If you’re ready to encourage resourcefulness and creativity in your children, here are Ten Tips to get started:
1. Read to your child. Read, read, read to your kids!! It requires so much more thinking, listening, and comprehension skills than watching a movie or TV show filled with commercials for toys. Reading gives you connection time and encourages children to cultivate a love of reading and storytelling, which are essential to creative thinking.
2. Choose books without movie or product tie-ins. Whenever possible, pick books with original characters. We all like the Cat in the Hat and Curious George, but supplement these corporate-owned “classics” with original stories from lesser-known authors, or classic stories (like Strega Nona and Stone Soup) that haven’t been merchandised as much.
3. Beat Disney to the punch. The original Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, was one of my favorite stories of all time, and I was lucky enough to read it before I saw a movie version. I was horrified to watch Disney’s animated Peter Pan and see Hook plant a bomb in the Lost Boys tree! If you want to introduce your child to a classic that’s already been appropriated, start with the original text.
4. Kick it old school. You don’t have to abandon TV and movies altogether; for many parents, TV is an integral part of family life. Think about content, though, and some of the older books and movies you grew up on that might not have had corporate-produced merchandise tie ins, but still carry the same messages you want your children to hear. Many are even available on DVD for the first time (Little House on the Prairie was always my sister’s favorite).
5. Play storytelling games. Ask your child to start a story with one sentence, like, “Once upon a time, there was a duck named Fred…” Take turns telling the story with your child, two or three sentences at a time. If the story starts to veer towards a movie or book you’ve read before (“Fred met a mouse named Mickey…”), re-direct it.
6. Don’t buy Halloween costumes. I was appalled that I only saw one original Halloween costume last year! When I was a child, all my Halloween costumes were homemade (with the exception of one year, when I was allowed a plastic Wonder Woman mask to go with a homemade outfit). This year, force your kid to use their imagination, and make time to help them make their own costume.
7. Get close to Mother Nature. You don’t need to go to a corporation-owned theme park to have fun. Take a local class in wilderness awareness (REI sponsors several Outdoor School classes), and look for ones that allow you to bring your children. It’s not as hard as you think to get to know the outdoors, and with the Internet, National Park Recreation Areas are easier to find than ever. Whether you’re at a lake, in the mountains, or on the beach, the outdoors can be a more amazing playground than any theme park.
8. Build something with your child. Start with a fort in the living room using blankets and sofa cushions, and graduate to a treehouse in the backyard. Instead of buying a plastic Barbie cottage from Toys ‘R Us, take a weekend and help your child build her own. Architecture and design involve all those critical thinking skills that are important to cultivate in future leaders.
9. Make room for inquisitiveness. I know, I know – questions, the bane of every parent’s existence! But they’re important! When your child asks, “Mommy, why is the sky blue? How do planes fly? Where do eggs come from?” instead of giving pat answers, make room for your child’s questions. Set aside a time once a week and call it “Three (or Four, or Ten) Questions.” Allow your child to come up with a certain number of specific questions each week, and write them on a white board or piece of paper on the fridge. On your set day, go to the library (or your in-home encyclopedia, or Google, if you feel comfortable) with your child and find out the answer to the questions together.
10. Pay attention. Diane Sawyer once said, “There is no substitute for paying attention,” and I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree. When you hear your child start to refer to all lions as “Simbas,” recognize the writing on the wall. It’s time for a trip to the local zoo to broaden their experience.