A Great Way to Cultivate Creativity in Your Young Children

We want our children to grow up with healthy creative abilities. My guest today, Jill Bennett, shares an innovative solution for developing young children’s creative skills to meet their and societies’ future challenges.

Cultivating Creativity:

Engineering Encourages Children to Think Creatively and Take Risks 

Creativity is a step beyond imagination because it requires that you actually do something rather than lie around thinking about it.  It’s a very practical process of trying to make something original.

-Sir Ken Robinson

3280_kids with robotI have seen four-year-old children design rollercoasters as they discover principles of acceleration.  I have watched five-year-old children test various weights in the basket of a model hot air balloon as they explore buoyancy.  I know eight-year-old students who design, build, and program robots to free a simulated trapped dolphin from dangerous ocean conditions.  And there are nine-year-olds out there creating video games.  From scratch.

These children are solving problems in original ways. They see a challenge, develop ideas to solve the problem, and then they act.  Dori Roberts, founder and CEO of Virginia-based franchise Engineering for Kids, knows a great deal about designing an original idea.

Seeing a Challenge

Dori began her professional career as a high school technology and engineering teacher.  During those years, she helped her students consider innovative ways to solve engineering-related challenges.  She watched her students take risks. She began an engineering club at her school and traveled throughout the region, state, and nation with them.  Her son, who was six at the time, became very interested in the older students’ projects.  Upon searching for an after-school, engineering-related class for him, she realized there was nothing available for his age group.

Solving the Problem

EFK LogoMany parents would have thrown their arms up in frustration and would have begrudgingly registered their child for an alternate after-school activity.  Dori, however, recognized a need in the community and acted.  She began offering after-school classes at her son’s school, followed by summer camps at the local community center.  It did not take long for these classes to fill.  Word spread that the kids loved designing their own rockets, bridges, flashlights, and more.  The idea was a success.  Such a success, in fact, that she drafted a business plan, opened the Engineering for Kids Learning Center in Stafford, Virginia, and made it her full-time job.

Acting and Creating a Vision

I joined the Engineering for Kids team about two years ago and have been overseeing the development of curriculum and programs.   The team continues to grow, as does the business.  Engineering for Kids became a franchise just over a year ago and we now have 25 locations, two of which are international.  Our goal is to have 60 franchises by the end of 2013.  Our vision is to “inspire the next generation of engineers.”

Noting Reasons for Success

So many factors have contributed to the success of Engineering for Kids.  On any given day, it is tough to scan through newspaper headlines without seeing topics such as science education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), or the need for qualified engineers.  Parents are always looking for educational opportunities for their children, and it’s a huge bonus when their kids are excited to sign up for an educational activity outside of school hours.  These students are being challenged during these engineering classes without even knowing it!  In addition, Engineering for Kids is growing because we have a host of franchisees that have been willing to take a risk.

3278_happy girlsDuring any given lesson, we ask our students to use their creativity to solve challenges and take risks.  It is very possible that students will develop completely different solutions to the same challenge.  And that is okay.  In fact, we encourage it.  We recognize that creativity requires taking a risk by putting yourself and your ideas out there.  It takes guts to present an original idea to your peers.

Not all of our students will become engineers.  We realize that.  However, the lil’ mechanical engineer I mentioned earlier is already learning what it means to consider challenging concepts like designing a rollercoaster, think creatively to solve problems, and take risks in designing solutions.  We are confident that exposing kids to engineering will give them a strong foundation in thinking creatively and taking risks.  And maybe, just maybe, one of our students will design the next generation’s fastest, most thrilling rollercoaster experience the world has ever known.

Related Links:

www.engineeringforkids.net

http://www.marieclaire.com/blog/engineering-for-kids-franchise

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dori-roberts/creating-tinkering-inventing_b_2545936.html

http://news.fredericksburg.com/business/2012/10/12/engineering-for-kids-going-international/

bethany photos-173 copyJill Bennett, Director of Program Development at Engineering for Kids, joined the team in 2011.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies and Elementary Education from the University of Richmond in 2001.  She taught first and third grade in Henrico County, Virginia. During the 2005-2006 school year she was selected by colleagues as her school’s distinguished “Teacher of the Year”, which is awarded annually to one outstanding teacher.  In 2008, Jill earned a Master of Education in Instruction from the University of Virginia.  Currently, she balances her work at Engineering for Kids with lots and lots of playtime with her sons, who are four and two.

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How to Engage an Audience with Storytelling: Part 1 – The Story

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. — Hannah Arendt

In another post on creating a memorable learning experience, I promised to talk more about storytelling. The story and the telling are distinct parts of storytelling. To hold your audience’s attention, consider both. Today I’ll focus on why including stories in presentations is valuable and the types of stories that can be used. One presentation may use multiple types of stories. Next Thursday, I’ll give effective ways to tell a story.

9 Reasons to Use Stories in Presentations

1.  Stories can create an experience that listeners can step into and identify with. For a conference of cooks:

List the dos and don’ts in an industrial kitchen.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

OR

Also, tell the story, I Cooked My Way Out of a Sunk Soufflé, showing the dos and don’ts.

2. Stories can cause listeners to learn without realizing it. For children:

Warn them not to do poor work to hurry and play.

OR

Tell them the story: The Three Little Pigs.

