Natural Innovators

If you had walked by our house a couple of weeks ago, you would have seen this.

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My periodic-table-obsessed 6yo was experimenting with different ways the table could be drawn and expanded. He drew 4 different variations on our driveway.

We had just watched PBS’s documentary about how Mendeleev developed the precursor to our modern table, and suddenly, in his mind, the table was no longer a fixed set of rules but instead a fluid construct that could be improved upon. So he set out to do just that.

His goal, at least for the day, was not to develop a new system but instead to play with the current system and bend it to see how it responded.

This is not an isolated incident.

We play a board game, and after a couple of rounds, he wants to change the rules, see how tweaks will affect game play and outcome.

When playing with Think Fun’s (aff. link) River Crossing this summer, he was much happier creating his own challenges than simply solving those provided on the cards by the game.

It’s like his brain is hard-wired to ask, “What else?”

This used to drive me crazy (and still does sometimes).

I’ve learned not to take it personally, that his rejection of my options A-D in pursuit of Q is the way his brain works, not a direct assault to my parenting. If I offer choices, logically, there must be more choices out there to be discovered.

We as his parents have also learned how to clearly communicate what is negotiable and what is not, which has been very helpful.

This innovation, this ability to think outside the box, is a huge asset that will serve him well later in life — if we can figure out how to navigate these early years in a way that celebrates and  channels his creative impulses.

That is the big challenge for us as parents and educators – how can we celebrate this unique ability to think in unorthodox ways, not squash their enthusiasm, but also help them learn when it would be helpful for them to choose to follow directions and be part of the group.

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I’ve recently been taking a gentle approach. We haven’t been participating in a lot of rigid activities but have been doing things like origami where the payoff for following directions is clear and immediate. Sometimes, there’s so no room for negotiation, but when there is, I’ve been trying to give space and freedom to create, to try new things, and then gently suggest checking the instructions if frustration starts to set in.

And who knows – maybe someday the periodic table will be updated, and I’ll be able to say I have the first drafts. 🙂

I share these things, not as an expert in any sense, but as a parent who has benefited from reading about others’ experiences and in the hope that some of you will be saying, “Me too!”

This blog has been part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page’s Blog Hop. “Hop” on over to their page to read various perspectives on creativity and productivity, as it affects the gifted population.


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