Fostering Creativity & Intelligence

15 Ideas for Parents to Try With Children of All Ages

By: Ariane Failla

1. Let Your Children Argue

I don't mean letting them literally argue with you. Instead, try holding a debate with your child over an issue that is important to them. Maybe they need to convince you to raise their allowance? Maybe you want to convince them to take on a new chore? Let your child experience the process of "divergent thinking" as he or she tries to come up with arguments to support his or her claim. Structure it just like an actual debate with a third party as the moderator. This will help both you and your child keep things official, and prevent any actual arguing from taking place. Have a teen or older child who's "not into debate"? Not a problem! Still debate the issue with them, but set clear boundaries. Make sure they know that this is a time for discussing each others current issues, and not a time to bring up past arguments or grievances. Not only will this experience give your child the feeling that he or she has a "voice" or "say" in the family, but it will also help build communication and empathy skills as they learn to see both sides of a position.
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2. Let Your Child Decide

What's that old saying, use it or lose it? Just like your muscles, your brain needs constant exercise to stay in tip top shape. One way the brain gets a work out is by making decisions. Filtering out the unnecessary information, connecting previous experiences, utilizing convergent and divergent thinking are all split second processes your brain goes through in order to make a decision to the simple question of, "What are we eating for dinner?" So let your children start exercising their brains early! Let them make decisions on what they want to wear. Let them decide family dinners periodically. If you're brave enough, you might even let them decide what YOUR outfits will be, like this mom . Make it more complex by giving them realistic guidelines that they have to work around. ("No, we can't go to Disney World, Disney Land, and Orlando Studios in one week.") The more "hurdles" the brain has to jump over to get to the desired goal, the better the workout. Telling your children what to do every minute of the day does nothing but foster an idea of learned helplessness. Letting children make decisions, and then letting them experience the consequences of those decisions will help them to become better learners, and better thinkers.
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3. Read, Read, Read!

Books are super-food for the brain. Not only can they relay important information and facts to the reader, but they have the capability of sparking unspeakable amounts of imagination. Ever wonder why most movies never live up to the book they were adapted from? Because as you read the book you already created that whole story in your head. You took words on a page, and played out a complete story - all in your brain! And unlike most movies, your brain has no limits! If that character had nine heads and three torsos and could turn into a cloud at will, that was no problem for you brain to imagine - no CGI required. Books are another one of those tools that help to keep your brain in shape. Studies show that many children who are read to before kindergarten outperform their peers in almost every subject once they get to school. Reading helps to develop analytic thinking, it has been shown to reduce stress and increase happiness, and reading makes people better writers. Every time you read to your child, or set aside time for them to read independently, you're allowing them to form new connections in their brain, build bigger and better vocabularies, and set them up for a bright future.
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4. Start A Family Book Club

While you have your kids reading, why not go ahead and turn it into a family affair? Modeled in much the same way as a family game night, you and your family can all pick a day once a week, or month to meet together and discuss the books your family is reading.This shows that you place value in reading, and gives your child a reading role model to look up to. Plus, when everyone talks about their books it gets your all of your brains working on critical thinking skills - a skill that teachers love to emphasize in their lessons. Now you and your family will have a way to really digest what you read, and in turn learn to communicate your opinions and emotions effectively. The earlier this becomes a tradition in your home, the sooner your child will become quite the conversationalist.
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5. Go To A Museum

There is a reason museums are the number one school field trip destinations. Museums are the equivalent of books, just in physical form. They hold mountains of secrets and treasures just waiting to be discovered. No matter if it is an art museum or a history museum, you and your children will benefit greatly from the time spent within its walls. The secret to museums' success is their ability to illicit curiosity and wonder. From dinosaur bones that are 500 million years old to a painting that is 50 years old, children of all ages walk away from an exhibit with a little more perspective, culture, and understanding than when they went in. Take your museum time a step further and ask them how the exhibits made them feel or what they noticed that was intriguing to them. You might be surprised at the answers they have for you.
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6. Utilize Car Time

