Don’t imitate. Create!

I recently read The educational value of creative disobedience on Scientific American’s blog.
Reading this article made me really glad because it is exactly what I try to do and teach my kids.

Imitation versus creation:
In school we are taught, from an early age onwards, to imitate the teacher. Not in all classes, I admit, but most of them. Multiple choice tests are not really making us think up a solution are they?

It isn’t until later, when we have (hopefully) acquired a certain knowledge of the matter, that we are asked to ‘think for ourselves’.
Well how do you do that if you have always been asked to copy the letter a or learn the equation by heart?

Imitation is something natural. This is how babies evolve. They imitate what they see around them. They laugh when we laugh, make faces when we do. But as soon as the child is a bit older – say 2 years – they already have a pretty intelligent brain, even if they cannot put into words what they think. They have hands that speak for them. Let them fiddle with play-doh, paper, wooden sticks and they will invent their own play, make their own little story or puppets.

Some guidance is of course necessary and even required – we don’t want our kids to hurt themselves. But instead of giving them the answer, of showing them the road from beginning to end, we should let them find it by themselves.

Yes, they will make mistakes and you will probably have to clean up a lot of play-doh crumbs (or worse). But they will be so happy and proud to have created something ‘all alone’ that the learning part is so much more important.

And this really is not limited to drawing, crafting or playing. As you know, I have been asking my son some complicated questions (here is the most recent one) and at the beginning his answers surprised me for they were really intelligent and creative. He does not have the barriers of fear to be ridiculous or wrong. He just thinks and says what comes up in his mind.

So every time he asks me a question, I ask him: ‘Well, what do YOU think?’ And often enough he does come up with the right answer. Sometimes he even comes up with something I hadn’t thought of. This builds confidence.

When we start a little ‘project’ at home (crafting, working in the garden, cleaning the basement…) we always try to involve the boys. They always want to get instructions and we give them a minimum (I mean, they need to know what we are planning to do, so that they don’t empty something we want to fill, or the other way around). Usually, after a while, they get bored and do something different, their attention gets drawn away by something much more interesting or, and this is the beauty of it, they start to do things their own way. That’s creativity at its source.

My 5 year old always wants to win or be the best at everything – don’t ask me where he got that…. So usually, when being taught something new (at home or at school), he is not the first to jump at trying it out. He prefers to wait. He wants to observe, see how it is done. So that when he finally tries it, he will be good at it and be praised. And when he doesn’t manage it at his first try he can get really upset, throw his bike/the playing board/the toy… on the ground and stamp away, with anger, disappointment and shame for not succeeding all rolled into one on his red face.

We keep telling him that winning isn’t the most important, that playing the game and having fun is. That some people (yes, even Mom and Dad) couldn’t do this at first either. That we all have our different ways of learning and of doing things. That failing is okay. And that being different is good.

The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – men who are creative, inventive and discoverers” –Jean Piaget 

As adults it is not always easy to live this daily and give the right example. I can be very creative in some areas, but in others I am a total copier. If I cook for example, I need the recipe. I need to follow exactly what it says on the paper, I need to measure and weigh exactly. I cannot improvise, add, replace or even create from scratch. And if I do, I get sympathetic but funny faces at the dinner table…

But I try. I mess up a lot (sometimes big time!). I start a lot of things. I don’t always persevere. Especially when I don’t get ‘immediate little victories’ (I call them ‘ilves’ – they make me think of little elves that spur me on).

So make sure you have those little ilves worked into anything you start. They are usually very intrinsic, so you don’t need to buy your kids toys each time they create a new thing!

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One Response to Don’t imitate. Create!

  1. Janet says:

    This was interesting to me. I love the messages that you are giving to your children and how well you understand their unique needs. Sadly, there are too many competitive messages in the way our world communicates. Education has slipped into this format thus preventing good teachers from being able to inspire their classes and classrooms. Thank you for this confirmation that there are still people who understand about the journey.


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