign, Building confidence in kids, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Like all parents in this world, I’m learning as I go along. In the early days of my first child’s craft projects I’d hover over her making sure that she did as she was ‘supposed to’.. putting the marshmallows on the lines just so and making sure the eyes went in the ‘right’ place. I’ve long tossed that approach out the window in favour for not just creativity’s sake but for the sake of confidence building.

Early on I realized that when I interfered or corrected, I was taking the joy out of the experience. A shift would occur in my child in which she would immediately lose interest. She’d give up her power and didn’t want to play anymore. She felt like she must have been doing it wrong, or worse couldn’t do it at all and didn’t want to even try. Think about when you are trying something for the first time and struggle a bit. If you had someone standing over your shoulder ready to intervene you’d probably lose your focus and motivation too. I know I would.

That’s why today I make every effort to stand back and observe. I resist the urge to assist by taking joy in watching discovery unfold.

The FRAJIL photo above.. let me tell you how that came to be… V’s aunt, a trained Montessori teacher (and Masters in Montessori Grad!) was over for a visit. Violet takes great joy in giving people gifts and especially to those she have an extra special place in her heart for, like Katie. Violet created a gift for Katie using the play dough we made the day before. To be honest, I can’t remember what it was.. I’m not sure I even got to see it before it went into this envelope. In fact, knowing V it was probably meant as a surprise for Katie to open when she got home! V sealed the envelope but made sure to announce to Katie: “you have to be very careful with this!”

I was only half listening at the time, but I think I piped up and said “You should put a sign on it that says FRAGILE.” V immediately ran over to her Art Station to grab a marker (looks like we need new markers!) and asked how do you spell FRAGILE? Katie, being the amazing teacher that she is, started sounding it out “FFFFF.” Violet listened carefully then put her head down to write the letter associated with each sound one after the next. Once she was done she proudly put her marker away and handed the gift to Katie who now had the reminder to be careful with her FRAJIL gift.

We, adults, sort of smiled at one another feeling proud of V’s interest and motivation to write. Without Katie in our lives I’m pretty sure I would have corrected V in the spelling of FRAGILE but I’m so glad that’s not the case. Being right about the spelling is so much less important than building the confidence in trying and sustaining the interest to learn. The correct spelling will come.

The Global Cardboard Challenge

Caine’s Arcade is an absolute touching story. What pulls my heartstrings the most is the proud look on Caine’s face and his sweet toothless smile!  There’s NOTHING like the look of pure joy on a child’s face when they’ve accomplished something they’re proud of.

What’s more is that this story and the response to it inspired The Imagination Foundation. “The Imagination Foundation’s mission is to find, foster, and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in kids like Caine.”

Today is actually the Global Cardboard Challenge where people around the world are hosting events for kids to create using just cardboard and their imaginations. Anyone anywhere can play. “The idea is just to bring the whole world together to play and celebrate creativity and imagination.”

What a beautiful story and important project. Love that Nirvan Mullick, the filmmaker behind Caine’s Arcade, says “this all started with going to buy a door handle” but ended up buying a funpass! He not only found joy in discovering Caine’s arcade but did something to celebrate it. Then did something even bigger with the attention his short film received by keeping the creative momentum going and starting the Imagination Foundation.  Goes to show that when you believe in something and put your heart into it, amazing things happen. I’m inspired… again.