All of those fleeting minutes and hours spent in the car trying to keep your kids entertained can be better spent by actually engaging them. Play word games with your kids like, "name all the foods you can with the letter B", or "name an animal for every letter of the alphabet." Don't like word games? Playing "I Spy" in a moving vehicle can be both tricky and challenging. Games aren't your thing? Simply engage your children in meaningful discussion. Ask them what their hopes and desires are, ask them what they would want to change about the world (or their life) if they could. Ask them to think of their ideal day, and share it with you. Using this time for something other than watching DVDs can really help your children bond with you and with each other if they have siblings. It keeps their brains stimulated and their imaginations running. Instead of watching someone else's stories on a little screen, or playing someone else's games on an even smaller screen, they can create their own stories and games. Let their brains do all of the work instead of the electronics.
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7. Throw Away The Instructions

Have you ever purchased a toy kit for your child, only to see that it comes with instructions on how to make the same exact model that is on the box? You know, like Legos, Kinect, or even Lincoln Logs? Next time your child tinkers with some tinker toys, just let them go free. Let them try to create their own towers and castles. If they really want to create the model on the box, challenge them to figure it out on their own. Apply this philosophy to other things your children do as well, like school projects. Instead of asking the teacher for an example of what they are looking for, let your child interpret the assignment how he or she sees it. Let your child use their brain and their mighty decision-making skills to create a new product of their own design. Not only will they take pride in knowing that they accomplished something on their own, but it will help keep the learned helplessness at bay. Life does not come with an instruction manual, so don't let your kids play with one.
P.S. A word of caution: as the parent your kids look up to you know how to do everything. If you are OK with your kids realizing that you don't have all the answers, then throw away the instructions. Otherwise you may just want to hide them, so that way you will always know what to do. :D
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8. Better Yet, Throw Away Their Toys

At the risk of starting W.W. III in every household, let me again start off by saying, I don't really want you to throw away your children's toys. I simply mean throw away the notion of what their toys are. At the end of the day, a toy is simply a child's plaything. If you went out and bought them the super cool new Megatron 5000 computing robot that can do their algebra homework, compose symphonies, and play soccer with them, and all they want to do is use the box it came in to build a fort - don't get too upset. No, it may not have been the outcome you were expecting, and yes, it is super frustrating to shell out money on a toy "they had to have" only to see it go unused, but still, you purchased something that made them happy and that sparked their imagination. Don't get too bent out of shape if the Barbie car also functions as a deep sea excavator, or G.I. Joe has found himself enjoying a delightful tea party with Mrs. Nesbitt. Take delight in knowing that your children are utilizing their imaginations and developing a play that is rich, complex and full of fun.
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9. Explore The Great Outdoors

There is nothing quite like reconnecting with nature. Whether it be swimming at the beach, hiking on a mountain, or simply gardening in your own backyard, there is something refreshing and revitalizing about being outdoors. The earth exists on a delicate balance of interconnecting actions and reactions. When we go outside we "un-plug" from our artificial man made world and "plug" back into this world wide web - of nature. Children can learn so much by spending time out doors. They are able to watch plants grow, and animals interact. They are able to see the unique diversity of nature and learn to appreciate their place within it. Not to mention, they can run around, stretch their muscles and be as loud as they want - they get to simply be a kid out doors. Being outside also contributes to greater overall health, and a boosted immune system. Your child can't be at his or her most creative or intelligent if they are sick or feeling cruddy. Take them outside and let them soak up the Vitamin D! Whether they are playing outside or learning and academic lesson outside, they are connecting with another culture. In much the same way that a museum can teach kids about different world views and past traditions, being outside gives children a greater idea of who they are and their place in the world.
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10. Feed The Brain

Your brain accounts for 20 percent of your overall energy usage on any given day. It's basically the United States of energy consumption considering it's proportion to the human body. This also explains why children seem to always be hungry - they are! Their little minds are developing at a fast pace and their brain has to work hard to keep up, even when they are sitting down all day at school. This is why it is vitally important to their overall health, their future health, their creativity and their intelligence to give them fuel, not just food. The best part about giving your child healthy food options, is that you can invite them in the kitchen with you. Let them experience making their own food, and the chemistry behind cooking. Have discussions on where their food comes from, and why it is important to eat or avoid certain foods. Let your children come up with new dinner ideas and new pastry concoctions. Watch as your children voluntarily do math to measure out ingredients to make a delicious treat. With your kids in the kitchen, you get to sneak in learning while you sneak vegetables on their plate! It's a win-win situation!
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11. Spread The Laughter

