kidsfreetimeIf you read one education book this summer, consider Alan Lightman’s In Praise of Wasting Time. If it strikes too close to home, you’re not alone. Lightman articulates what many of us are feeling. That our very wired, very stressful lives are driven by a pervasive feeling of #FOMO (fear of missing out). We feel we need to be purposeful (or at least seen to be) every minute of every day. And it’s exhausting.

The Joy of Doing Nothing

Lightman begins with a vivid reflection on his childhood, as he describes, his “careless, wasteless hours at the pond.”  He makes us wistful for the joy of doing nothing.  While Lightman mourns that loss, at least he has memories. His concern is that today’s kiddos won’t have the luxury of those remembrances. In their over-scheduled, time-driven, wired existence, no one seems to take (or in the case of parents, allows) time for wasteless hours. He acknowledges that it is a natural part of growing up to forego hours of nothingness. Of course, we can’t be kids forever. But kids will never experience the feeling of loss because today’s kiddos often do not have the luxury of wasting time.

Kids’ hyper-scheduled lives have consequences beyond what we might nostalgically view as unavoidable and unfortunate.  First, there is the widely reported rise in anxiety, depression and sleeplessness linked to too much time on social media. Now kids’ lack of free time is linked to the nation’s decline in creativity.

The Loss of National Creativity?

Creativity is the driving force of the innovation process. Researchers call the decline in creativity since 1990 as America’s Creativity Crisis. They fear it will leave the nation unprepared to face world challenges. Though we can’t just blame social media for the decline in creativity (there’s plenty of correlation with the timing of No Child Left Behind and standardized tests) we can work with what we can control. We can foster creativity.  In other words, Lightman’s time to think and enjoy doing nothing.

Foster Creativity in Kids this Summer (and always)

Fortunately, the evidence on the common traits and experiences of the most creative people can provide a guide to foster creativity in all kiddos.

  1. One key adult. Kids benefit from having  an adult mentor that can nurture their creativity. It can be a teacher, a coach, or a relative. Someone who can see their potential and provide relevant experiences and feedback to nurture it. Take note. The one key adult does not need to be a parent. In fact, there is no correlation between creative parents and creative kids.
  2. Supportive parents.  Parents don’t need to be creative but research does show that parents do need to encourage creativity. That means giving their children the space, the unscheduled time, the opportunities to be creative. Sounds like the perfect summer to-do list!
  3. Experience. While there’s a lot to be learned from reading about other people’s experiences there is no substitute for having your own. Summer is the perfect opportunity to expose kiddos to places and people their over-scheduled school year lives might now allow. Most importantly, let kiddos help define those experiences. When kids are interested and personally invested, the deepest learning and most creative thoughts will follow.
  4. Reflection. Memories can fade quickly. But when we take the time for reflection those memories stay with us longer and the lessons learned even longer. Want your child to have structure during the summer? How about building in time for daily reflection. A journal, a sketchbook, a personal blog, a daily conversation, or mindfulness are all good options for reflection. Keep in mind, it’s not about the writing–it’s about thinking and making connections.
  5. Openness. Research on Big 5 Personality traits suggests that Openness is the greatest predictor of human behavior and creative achievement. In other words, it’s not how smart you are, but how willing you are to engage in new and challenging experiences even at the risk of disappointment. The more exposure we give kiddos to new experiences and encourage them to take risks, the more comfortable they will be with uncertainty. And, of course, the more likely they will develop an openness to seeking new experiences on their own. If it sounds related to growth mindset, that’s because it is.

The summer has a lot of opportunity to foster creativity. Enjoy it!

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