Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Florence Nightingale, Grace Hopper.
All of these women were all innovators –but how did they get there? Who encouraged them? What qualities did they all have in common that helped them to be successful?
A lot of us have daughters at home that love to tinker. They love to see how things work, create new inventions, and use their creativity in ways that consistently amaze.
How do we, as parents, help to maintain that creativity? To allow our daughters the room to make mistakes and not be faltered by them when creating new ways to solve the world’s problems?
Fostering innovation provides a cornerstone of the Garrison Forest School experience — so we went straight to the experts: Jim Audette (STEAM Coordinator), Christine Shriver (Digital Learning Specialist), and Tracey Brocato (PreK-5th Science Teacher).
So, how do we encourage our daughters to be the world’s next innovators?
Conversation with our Daughters: How to Raise an Innovator
Boredom Isn’t Always Bad
In her recent NY Times opinion piece, Pamela Paul supported the thought of letting children get bored because, “Once you’ve truly settled into the anesthetizing effects of boredom, you find yourself en route to discovery. This is why so many useful ideas occur in the shower, when you’re held captive to a mundane activity. You let your mind wander and follow it where it goes.”
Today’s child can be scheduled each day down to the minute. While this keeps them engaged and active, it leaves very little time for unstructured games and activities, where kids encounter problems and invent solutions on their own. Giving your daughter the time and freedom to let her mind wander may be just the gift she needs.
Encourage Hands-Off Creative Problem Solving
“Unstructured play” was the unanimous response when Christine and Tracey were asked for the number one way to help our daughters become innovators.
“When you just let your kids go, problems will arise, and that’s when the creative problem solving begins. Boredom leads to creativity,” explained Christine.
When children are given a blank page, a bunch of open-ended materials, and wide open spaces, they invent new things and do so without constraints and without hesitation. It can be easy to constantly give our daughters structured kits with how-to direction guides, but open-ended materials, paired with unstructured time, can encourage unbridled creativity.
Remove the Fear of Failure
“Failure is regularly seen as a negative word,” said Jim. “But in order to really be innovative, you have to look at failure as a growth opportunity. I have students tell me all of the time that they can’t do math or aren’t good at science, but really, these skills are like a muscle that you just need to exercise.”
Getting things wrong means that you make yourself vulnerable to criticism which could ultimately hurt self esteem. So change the narrative and words that you use. Make a point of encouraging positive, constructive criticism and encourage your girls to see mistakes as learning opportunities and help them build upon them. Failure then becomes a positive exercise.
Continue to Build Spatial Reasoning
Spatial reasoning (the ability to mentally manipulate 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional figures) is critical to understanding how things work. When girls are in their younger years, they tend to take time to use their imaginations and build with different materials (think: Legos, clay, magnetic tiles, cutting and pasting etc.). But as they get older and their days more structured, their daily practice with spatial reasoning and manual dexterity (the ability to use your hands in a skillful, coordinated way) tends to weaken. Daily creating and building with their hands is a great way to continue building these skills as your daughter grows. Even better? Regular activities that encourage hands-on manipulation will help build her self-confidence and encourage more creating.
Along with these key elements, encouraging positive self-talk, allowing your daughter the space to solve problems independently and indulging her curiosities can all be wonderful ways to bring out the little innovator in your girl.
Start the Conversation: Learn More
Reading and exploring together can be a great way to foster innovation in your family. Here are a few resources that our experts recommend:
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsy
Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully
Curious Jane: Science + Design + Engineering for Inquisitive Girls by Curious Jane
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Editor’s Note: Links to suggested reading are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them, (cool) progeny may receive a small advertising revenue. All photos are by Laura Black.