‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’ said Albert Einstein. His words ring even more true today, as our kids are barraged by more information than even he thought possible. Aside from textbook, they have Internet, Twitter, cable. Does this make them smarter? No. Just walking encyclopedias of unrelated data.
But with imagination, kids will be able to connect information in a unique and useful way—to solve problems, expand their perspective, or even come up (as Albert Einstein did) with a revolutionary theory that could change the world. Imagination is the real power in the information age. But how do we teach it? Here are some parenting tips.
Parenting tip # 1: Encourage open-ended play.
The problem with many educational toys, flash cards and even software is that they lock kids into very linear patterns: ‘push this button, and you hear this sound’ or ‘see this card, and you say ‘dog.” This teaches facts and encourages memorization.
That’s why it’s important to encourage open-ended play, where kids have an unlimited number of options that they create themselves. For example, wooden blocks can be made into towers, spaceships, anything really. And with paints and crayons, kids can make up their own pictures or even illustrate their own stories.
Parenting tip # 2: Encourage ‘what if’ thinking.
Encourage your child to apply facts they already have to new scenarios. For example, if he’s studying the different kinds of animals in a rainforest, ask him: ‘What do you think animals on Mars would look like?’ Or you could play games like, ‘You’re shipwrecked in an island, and all you have is a knife, the clothes you’re wearing, and parts of the ship that washed up on the shore. What would you do to get home?’ Or, if you’re watching a TV show, “What would you do if you were in that character’s shoes? Or what would you do differently if that happened to you?”
Parenting tip # 3: Build on what your child loves.
Is your child a Harry Potter fan? Ask him to think of a story for one of the minor characters—for example, what adventures did Hagrid have after Voldemort was defeated? Or, if he’s interested in the solar system, encourage him to build a model space ship from scrap materials like old plastic bottles, aluminum foil, toilet paper tubes.
Parenting tip # 4: Get him out of a rut.
Encourage your child to try to do familiar things in a different way. Make a fun game out of it! For example, how would he tie his show with only one hand? Or give him a map and challenge him to find a new route to the supermarket.
Parenting tip # 5: Encourage innovation.
All great inventions were based on people who found better ways to do things. This involves three skills: observing situations, identifying a problem, and thinking of different options.
This can be a fun game. When your child whines about something—traffic, or how much he hates cleaning his room—say, ‘Well, how would you make it easier or better?’ For example, what causes traffic? What makes it worse? What are some possible alternatives? Don’t knock down any of his suggestions. Instead, keep asking questions. ‘Yes, it would be great if cars would fly! But I wonder… how will you keep them from bumping into each other if there aren’t any lanes?’
Photo from helpingchildren.ezabu.com