Cross-posted from Cherry Blossoms The Blog.
My oldest son has dreamed of being an engineer since he was four years old. To him and many children like him there is no greater goal, no more thrilling feat, than to create. Indeed, while we often think of our creative outlets as being artistic in nature, we cannot overlook the creative aspects of machinery and technology. Our future thinkers and tinkerers are right now building Lego creations and rescuing things from the trash to be used in an upcoming invention. There’s a lot we can do to support them. I’ve collected my top five.
1~ Celebrate Failure. Instead of focusing on results, put value on the process. When children feel free to fail they’ll be more likely to try. No successful innovator did so without a series of bad ideas and failed projects along the way.
2~ Give Open-ended Toys. Building blocks are an excellent toy from very early on, and nothing’s more ubiquitous than Lego, but as your children grow so do their interests. My kids have eagerly explored robotic kits for years with varying results and we have found Vex Robotics and Meccano to produce reliable kits that are engaging and complex while our Mod Robotics’ Cubelets set has provided years of enjoyment. When your child shows interest in more sophisticated command of the robot it’s time for some early coding opportunities. Your local science museum should have robotic programming stations but Ozobot is the only at-home robot we have found that allows children to program and code. Ozobot makes a perfect step to Code.org and Scratch and programming languages and is much more engaging and fun than sitting in front of a computer.
3~ Set up a Creation Station. Whether it’s an entire piece of storage furniture, a cupboard in the kitchen, or a bin, a creation state or a tinker box gives the children a space to collect their materials. With a space that is their own filled with their creative tools, they’re set to explore and invent whenever they choose. The only rule regarding the creation station in my house is that it’s time to clean when the door won’t close properly. Stocked with old school supplies they’re ready to make a birthday card at the drop of a hat, however it also has a growing collection of any random object with potential and that can be anything from paper clips to motherboards.
4~ Study Inventors and Inventions. Give them some inspiration in their media. Study Da Vinci, Bell, Edison and Tesla, Steve Jobs, whomever interests them. Doing so allows them to see failure and perseverance, success and innovation. Give them heroes they can emulate. The Wright Brothers are huge with my own pair of brother-inventors.
5~ Remember: Downtime is Essential. Great job! You’ve given them such a rich childhood full of resources and opportunities! In order to process everything and work on their own ideas they need unstructured time. Let them be bored, and let them work themselves out of boredom. Don’t forget to celebrate their failures and try not to freak out about the mess.
We are raising the next generation. Let them not be consumers only, but let them be innovators, designers, creators, and problem solvers. Let’s support them as they find their way. Let’s engage them in creative conversations and engage them in discussions about their ideas. Ask them “how would that work?” and “what would you do about this?” As for the young inventors in my house, they’re still working on their plans but remain confident that someday you’ll buy their time machine, and whether or not they succeed at that I already know they’re going to succeed in life.