Take the time to joke around with your children. Even if they are at that age where their jokes are absolutely terrible and make no sense (you all know what I am talking about). Encourage their bad jokes and tell good ones of your own. Humor is a skill that is developed. Most children can't really grasp witty humor, puns, or sarcasm until about the 4th grade. This is because they have to have an understanding of what is being made fun of before they can understand the humor in it. The amount of higher-order thinking that it takes to tell and understand a joke really stretches a child's brain. However, using sarcasm or humor inappropriately before they are able to understand it, can really hurt their self-esteem and their perspective on what good humor is. The more you teach them how to craft a good joke, the better they will be able to understand the humor in everyday life.
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12. Get Messy

Being creative is a messy process. Anyone who has toddlers can attest to this. Most of the time dealing with a messy kids is another chore or hassle that we have to put up with.But the truth of the matter is, children explore with all of their senses. They put things in their mouths, they smell things, they touch EVERYTHING. It's their way of making connections about the world and discovering what life's about. You can never effectively learn about the world if you live in a plastic bubble. You have to simply get out there and get your hands dirty. Let your children get messy. Let them utilize all of their senses. Let them discover that making mud pies is not really as fun as they always imagine it is. Let them immerse themselves in their learning processes.
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13. Make Mistakes

Don't be afraid to let your children see you make a mistake every now and again. The only way we truly learn is by learning from our mistakes. When children see that even adults make mistakes it gives them permission to relax about their own errors. No, no one particularly enjoys making mistakes and admitting that they were wrong, but the only way to overcome the stigma of defeat is to learn how to handle mistakes as they come. Remember how life doesn't come with an instruction manual? If we are required to live in this big glorious world without a map or compass, we are going to have some mishaps. The trick to being successful is taking those mishaps and turning it into a situation you can be proud of. Think back to when you were trying something new. You may not have gotten the hang of it the first time, or even the fourth time, or if you're like me it may have taken fifty times before you had mastered the task. However, once you achieved your goal you felt as though you were invincible. You kept pushing past your shortcomings until you were able to win the prize. If you had never dared, if you had never tried, if you had never made your mistakes and then learned from them, you would not be where you are today. Let your children see you make mistakes, and then let them see you push past those mistakes and win the prize. They are bound to make lots of mistakes as they try to navigate their life. Don't let them grow up being afraid to take a risk, or afraid of what "might" happen. Don't let them be afraid of their mistakes.
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14. Build Their Self-Esteem

This may seem like an obvious piece of advice, and not an activity at all, but in fact, building self-esteem takes the form of many activities. Praising your children for their accomplishments, displaying their work around the house, encouraging them to keep on trying when they can't seem to get something are all activities that you can actively engage in with your children. We cannot expect our children to take risks, make mistakes, and get messy, if they believe that they will fail before they start. This will create what is known as a self-fulfilling prophesy. If they believe they will fail, they will! Alternatively, if your children believe they can succeed, they also will! Raising a child to have confidence in their abilities is raising a child who can take on the world. Of course I don't recommend giving your children false expectations of the world, or unnecessary praise that was not earned. That kind of behavior can be just as damaging as raising a child with low self-esteem, especially when they get out into the "real-world" and discover that the world does not in fact, revolve around them. Find a healthy balance between those teachable moments, and the moments where you are their biggest cheerleader. It will do wonders for their creativity, intelligence and soul.
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15. Give Your Child Time & Space

Keep in mind that every child is different - even twins! Every child will bloom in his or her own time. Avoid smothering or stifling their creativity by trying to engage with them all the time. Sometimes children need their own space to ponder and wonder about the world. This doesn't mean they don't love being with you, or they are "not on track" with the other kids in their class. It simply means they are working things out on their own. Learn to read your children. Get to know their moods and their habits. When are they most creative? When are they the most awake? What are some of their biggest pet peeves? The better you know your children the better you can provide them with the tools necessary to be creative and intelligent. A masterpiece does not happen in a day, and even though it may feel like it at times, your children will not blossom overnight. Let the creativity and connections brew within them, and let yourself be pleasantly surprised by what your children produce for you every day.
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