 3. Stories can show listeners solutions to moral predicaments. During a school assembly:

List school rules about bullying.

OR

Also, tell the story, My Friend Jack Turned a Bully into a Friend.

4. Stories can touch listeners and call them to action. During a dentist visit:

Image courtesy of 89studio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As usual, the dentist told me to start flossing my teeth. (I didn’t.)

OR

Finally, he told me about a patient who didn’t heed his directive, then showed me a picture of a person’s black gums. I have flossed once a day ever since!

 5. Stories can get listeners talking. In a leadership workshop, ask:

“What are elements of making a wining decision?”

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

OR

Tell the story of the three whales trapped under the ice. Then ask, “What would you consider when faced with the choices: save the endangered whales at $1 million or let local whalers feed the natives?”

6. Stories are more interesting to listeners than shoveled information. For a class on storytelling:

List 9 reasons to use stories in presentations.

OR

Also sprinkle mini-stories and examples among the reasons to stimulate listeners’ thoughts. :O)

7. Stories can show listeners how to use information. In a Bible Study Fellowship training session for Children’s Leaders:

Read the tips for large-muscle exercises from the manual.

OR

As our supervisor did, ask the seasoned leaders to tell the actual experience of their most popular large-muscle idea.

8. Stories can encourage listeners to see what’s possible. In a workshop on self-publishing:

Tell the steps to self-publish.

OR

Also relate the story of how you did it.

9. Stories are memorable and make a message easy for listeners to pass on to others. In a crime awareness class: 

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tell dos and don’ts.

OR

As our presenting police officer did, tell us stories of what happened when people failed to heed such advice. I shared his stories with other women.

5 Types of Stories

1. To Entertain – regale listeners, not send a message. Often jokes are designed solely to tickle funny bones. Campfire ghost stories are usually intended to keep listeners awake listening for tread-on sticks.

2. To Teach – tell parables as Jesus did using common life events of His day to teach about the kingdom of God.

3. To Persuade – relate true testimonies to draw listeners to action or make life changes.

4. To Apply – give examples how an idea or an item can be used.

5. To Inform – impart facts in travel logs, documentaries, and biographies.

What story worked well in a presentation you attended or where you were the speaker?

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5 Elements That Make a Learning Activity a Memorable Experience

 Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” —Winston Churchill

5 Elements That Create a Memorable Experience

  1. Use Layering. Plan several activities that add to, build on, or complement what’s to be learned during the session. (I’ll post a future blog on layering.)
  2. Tell a story. Dry material comes alive when it’s presented through examples, personal stories, drama, and humor. (I’ll post a future blog on storytelling.)
  3. Provide participant involvement. This should be something that pulls people into the experience, better than simply breaking up into discussion groups, if possible.
  4. Allow creativity. Guide the activities, but let people express their individuality as much as possible during the session.
  5. Design something profound to happen. Anything that gives participants a blip of feeling, a smidge of identifying, or a helping of new understanding will seal the session as a memorable experience.

Example:

I prepared a Bible study for our prison ministry on the creation story from Genesis 1. (See another prison ministry example.)

I could’ve planned the normal: have a prisoner (cadet) read the Bible passage aloud, then have them break up into discussion groups led by volunteers asking pre-scripted questions. This works adequately for some participants.

But earlier, I’d led a creation story for Vacation Bible School. I also used the idea successfully for preschoolers in Sunday school and in Bible Study Fellowship. 

I already had the props: Large, made-from-cloth sun, moon, stars, clouds, and day and night skies. Long lengths of material for water, earth, sand, and grass. Crumpled grocery-bag rocks. Artificial plants and trees. Numerous plastic insects, ocean creatures, and reptiles. Feathered fake birds and stuffed animals.

As twelve cadets filed in, volunteers welcomed them and handed them an item. Curiosity crept onto their faces as they accepted a spider, a flower, a folded length of material, or a furry bear.

The cadets sat in a wide circle of chairs. Volunteers distributed the rest of the creation items evenly among them.

Dressed in a Biblical robe, I launched into a dramatic narrative based on the Genesis scripture.

When the water was to be gathered into seas and dry ground was to appear, I invited cadets who had lengths of blue, brown, and sand-colored materials to spread them on the floor within the circle. Soon I called for vegetation. Cadets set flowers, plants, and trees wherever they wished on the green and the earthy-colored materials.

When night was to be separated from day, I asked tall prisoners to hang the sky-blue and black materials on the wall. Then I called for the sun. The cadet who possessed the sun attached it to the Velcro on the blue sky. Same for the moon and stars on the black sky. 

As I summoned sea creatures and birds, conversations and suggestions began buzzing among the cadets. Finally, I called for reptiles, insects, and animals. Cadets took care to place their creatures on trees, rocks, sand, and grass.

Imagine what that space looked like. One cadet pronounced it beautiful.

Here’s the something profound. I asked them what was missing. Some cadets said, “People!” I invited them to come into our creation. They sauntered in and sat on the colored cloths among the plants and creatures. Some cradled stuffed animals while others toyed with lobsters or birds. 

Then we discussed the experience. Many hadn’t thought much about what God created, but during that moment they were keenly aware of what a wonder creation is.

What profound element have you added to a session that worked?

To CONTACT ME use the form. To LEAVE A COMMENT use the COMMENT option below the form.

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