See Inside June/July 2006

Outside the Sandbox

Parents and teachers have many options to encourage children to think creatively

WHAT IS THE BEST approach to solving a problem? From kindergarten on, most children are taught that there is one optimal answer to any question. And that they should work logically, step by step, to reach that prize. In many cases, this tactic works. But in other situations, the newest concepts, wisest insights and most creative solutions arise only when people abandon established approaches and habitual ways of thinking. When a tire designer learns, from studying the feet of frogs, how to get the best traction on a wet road, he discovers a strategy that the mere application of logic never would have provided. Yet we are not teaching children how to solve problems in unconventional ways.

Outside-the-box thinking can be difficult to achieve in adulthood, because often it has been driven out of us over the course of our education and professional experience. Children, however, begin with a clean slate, so teachers and parents ought to challenge themselves to help them discover unusual paths. Boys and girls who grow up with this exposure will grasp new material better, retain their creativity and be ready to make the intuitive leaps that lead to great new ideas.

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