How To Raise Innovative Kids

There’s at least one in every class. The little boy or girl that doesn’t quite fit in. A child who looks at life through a different lens and constantly challenges why things are the way they are. They are the free-thinkers and the rebels. Our education system has probably never worked exceptionally well for these kids. But in a rapidly evolving world, it’s the kids with insatiable curiosity and the ability to extend their thinking that will be our future heroes. We need independent and innovative thinkers.

Most schools operate with large class sizes, an over-crowded curriculum and pressure to do well on standardised tests. Classrooms need to be run in a certain way to achieve designated outcomes. Teachers are well aware of this and lament it. Many of the parents I know are concerned. I suppose we are all asking the same question — the system might be the best way to prepare kids for exams, but is this the best way to prepare our kids for their future? 


At the end of the day, we don’t really know what our kids’ future will look like. We can guess that technology will feature heavily. We know that jobs aren’t for life. We know that there are big issues looming and it will probably fall to our children to solve them. 

How will they gain tools to solve those problems? How can parents encourage kids to think critically and be innovative? How can we encourage them to solve problems laterally, to be creative and unafraid of the wrong answer?

How to raise an innovative kid

1. Let them figure things out. Children, particularly young children, accept the word of adults as gospel truth. If you tell them something they are unlikely to question it. It’s so tempting to rush in with the answer, to explain the finer points, to finish the puzzle or to solve a quarrel between kids. But they don’t learn to think critically when we do this. Kids need space to figure things out. I know I need to extend some patience, some trust and be okay if things don’t go to plan. It’s maddening and potentially heart-breaking, but it’s the right thing to do.

2. Let them fail. We protect kids from failure. We give them ribbons as long as they try. We don’t keep score at team sports (but believe me, the kids do). School prepares them for tests that they are expected to excel at. Tests that are often singular correct answer questions. No wonder kids fear getting it wrong – they are surrounded by the idea that success is the only valid option.

Failure is such an integral part of learning. You often hear entrepreneurial thinkers say “fail often, fail fast”. Try the crazy thing with as little investment as possible and see if works. If it doesn’t, learn and move on. In order for kids to embrace innovative thinking, for them to stretch ideas beyond what they already know, they need to be given room to fall over. And, most importantly, to learn how to get back up. 

3. Explore ideas through play. Many kindergartens operate on play-based and child-led learning models. It’s a great idea that can extend beyond preschool aged kids. When a child shows a natural interest in something (and kids always do), the idea is to take that interest and develop it together in all sorts of different directions. Kids asking questions about the clouds? Investigate cloud art, look into cloud experiments, watch the clouds together and research weather predictions. They key is to let the kids lead and to use different approaches to consolidate the same idea. But most of all, this should remain fun and their idea. It should be play — not an extra layer of parent-made homework.

4. Be open-minded. Think about what your child says before telling them it’s the wrong answer — it may actually be entirely correct and framed in a way you haven’t thought about. Kids aren’t limited by the same set of preconceptions we are, which can lead to interesting thinking. I use to joke that Apple measures the success of a new device on how easily an 18-month-old with no preconceptions can use it. I might not be wrong. Keep an open-mind when listening to your kids and try not to squeeze their ideas into the conventional thinking of an adult. Let them keep the magic.

Innovative thinking requires freedom. It requires space and it requires imagination. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help our kids innovate is to take a step back and let them follow their own paths.

How do you encourage innovative thinking?

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Image: Getty