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.

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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 Evaluate Your Creative Idea Before Presenting It to the Sharks

“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn.” —Charles Brower

Great White Shark

At work, at home, or while volunteering, we are faced with presenting our creative solutions to sharks: spouse, boss, leader, children, city council, whomever. Many times our solutions are rejected, because, well, they’re bad ideas.

We can avoid championing bad ideas by putting our solutions through a checklist before selling them to the sharks. Answers to the following questions will determine whether your creative solution has merit.


Creative Solution Checklist


Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nature of the Solution – the description of the idea.

  • Is the idea simple?
  • Can you summarize the idea in a few clear and concise sentences?
  • Will the idea solve the problem completely or partially?
  • Is the idea a permanent or temporary solution?
  • Is the solution affordable?

Reception of the Solution – the way others will react to the idea.

  • Could average people on the street accept it?
  • Has a co-worker said he wishes he’d thought of the idea?
  • Will the people involved be able to accept the changes the solution requires?
  • Would God be pleased?

Results of the Solution – the noble value of the idea.

  • Will the solution increase production or efficiency?
  • Will the solution improve quality of life or quality of a product?
  • Will the solution improve safety, working conditions, or work methods?
  • Will the solution prevent waste, eliminate unnecessary work, conserve materials or reduce costs?



In building our dream home, I decided to incorporate arched interior transoms over two doors like I saw in a magazine. The transoms had glass and arched patterned wrought iron insets. The builder asked several times if I really wanted them. My husband, John, didn’t care if they were installed or not.

Problem: If I wanted the arched transoms, it was up to me to obtain the wrought iron insets and the half-circle glass windows.

mage courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
mage courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Solution 1: I found online one pre-made wrought iron inset with an unappealing design. Then I discovered a company that would have to custom create the design, and the insets would cost $500 each, plus shipping. And this didn’t include the glass or our builder’s labor to form the arched frames. Total: $1,000+.

If I’d used the checklist to evaluate this solution before taking it to the sharks (husband and builder), it would have failed. It had become complicated. The cost didn’t fit into the budget. I believed the average man on the street would think the transoms were exorbitant for a bit of style. The expensive transoms had no noble use, other than they charmed me. Bad idea.

I was ready to give up the transoms.

Solution 2: John and I perused an outlet store with all kinds of home decorative items. On one aisle, we discovered patterned wrought iron half-circles the exact size we needed for $30 each. The only problem was the fleurs de lis soldered to their centers.

TransomsExcited, I summarized my solution in two sentences to shark John: “Buy these insets and remove the fleurs de lis. Purchase a round glass tabletop with the same diameter, which I saw for $60, and have it cut in half for the window sections. Total: $120.

This solution was simple. The cost was reasonable. The noble use, at that cost, was improving the artistic design of the house. John went for it.

John removed the fleurs de lis. The builder had the glass tabletop I bought cut in half for $5. John and I like how the transoms turned out.


What method do you use before you present a creative idea to your sharks?

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