Can Inventiveness Be Taught? (page 2)

Can Inventiveness Be Taught?

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Updated on Jun 1, 2014

Promote Pretend Play. This sort of play is more than just an excuse to put on costumes, or play police, it develops imagination, language, problem-solving skills, and an understanding of symbolism, analogy, and metaphor. As they play with dolls or action figures, make up stories, become lions and tigers, or sail the seas in cardboard boxes, children are using and developing their imaginations. They begin to navigate with ease between the real and imaginary worlds while maintaining clear boundaries between what is real and what is fantasy. They are manipulating symbols and metaphors by substituting one object for another or creating a new object entirely. They are also learning how to imagine something and then give it concrete expression – through a story, a drawing, a play, or an object that they create or transform. This process in itself generates even more ideas. Child-development specialists see a strong connection between children’s levels of pretend or symbolic play and their ability to engage in divergent or creative thinking – to generate a variety of ideas and associations to solve a problem, come up with new ideas, free associate, and show fluidity and independence in thinking. Play along when your kids turn your mop into a witch's broomstick or an empty paper towel roll into a telescope. Give them stacks of recyclables, broken appliances, cardboard boxes, and other materials to use as props.

Take Notes! A common characteristic of inventors and other creative people is their ability to imagine, to think visually and spatially. Many inventors talk about the experience of seeing an invention whole in their mind’s eye before they even know if it will work or not. This kind of thinking requires knowledge of tools and materials. It also takes time and space for reflection – it could be on a walk, in the shower, or sitting in the subway. Many inventors featured in the exhibition talk about having a “dreaming place.” When asked to pick their favorite tool, inventors often choose a pencil or a notebook. That’s because a second common characteristic of inventors is that they capture their ideas. They draw them, write them down, build models and prototypes, or create simulations. It’s not enough to have dreams – you must capture and express them! Give your child an inventor’s notebook – a journal containing notes and jottings or a sketchbook or set of drawings. Or download the Lemelson Center’s Spark! Lab Inventor’s Notebook here.

Encourage Collaboration and Social Play. As children mature, they begin to interact more with other children. They learn about sharing and taking turns; about being in groups or on teams. They begin to understand that just because they know something does not mean that others know it too. They are learning to communicate, to say what they want to do or not do. This type of play is called “social play,” and it forms the basis for personal and social communication throughout life. In fact, communicating with others is an important part of the invention process. Brainstorming is a technique that many people use to get new ideas on the table. While an invention is being developed many inventors report discussing and testing it with family, friends, or colleagues. Inventors today often work as members of teams in laboratories or corporations. Learning to think out-of-the-box is an acquired skill-- it takes practice! To help children come up with ideas, allow them to brainstorm. Have them quickly list whatever ideas come into their minds, no matter how wild. When the ideas stop coming, have them pick the best ones and test them out. You can give children practice in brainstorming by asking them to think of different and unusual uses for a paper bag, a coat hanger, or a LEGO brick. Often when we ask children to brainstorm, we give everyone an opportunity to present an idea and then we move on to something else. Stretching ideas – and children’s minds – should involve keeping responses coming with a particular object, even if it means driving several more miles with your children in the car, as you expand their thinking skills.

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