Training Your Family’s Divergent Thinking Skills

opportunityHow often do you dust off your divergent-thinking muscle? If you’re not sure, think back to the last time you took an idea and ran with it. That’s divergent thinking. It’s a great skill set to have and is priceless for your kids as they operate in a continually changing world where divergent thinking skills are increasingly crucial. Here are some skills you can work on with your kids so you can all develop your divergent thinking  ability.

Curiosity – Curious people rarely take the world around them at face value, they’re always questioning. If your child isn’t always asking why, get them started! It’s a great habit to get into. Ask probing questions while encouraging kids to do the same, search out answers and look into topics of interest deeper and from many different angles. I’ve already have a post on curiosity and kids here, in “Growing Curious Kids”, if you’re interested.

Imagination – Having the ability to dream, invent, and think outside the box is very important if you want to become a divergent thinker. For kids, imagination is as natural as breathing, but the real challenge here is to keep their imagination alive. Imagination is often considered silly or frivolous in the “real world” but don’t let that discourage you or your kids! Without imagination, innovation is impossible! Training your imagination is as simple as playing, and one great activity you can do anywhere to encourages imagination is “Adventure Story Telling.” In order for imagination to flourish, it needs security and encouragement and as a parent, teacher or care giver you are in a position to offer both: embrace your own imagination, and children will realize imagination is a gift and they will be able to embrace their own.

Flexibility – If you’re always taught there is one right answer. it hampers your flexible thinking. Similarly, children often taught “the right way or “This is how we do it.” While this way might be faster, any chance of flexible thinking is lost because they no longer feel the need to seek out new methods and new answers. A great way to encourage flexible thinking, and perhaps even learn something yourself, is to ask how can we do this? while teaching. You might have an answer in mind, but it encourages kids to first think critically about the solution.

One of the best places to utilize flexible thinking in in the kitchen. Find a basic recipe for muffins, granola bars, smoothies or any other recipe that’s easily adaptable, and try a different method or ingredient. You never know, you might just come up with a masterpiece! (You might also come up with something decidedly less than masterpiece-ian. In this case, it’s an excellent chance to teach a lesson in embracing mistakes…) This is what the greatest chefs do; you learn the basic recipe and what makes it work, and then you play and play some more! I do suggest writing down what you did, just in case you come up with something amazing. There’s nothing worse than hearing “This is excellent! What did you put in it?” and having to follow up with “No idea, enjoy it now because I might never be able to make it again!”

(This happens about once a week on our house)

Originality – Divergent thinkers must be original thinkers. The ability to create and combine information is new and unique ways is an important skill, but how do you teach someone to be an original thinker? This was a perpetual problem for me when working overseas, in a system where following the prescribed learning outcomes is the way to success and original thinking is discouraged.

One of the best ways I found was to increase the variety of experiences and learning materials I exposed my students to. The more varied the source material, the more creative combinations and new ideas. This is easy to do with kids. Plan your activities taking different learning styles and multiple intelligences into account and you will naturally be exposing kids to new and different ideas and ways of looking at things. I have a post on Activity Planning and Multiple Intelligences here.

Elaborating – The ability to elaborate on an idea is important to divergent thinking. To elaborate is to take basic idea and add onto or build off of it, and it can help in many areas of life. It is an important element to effective communication, as many people, kids and adults have a hard time expressing their thoughts in detail, which can in turn lead to confusion, misunderstandings and the feeling that you are not being heard. Numerous careers depend on the ability to elaborate: authors, teachers, managers, and yes, even parents.

Encourage kids to get into the habit of elaborating on their thoughts by providing more details. Exercises such as creating speeches and presentations, and even creative writing encourage elaboration. My friend’s family has the tradition of everyone sharing something at the family dinner table about their day. This could be what’s happening or any ideas they have or problems they have encountered, and it’s a great way to build family communication skills and learn how to elaborate at the same time!

Fluency – While elaboration is taking a single idea and expanding on it, fluency is the ability to generate a large number of different ideas. It’s quite a simple concept, the more ideas you have, the greater chance that one of the ideas will be a workable solution. Often our fluency is hampered by that little negative voice in our heads that says this won’t work or this is a stupid idea, and our desire to brainstorm different solutions is hampered by our fear of what others will think of us.

The best way to become a more fluent thinker is to get into the habit of keeping a notebook with you at all times (I use a Pocket Mod). Also if you are trying to teach kids to think fluently, it is important to provide a safe environment for them to share their ideas in. If a child is told that their idea is “silly” or “dumb” they’ll stop generating ideas – instantly.

A great exercise in fluent thinking is the “List of 100.” Take a problem or an everyday object and write down 100 things about it. You might struggle at first, but the idea is to look at it from all angles and to not censor yourself. In the end, some of your ideas might not be very useful or practical, but others will be, and you will start to notice elements or combinations you never noticed before. Once you have a great list of ideas, you can begin to elaborate and develop the ideas that have a seed of promise.

Risk Taking – The greatest leaders are divergent thinkers, and their success relies on how comfortable they are with taking risks. Risk taking means trying new things, having new experiences, and letting go of our fears. It doesn’t necessarily mean taking physical risks, rather, the largest part of being a risk taker is simply not allowing the mental blocks (fear, negativity, and similar feelings) to stand in your way. Risk taking means acknowledging your fear and deciding to do it anyway. You can teach kids to rise above their fears by rising above yours, or working on it together. Acknowledging a fear is the first step, otherwise you find yourself avoiding it; once you acknowledge it, you can create an action plan to overcome your fears. This is an important process for kids to learn.

Many of these skills work together and build off each other. They are skills that can be practiced every single day and in the process make your experiences and the world around you deeper, richer and more vibrant.

How do you practice divergent thinking skills in your family? Please share with us!

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Posted in Children's Development, Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligence.


    • The following is one of my favourite quick activities from my book “Growing Creative Kids” It can be played anywhere and is very good for training children to use their different senses. I think this would be especially important for a child with a vision disorder. You could use this game one on one with your child to strengthen their senses, or it can be played in a group where you can get all the children to strengthen a sense other then vision .

      Stop And…

      This is a great game to play with young children that will form a life-long habit of paying attention to your surroundings. It is very simple. Every time you or your child notes something of interest, say “Stop and … (look, listen, touch, smell or see) and everyone must stop for 30 seconds to a minute and observe their surroundings.

      You can play this game with several different variations. You can be abstract – just say “stop and listen”, have everyone listen and share what they heard. Or you can be precise, say “Stop and listen to the street musician’s song”.

      You can set goals for a day or a time frame. For example, while you are shopping or going for a walk, you must stop and use all your senses at least once – carry a notebook with you so that you can record your impressions.

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