Our hope for the next generation of inventor kids is that they will enact bold new solutions to the world’s problems. Society spends time training teachers, building schools, designing learning apps and toys, and educating parents to do one thing — equip kids to become agile thinkers and inventors.
Anyone who has worked with kids knows that they are naturally curious, unafraid to try new things, and not the least bit hesitant about asking the wrong questions. In other words, they approach new challenges with an inventor mindset.
Here are a few great ideas to foster their imaginations and help them invent for good:
1. Encourage hands-on learning. Before the industrial model of classrooms (where kids are grouped into classes by age), many kids learned by actively working with tools versus passively listening to an instructor in a classroom. As 19th-century Swiss education reformer, Johann Pestalozzi put it, learning should happen with your “heart, head, and hand.”
Thankfully, the instructional model in classrooms is fast giving way to more interactive models, with many schools increasingly investing in makerspaces and Maker Faires. There is also an increase in the number of schools investing in laser and 3D-printers. These devices help students test out their ideas with prototypes quickly, while moving away from the expected one-way communication in the classroom — ensuring higher participation from the students.
2. Make invention a part of everyday life. Inventions can happen anywhere, in any field. Encourage inventor kids to think of new ways to do everyday things. Every space — from the kitchen to the backyard — can present opportunities for innovation that can spark kids to create inventions to be used by millions of others. Here is a list of interesting inventions by kids that have done just that.
3. Encourage kids to pursue their passions. Believe it or not, one of the most successful ways that kids learn is through self-direction. When they are interested in a particular topic, the sky’s the limit!
Education innovator and social psychologist Sugata Mitra did an experiment to prove that kids are motivated to learn by putting up “hole-in-the-wall” computers in a neighborhood where the kids had never seen a computer before. In no time, the kids had taught themselves the English language, familiarized themselves with the workings of the computer, and even became proficient enough to teach other children what they learned. Kids love being challenged and giving them ownership over their own learning experience helps them develop a wide-angle perspective.
4. Insist on finding many solutions. While working on a problem, it’s always a good idea to push for more than a few options. Often, inventor kids offer fantastic creative ideas — many absolutely out of the box, never-heard-before solutions. Establishing a learning model that emphasizes multiple solutions helps kids warm up to the idea that there are really many ways to solve a problem.
Take, for example, the famous 30-circle challenge, where the participants are encouraged to create anything out of 30 circles on a sheet of paper. Invariably, kids outdid adults in converting each of those 30 circles into a different object. Looking at the same thing in multiple ways is a great way to keep the brain ready to look for fresh ways to solve problems. This makes for an especially rewarding experience in a classroom environment, where ideas can bubble up from a group of eager minds at one time.
5. Apply learning to real-world situations. When inventor kids see how what they are learning relates to the world around them, they are more likely to actively look for real-world problems to solve. littleBits’ Maker kits are designed with the intention to help kids create inventions that can be integrated into the world around them. Identifying a problem to solve, brainstorming from a multidisciplinary approach, trying and failing multiple times, and finally taking the invention to completion teaches kids so much more than simply giving them an instruction manual.
A child’s imagination is a powerful tool that will work in their (and our) favor throughout their lives — touching everything from our living spaces, cities, automobiles, hospitals, and schools. Kids deserve our high expectations. It is more important than ever for us to encourage them to find new ways to look at future-worthy solutions to today’s problems.