The boy was bright-eyed and eager as he listened in rapt attention. “…And who here can tell me the difference between tuition and enrichment?” I asked, hoping to elicit a discussion and end the News Analysis segment in my class. Everyone kept mum, seemingly deep in thought save for that boy. He took out a pair of highlighters and, using the pen caps, demonstrated visually the crucial difference, even if he could not articulate his ideas as well. Are we really investing time to teach creative problem solving skills to our children?
Going back to the scene in the class, was that a creative expression by that boy? It certainly was to me! I teach English and Literature. As part of the curriculum, I make it a point to discuss news and current affairs with the Primary School children in my class. Often, academia emphasizes rote learning and over time, we unwittingly penalise or even punish our children for expressing themselves in ways that do not conform to some preconceived standards. From my experience, there are three ways in which we can help our children think creatively and critically and help them learn creative problem solving.
1. Stop your internal critic. Problem solving skills flourish in an open environment.
As adults, thinking and rationalising comes easily for us and hence it is easy to forget that the same do not apply to children. While it might appear to us that the child is saying something nonsensical, this may not be the case from the child’s point of view. For example, you might have asked a child to come up with an idea to solve the issue of animal abuse. Technically, it isn’t wrong if the child said, “Well, let’s just hang everyone who abuses animals, then!”
2. Encourage your child to consider different angles of the problem
Certainly, I am not asking you to applaud and congratulate the child for his brilliance. However, one important aspect of getting to a creative solution is to think about the limitations of the real world. Faced with such an answer, I might probe further and ask, “That is a start, but why isn’t this the case in the real world? What do you think stops the government from hanging just about everyone who abuses an animal?”
This gets them relating your initial question to the real world, and encourages them to think about various angles to a problem without being unduly discouraged. You are giving a nod to your child to expand his problem solving skills.
3. Don’t be afraid to reframe your question in ways that cater to your child’s strengths.
Are your children more physical and active? Or do they prefer the comforts of solitary introspection? Do they like Math more than English? Depending on your child’s strengths, you could re-frame the same question in a variety of ways and get them to answer it as a problem sum, an awareness campaign, a poem or an essay.
When teaching some of my students Cloze Passages, I find that I have to teach them some of the fundamental strategies in dealing with these components. I knew that one of them was a Maths genius who had represented his school in various Olympiad competitions. I also knew that just a verbatim presentation of tips and tricks would not help him to assimilate these strategies.
Instead of a cloze passage, I turned into a Maths teacher and gave him an Olympiad question on geometry. His whole body tensed up and he demanded writing paper, eager to work out the answer. Once he was finished, I asked him about the method he used to derive that answer. He could tell me the exact method as well as the question types for which the method would be applicable.
“Great!” I said, “And that’s exactly the same principle behind the techniques for dealing with cloze passages that I’m about to show you.” Did it take more time? Yes. However, learning is not about how fast you can absorb a concept, but whether you have fully absorbed it. When a teacher adopts creative problem solving skills in dealing with a classroom challenge, the students too get introduced to dealing with a challenging situation in intuitive ways. That student went on to score very well for his Paper 2 components in the mid-year examinations.
As parents and educators, we know that every child is different. However, are we adapting to their needs and giving them space to be creative and to express themselves in diverse ways? Are we giving them enough space to expand their problem solving skills? Through these three tips, I hope I have given you a good start to encouraging your children to become better and more creative thinkers!
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Do you have any insights or tips that you use? Would you like to share that? Please use the comments section below and let us know!
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