Kids tend to imitate the behaviour they see in their parents, elders, and guardians

Out-of-the-box innovations, creativeness, lateral thinking— all help shape children’s thinking and problem-solving skills.

Imagine someone trying to bake bread following the same recipe with precision for the third time, but for some reason, the texture is not correct. Frustrated, the individual wonders whether it is the recipe, her baking skills, or the ingredients that went wrong. When she thinks outside the box, she is able to discover that it is winter season, and the house temperature is much colder, which is why the dough is not rising as quickly as it should. Now, the individual knows that kneading the bread dough a little bit harder and giving it some more time will allow it to inflate better.

Innovative and imaginative ways of solving a problem is a coveted skill in all lines of work, education, and life, in general. Albert Einstein had beautifully said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein encourages us to create our problems rationally and come up with possible solutions creatively. Being able to think critically and creatively about any given situation is a skill most parents want their children to possess.

Creativity inspires innovation. Generating creativity means allowing children to think outside the box and go against the traditional customs. Creative thinking allows children and young adults to gain a deeper understanding of the world, including how they see themselves in that world. This kind of thinking fosters independence, enhances innovation, and encourages curiosity. Children who learn to grow this diverse set of thinking skills tend to be observant, open-minded, and want to know the ‘why’ behind everything.

Children are natural inquirers. Every day they are bombarded with new information, ideas, and beliefs. Whether at school or home, it is essential that children know how to evaluate what they are hearing and seeing to form their own opinions and beliefs. After all, in today’s rapidly changing world, children need to be able to accomplish much more than repeating a set of similar tasks. They need to be critical thinkers who can make sense of information, analyze, compare, make inferences, and produce higher-order thinking skills.

According to Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, "the average child asks 100 questions a day. But by the time a child is 10 or 12, they have figured out that it’s much more important to get right answers than to keep asking thoughtful questions.” So, how do we raise innovative thinkers despite today’s systematized culture of doing tasks?

It is essential that we foster an environment that inspires children to use their imagination, practice creativity, and encourage them to let their imagination run wild

Sometimes, the best way to teach children an important life skill is to model it in our own life. After all, kids tend to imitate the behaviour they see in their parents, elders, and guardians. If a child sees a parent or an important figure thinking creatively, it will inspire them to do the same. It may be something as simple as how to fix the malfunctioning microwave by looking at the manual instead of calling the mechanic first. Children learn first by an example and then get reinforced, also by means of an example.

An easy way to encourage lateral thinking is to help children develop independence and express their feelings better with open-ended questions. Rather than just giving answers to their inquiries, we can help them think critically by asking questions in return. For example, “What ideas do you have? What do you think about it?” We must respect their replies instead of viewing them as right or wrong. As an alternative, we can say, “That is interesting. Tell me why you think that.”

In addition, we should motivate children to choose topics that interest them instead of choosing for them. A child who is used to thinking freely can more easily solve a problem than a child who follows a rigid protocol when seeking a solution. Besides, introducing artistic activities, such as music, reading, clay work, poetry, can help them far beyond their childhood years.

Schools and educational institutions should also incorporate various art forms into the curriculum and observe what makes a difference to their thinking and what genuinely lights up their eyes. Art can help unlock a lot of discoveries hidden deeply in a child’s mind and eventually initiate out-of-box thinking.

Childhood is the peak time to cultivate a child’s creativity and imagination. Children should not be afraid to express their ideas even if they are not straightforward. We must give them the opportunity to feel inspired and empowered to solve complex issues by thinking outside the box. Learning to think critically is the most important skill that children require for a better future. Therefore, it is essential that we foster an environment that inspires children to use their imagination, practice creativity, and encourage them to let their imagination run wild.

* Bijo Kurian is Vice Principal, DPS STS School Dhaka