4 ways to foster an innovative spirit

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You could argue that finding new ways to do things is a little bit of a modern obsession. From the Japanese focus on kaizen to Singapore’s wholehearted push for greater originality and innovation, it’s clear that creative thinking is a 21st century skill your child will need.

Creativity isn’t just about making unconventional artwork and dreaming up expressive music – creativity can also manifest in the structured world of maths and science, and can show up in interesting social and emotional ways as well. Creative kids dream up new ideas and original solutions easily, and are often open to taking suggestions made by others as well. As a result, they are flexible thinkers who are better at solving problems, and are able to take advantage of new opportunities.

While not all children are born creative, it is a skill that can be developed. Here’s how:

Give them the luxury of time and space
Creativity doesn’t happen on a schedule. Children of all ages need unstructured time for imaginative child-led play. In other words, you need to take a step back – stop worrying about the outcome and simply let your child be.

You also need to provide a safe space in the house where they can be creative. It doesn’t have to be very large – for example, you can simply turn an old desk into your child’s new innovation spot, where anything goes. Provide art supplies, LEGO, electronics, costumes, or building materials that can be stored in totes on shelves above.

Encourage diversity in thought
There is always more than one way to solve a problem; more than one way to express a thought; and more than one way to have an opinion. Encourage your children to brainstorm different solutions to everyday problems – if you’re a bit of a control freak, this might be difficult at first, so start small. Let your children decide what to do this weekend, or what to cook for Sunday dinner.

Allow as much freedom and autonomy as possible
The more you tell your child what to do and the more external constraints you foist upon them, the less flexible their thinking will become. Encourage your children to explore their own ideas and to do things their own way. Toddlers don’t have to colour within the lines; older kids might not need to assemble LEGO with the instructions.

Simply said, let your child be creative in the way that they enjoy being creative. This looks different for each child – one child might love the piano, while another might hate music but love painting. Instead of bribing or wheedling your child into a creative endeavour that you think is important but that they don’t enjoy, find out what really gets their imagination going and let them do that instead.

Provide examples
Once they’ve found a creative endeavour that they like, inspire them by showing them examples of successful artists. Limit screen time and TV time; spend more time in art galleries and museums instead. Take them to listen to live music – whether it’s their favourite band or a concert by the SSO. Check your weekend listings for free, fun artistic programmes they can watch or participate in.

Last but not least, don’t focus on the outcome. It’s the process that is important. Your child needs to feel that he’s supported by you no matter what the result is. It is this support that will provide your child with the confidence to try new things, and that will truly foster an innovative spirit.


This is part 11 of a 16-part series on Habits of Mind. Follow the series here.

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