So what on earth do they suggest that we do? And what is to become of our children, most of whom are still in a schooling system that trains them for the current market place?
Their advice… raise creative kids. The few human careers left will revolve around creativity, and creativity is a skill that allows us to adapt no matter what the world throws at us.
Now before you panic that your child is not the artistic type, creativity does not necessarily mean being an artist or designer (although those will be highly valued skills). Creativity is more around the way that you think about things and your ability to solve problems in a less than ordinary way. Science, for example, is a very creative field. So is mathematics.
And all children are naturally creative in some way. Until we teach them how to follow the rules, do what everyone else is doing, fit in, and fear making mistakes.
So here are some tips to help your children to maintain their natural creativity and to prepare them for a very very different world in the not too distant future!
1. Encourage failure. This would be my number one rule for raising creative kids. If you’re afraid to fail you will never try anything new or different. I suggest playing a dinnertime game where everyone in the family says one thing that they failed at that day and everyone else praises them for their courage to try, for their resilience in making it through and for their bravery in speaking up. We need our children to see that when they (or we) fail this does not make us “failures” – it makes us people who are willing to try.
2. Provide materials not instructions. The standard art lesson with young children is to provide them with very specific materials and then tell them exactly what they’re going to make with those materials today and how to do it. This is not art. This is imitation. For true creativity we need the opportunity to use the materials in a unique and novel way. Take, for example, South African artist, Diane Victor, who creates her artworks using smoke. Provide children with a variety of different materials and let them explore and discover these for themselves.
3. Allow for some rule breaking. Ok, I get it – if we all broke all the rules there would be mayhem. But, a little bit of anarchy can go a long way towards questioning the status quo and towards our progression as a species. We don’t like rule breaking in general, but where would we be without our Mandela’s and Gandhi’s of the world. We need to question authority, bend some rules, break out of some moral structures that were placed down by people in a different time and era where these things may have held some value. Children need to learn, through experience, which rules are worth keeping and which need to be torn to the ground. In a radically changing world they are going to need to be creative in their moral thinking to solve some of the bigger issues they will be faced with. For example, if you are programming a self-driving car, and the car comes into a situation where it needs to either kill the driver or a pedestrian, which should it choose? Which life has more value? When we buy the car do we need to sign that we agree that our car may decide to kill us? These are real questions being answered right now as these technologies develop. Rather than setting rigid rules for children, have discussions around what we need to do or not do to all get along and get our own needs met without violating those of somebody else.
4. Teach them to question everything. And everyone. It is an essential element of creativity not to believe everything that you hear, read or see. Teach children to cross reference facts, to investigate further if something doesn’t make sense, to ask more questions in general. A child should never think that just because something is written in a textbook or just because a teacher told them so that something is true. Questioning is the very basis of creative thinking. The questions that we ask help us to focus on and filter the world in different ways.
5. Never let your children say, “I can’t”. There are certain ways of thinking that shut down creativity. Statements like “I can’t” or “That’s impossible” tell our brains to stop working on the problem because there is no point in wasting energy on it. Redirect your children into saying, “How can I?” The minute we rephrase it as a question then our minds are hungry to find an answer. Suddenly multiple possibilities open up where before there were none.
6. Encourage your children to be unique. In order to maintain their creativity children need an opportunity to express themselves and their uniqueness in all areas of life. Allow and encourage your children to follow their passions (our natural creativity will lie in the area of our highest values), to dress how they like, to play with their food, to engage in unusual conversations, and to hold beliefs that are different from your own. Explore with your children why they like a particular song or fashion style or friend and to go beyond liking things (or not) just because somebody else does.
7. Find the extraordinary in the mundane. We tend to train our kids to always look for the extraordinary by constantly exposing them to exciting activities like outings every weekend and lots of holidays and novel toys. What we don’t realize as we work so hard to make their lives interesting is that we are robbing them of finding the joy in the everyday. And then we cannot understand why they complain about waiting at the post office with us, or having to do the shopping, and why they abandon job after job in their adult years because of boredom. Part of learning creativity is learning to find the extraordinary in the mundane. Help children to find and notice the joy in everyday life by telling stories about the other people waiting in the queue and why they might be there and what naughty thing they did earlier that day. Play drawing games with them where you scribble all over the page and then find the hidden pictures. Notice small things in your day and point these out to your kids – the way the sun is streaking through the avenue of autumn trees, how pretty the oil looks floating on the water before you pop the pasta in, the funny dance you did in the passageway with a stranger that you were trying to pass.
8. Look at things from different perspectives. There is a psychological phenomenon called naïve realism where we all believe that we are seeing an accurate view of reality and that our point of view and action are the most appropriate in any given situation. It’s the belief that causes us to think that anyone who drives faster than us is a maniac and anyone who drives slower is a moron! Help your children to break through their naïve realism and think more creatively by shifting their viewpoint, even if just for a moment. They can do this by climbing on a cupboard to see what the world looks like from a different vantage point, by imagining being somebody else (perhaps someone very different from you – someone with a different culture or with some kind of disability), or by arguing something from the opposite viewpoint.
9. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zones. Another way to explore the world creatively and to experience different perspectives and new ideas is to get out of your rut and do something that isn’t in your comfort zone. Encourage your kids to do some things that scare them (from riding a bike to bungee jumping to speaking to that boy they like), to try things that they know they won’t be good at (stretching themselves beyond their current capabilities), and to do things that make them feel uncomfortable (like wearing clothes that are not their style for a day).
10. Let your children be bored. Boredom is an essential element of creativity. We need time to daydream, for our minds to wander, to figure out what we feel like, to find new ways to entertain ourselves. Our current culture is one where children are so overscheduled that they never have time just to be. Stop for a moment and consider your reasons for overscheduling your kids. Usually the answer is to help them to get ahead, to have a chance at success. But those extra skills are less likely to be of value in their future than the creativity they would have cultivated by being bored. So, less extra murals, less toys, less money to solve problems. We are actually at our most creative when our resources are limited.
The saddest thing for me in terms of our current culture is that we tend to medicate the most creative children, making them easier to deal with in class, but robbing them of the very skills that will allow them to succeed in their future. Being able to sit still for 7 hours at a time and respond appropriately when a bell rings were definitely skills that helped in the industrial revolution. They are not skills that with help in the technological one. We need to adapt ourselves and our systems.
We need to stop pretending that we know what is best for this generation and open ourselves to the creativity that comes with uncertainty. We don’t know exactly what the world will look like in the next ten years. What we do know is that it is changing rapidly and that rapid change requires flexibility and creativity just to survive. Creativity is a life skill, and it is the life skill that will assure our children any chance of success in the coming years.