This is the third and final post in a three-part series for gifted youth that focuses on independent summer enrichment and exploration.
Are you plagued by the irony of a creative child bemoaning their complete and utter boredom with summer, or with free time in general? Creativity is not only innate — it can be developed, too. Gifted youth benefit from activities that enhance existing abilities and passions as well as those that develop creative attitudes and skills.
Fostering open-mindedness in your child and a spirit of experimentation is key. Encourage your child to be free with out-loud thinking. Perfect products and polished outcomes are not the goals here, but trying something new, expanding horizons, and playing with ideas and things is essential. As Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Below are several creative activities, ranging from very simple games to more involved activities around the house or in the community.
Get Fluent and Flexible: Family Discussions
Fluency is a generative aspect of creativity, the ability to produce many ideas in response to open-ended problems, while flexibility is the talent for seeing a problem from many perspectives, trying many different approaches, and categorizing ideas in a variety of ways. Society’s greatest innovators aren’t afraid of thought experiments and discarding ideas that don’t work, so reminding youth how artists and inventors must be fluent and flexible is a great preface to these activities, which can begin as a family conversation, could be played as a more involved game, or could potentially become a long-term project.
- What If Game. This can be a conversation where each person has to generate ten answers to the What If? question. What if you had eyes and a mouth in the back of your head? What if we all switched responsibilities in the house for the next few days? What if there was no gravity on Earth? What if we had no electricity for the next five days and couldn’t leave the house?
- Box of Bird, Plane, Superman! Gather a box of random household items (examples: a skillet, a discarded electronic item, string, cotton balls, a dining utensil, a scarf) and place them in a box. In this game a group of people pass an item around a circle and pantomime a new use for the item that is not its original use. The goal is to pass fast and think fast, without judgment. No idea is a bad idea — just try to re-see the object in a whole new way!
- Product Improvement Survey and Design Problems. Proposing ideas and predicting outcomes are two other creative skills. Challenge your child with this question: What tools or items in the house could be better? How would you redesign them? Send your kid around the house on a survey to make notes and lists of ways to tackle design problems and functionality issues with the home and various tools. Before they start their list making and proposing, share the story of Mary Anderson — an Alabama woman stuck in New York City traffic back in 1902, who invented the patent for the windshield wiper. She wasn’t a driver, but she could “see through” to creatively solve a big problem! Discuss these ideas and ask your child to explain how life will be improved with these ideas.
- 13 Ways of Looking at a Problem. When Wallace Stevens wrote “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” he demonstrated the fluency and flexibility of the poetic mind. Pick a problem of interest to your child and ask him or her to look at it, like Wallace Stevens, from 13 different angles. The poem is complex but some stanzas may model for you just how wide the brain can go when looking at things from different perspectives. If your child loves literary analysis, they can attempt to explain the 13 ways of seeing that Stevens offers.
- Poetic Leaps. Reading favorite poems aloud, ones that inspire and lift the spirit, can be a great way to get your child writing. Listen to what author Kwame Alexander recommends for igniting that spark of wordplay in children.
- What’s Your Game? Share with your child the names and definitions of creative skills (such as fluency and flexibility) covered in this post. Then challenge your child to invent a game that fosters creativity.
Thinking logically is another creative skill, as is predicting outcomes. If your child has been eager to start coding or exploring computer systems, these kits might be great starters.
- Courses from Code Studio. Developed by Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter engineers, these free classes offer hour-long or more opportunities to get coding.
- Hour of Code. Complete an hour-long coding project that is tailored to your child’s experience level, grade level, interest, and available technology.
- From A Mighty Girl: The Piper Craft-A-Computer Kit for ages 7 to 12 or the Raspberry Pi Ultimate Set for ages 9 and up.
- Bloxels. Bloxels is a block coding system that combines physical maker components and digital coding components to create video games.
Take It to the MakerSpace!
Thinking intuitively, visualizing, and synthesizing are all essential creative skills that MakerSpaces foster. You may have already heard of these collaborative learning spaces (AKA fablabs, hackerspaces) — often found at your local library — where students and adults explore, make, and share their hands-on expressions and discoveries. Developing critical thinking skills, students can team with others to take on challenges such as coding, carpentry, sewing, robotics, and much more. Learn more at Makerspaces.com or “A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: 16 Resources,” where there’s even a Makerspace Starter Kit you can order if you and neighbors want to host a space.
Creative Leadership and Investigation
The art of making a difference in one’s community is a creative and expressive act. If you have a budding leader, legislator, activist, or organizer in your midst, check out this helpful manual of resources from Participate: “Let Students Lead: A guidebook on how local investigations drive democratic and global learning.” This guidebook offers questions and starting activities to spark a creative local investigation that might become a long-term community project.
Neighborhood Arts Show
If your child is a creative soul and likes community gatherings — and has a knack for organization — he or she might enjoy reaching out to neighbors and friends for a weekend walk through of homes where each child displays art projects from the school year and any other items they’ve created over the years. The front lawn, a porch, or a room in a house can be a display area and each child can play host to give a tour of items and objects. As families wander through, snacks can also be served by any local youth who are bakers and cooks.
Summer Story, Summer Theater: The Three-Day Challenge
If you have writers or thespians in your midst, give them a 3-day challenge. You can easily make a Story Machine by putting ten settings (beach, mountains, outer space, etc.), ten character types (cowboy, clown, soccer player, etc.), and ten problems (can’t find keys, can’t make a friend, etc.) in a hat, and ask your child to pick one of each. Whatever gets picked becomes the prompt for a story or a piece of theater, to be shared publicly by the end of three days. If your child is older and a serious novelist or playwright or screenwriter, they may want to check out Story Genius by Lisa Cron or Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. These are great manuals for plotting novels and screenplays.
Family Album, Wall Art
If you need help in organizing the last few years of family pictures or converting what’s on phones and computers into some type of portrait or frames, ask your child to be the curator of family history and review the photos. Ask them to nominate their top ten and present them to the family as “best in show” and then discuss how these might be made into smaller or larger prints.
Thinglink Digital Showcase
If your child prefers digital creative expression, Thinglink is a great tool for creating interactive images. This digital tool allows for the inclusion of images, videos, text annotations, links, and more, allowing for dynamic, interesting showcases. It can even be used to create annotated 360 images!
The more your child attempts low-stakes creative tasks, experiments, and takes risks, the more resilient she or he becomes. Everyone knows how it feels to have a naysayer or an idea crusher knock down a well-intentioned idea. But if you know how to play and take chances, problems seem less like mountains and more like mole hills. Your child can also become more supportive and nurturing of others’ creativity the more they get to play around. With these types of summer enrichments, you can focus on effort, growth mindset, and positive attitude rather than achievement.
Jamye Abram, Instructional Technology Coordinator for Duke TIP’s distance learning programs, and Brian Cooper, Director of Educational Innovation and Outreach, also contributed to this post. Jamye has worked with educators of all age groups to integrate technology into the curriculum.