Can Inventiveness Be Taught? (page 3)

Can Inventiveness Be Taught?

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Updated on Jun 1, 2014

Play with Patterns, Puzzles, and Problems. Have you ever watched a child use a cup for a hat? Or a hat for a bowl? Because they don’t necessarily know the accepted uses of many things, children invent their own. And often, even when they learn the “right” use, kids find new and imaginative ways to play with familiar things. At the same time that children are learning that hats go on heads and cups go on tables, they are also learning about other kinds of patterns and associations. Through play, they are learning that some things are “the same” and some things are “different”; they are learning about categories like “animal” that can contain many different kinds. They may even play with puzzles that have pieces that “fit” and “don’t fit.” As they grow and develop, children become increasingly sophisticated in recognizing and understanding categories, patterns, and associations. It is important for children to observe closely, to learn how things work and where things go. At the same time, child-development experts tell us that it is also essential for kids to explore and make mistakes, to value that which is “out of sync” as well as that which fits the mold. Through play, especially exploratory and pretend play, children can try out both making and breaking patterns. It is this facility with playing both inside and outside the box that develops good problem-solving skills. Inventors seem to be people who are always asking why things can’t be done a different way. Inventors often see associations and connections that aren’t obvious to others. A number of inventors featured in the Lemelson Center’s Invention at Play exhibition have modeled innovative technologies on patterns in nature. While some inventions come from finding new patterns, others come from breaking out of fixed sets and modes of thought. Experts who study creative problem solving say that an important obstacle to problem solving is a fixed set of assumptions or an unchanging approach. Often a radical rethinking or restructuring of a problem is needed before a solution can be found. Inventors report that sometimes this comes from working directly on the problem; at other times it comes from setting it aside and letting it “incubate.” Playing with puzzles, or matching activities helps children to use what they already know to solve a problem. As children grow older, find more open-ended puzzles and problems for them to solve, ones that require setting aside assumptions, breaking usual patterns, and finding new rules. For example, have your child take a handful of square LEGO bricks and build a circle or an arched or rounded bridge.


Who knows what your child will become someday. But whether she becomes a teacher, an entrepreneur, a firefighter, or an investment bank CEO, creativity, problem-solving, risk-taking, flexibility, and communication skills will serve her well. Being an inventor isn't just a job, it's a state-of-mind, a way of looking at mistakes or problems, and seeing solutions. No matter what life holds for her, that tool set is sure to come in handy.


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