Can kids learn art and innovation skills online?


Did you know that online learning isn’t just for homeschoolers and college students? Most of us have seen online courses designed to deliver content via video lectures, assignments, and digital assessments. But, can creative skills like drawing, illustration, problem-solving, and invention strategies be taught online? Several new companies are on a mission to bring creative learning experiences to the e-course market.

Businesses like JAM Online Courses For Kids, Sparketh, and Thrive are designing and distributing courses that teach creative skills through video instruction, interactive discussions, and some even offer support from online mentors or teachers.

If you’re interested in online courses for your children, here’s the scoop on these three companies:

  1. Thrive.  With video art lessons designed to be part of their three-level program, Thrive lessons are created for kids aged 6-12 to allow them to develop their creative muscles at home. Thrive also explains that they offer parent guidance videos that provide parents with the information they need to support their children as they engage with the course content.
  2. Sparketh. Providing over 500 videos that teach visual art and design skills, Sparketh is on a mission to make learning art online “fun and effective.” The videos are divided into three categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and users are encouraged to select videos that are appropriate for their skill levels. Many video courses also include printable content that kids can use to follow along.
  3. JAM. Jam Online Courses For Kids are designed to teach visual art skills as well as innovation and technological skills. Their mission is to “making magical learning experiences to help kids build confidence, creativity and talent that will last their lifetimes.” JAM courses are unique in that they are designed to provide children with an online mentor that will provide feedback and support as they engage with the course content.

Like most web-based content, each company offers free trials for their content–so, go on and give it a try.




Here’s the Scoop on the Maker Movement

*This article was contributed by Courtney Hartnett*

Makerspace? Maker? Maker Movement? Huh?

Heard these words and don’t quite understand what this whole “make” thing is? If you’re behind the curve with the Maker Movement, here’s a quick rundown so you can join in on conversations about one of the hippest creative movements spreading across the nation.

Maker Movement: In January 2005, Dale Dougherty published the first Make magazine— a bimonthly magazine focusing on DIY projects ranging from traditional arts and crafts to furniture building to complex advanced robotics. The readership quickly grew into a community that valued “making” over buying, with an emphasis on creative exploration, learning through doing, and collaboration. One year later, the first Maker Faire was held to showcase the variety of projects created and to celebrate the Do-It-Yourself spirit. Each year, this grassroots movement has gained more and more momentum, spurring the opening of makerspaces and Maker Faires in many communities.

Makerspace: Sometimes referred to as design labs, hackerspaces, and tech shops, makerspaces, as the name suggests, are spaces people gather to make things. Make culture is all about the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and tools, and makerspaces, which are usually community-run, nonprofit organizations, embody these principles. A membership to a makerspace grants one access to usually an extensive (and expensive!) collection of tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and welders as well as fellow DIYers that share ideas, skill sets, and a passion for creative construction. Schools, museums, and libraries are opening up their own makerspaces in recognition of the value of learning through creative, exploratory making— the lingo is tinkering— and opening up accessibility to the materials and skills for a range of people that may otherwise not have the opportunity.

Maker: That can be you. Find a makerspace in your community at, or check out the The Technology Innovation Learning Environment at Georgia State University’s College of Education and Human Development. Learn more about the Maker community at

Do our schools kill creativity?

*This article was contributed by Courtney Hartnett*

Creativity guru Sir Ken Robinson is deeply concerned about our schools. He believes that the industrialized model of education is squandering the creativity and potential out of a large segment of our students, with devastating effects. An educational system that runs on standardization and conformity functions at the expense of individuality, imagination, and creativity.

If this sounds familiar, it should. In case you’ve been living in a bubble for the past 11 years, Robinson introduced roadblocks to creativity and human potential in his TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, the most widely viewed TED Talk in history . In his talk, Robinson makes a convincing case that we are “educating people out of their creativity.”

So what do we do about it? His newest book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, is Robinson’s empowering response. Robinson illustrates how a number of schools and even entire districts are rethinking education. Change is happening, and it is possible for all of us to get involved.

Robinson confronts the standardized, one-size-fits-all model of education with actionable steps, research, and vignettes from a number of stakeholders that are creating educational change in their communities. This book is witty and entertaining, but most importantly, timely with inspiring ways to take part in this educational revolution!

If you’re playing catch-up, check out Ken Robinson’s TED Talk:

“When was the last time you were called CHILDISH?”

When was the last time you were called childish?  That’s the question Adora Svitak wants to ask adults.

Based on her observations, it’s not an adjective that should be associated with kids because adults can be just as irrational, compulsive, and immature as the images that come to mind when the word “childish” is used to condemn an individual who is acting irresponsibly or foolish.

Svitak wants to reclaim the word “childish” and expand its meaning to reflect the hopefulness, inspiration, and inventiveness that children bring into the world. It’s precisely this kind of “childish” thinking that drives innovators to imagine new ideas and to create new possibilities. Svitak acknowledges that kids already do a lot of learning from adults, but she presents a very convincing case for her argument that adults should start learning more from kids.

If you’re looking to be inspired and aren’t afraid to be called childish, take eight minutes to hear this kid out. But, beware: sometimes the truth hurts.


What makes a gift creative?


Watching a child open a gift brings joy to both the giver and the receiver. Perhaps this is why so many of us search high and low for the perfect gift. When the markets are flooded with books, toys, gadgets, and devices, how do we choose a thoughtful gift? If we want to provide children with experiences that foster their senses of wonder and exploration, we must ask ourselves if the gift encourages them to think creatively.

Creative gifts provide children with opportunities to practice skills that will serve them throughout their lives. So, as you’re walking the aisles at the local toy store or surfing the web, consider how those toys and gadgets address the following points:

Creative gifts are process-starters.

A creative gift invites children to engage in a process of developing ideas and then tinkering with tools to bring these ideas to life. Will the gift spark the child’s interest and initiate the creative process?

Creative gifts are generative.

A creative gift provides opportunities for multiple experiences. In other words, there is no “one-way” to use the toy or device, instead it can be used for a variety of purposes. Will the gift surprise the child with new and different experiences?

Creative gifts are an invitation to act. 

A creative gift is not something to be consumed, but rather a call to do something. Will the gift encourage the child to be active in doing something creatively?

Looking for a last minute gift that will bring creative experiences to a child you know? Here’s a quick link to one of our favorite gifts for kids:


How to choose the best STEM gift


During the gift-giving craze of the holiday season, it’s easy to get overwhelmed on the toy aisles. According to the Toy Industry Association, the U.S. toy market exceeded $19.48 billion in 2015 and the final numbers are expected to rise when the data is compiled for 2016. Since Americans are also expected to spend an average of about $800 on gifts, it’s safe to say that most U.S. consumers will be purchasing at least one toy during the holidays. The Toy Industry Association also projected STEM to be a top tend in the 2016 toy market because of the increasing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math skills in the changing economy.

With this surge in STEM toys in the marketplace, how can gift-givers choose toys that best support the critical thinking skills that children need to create and innovate?

Here are three tips that will help you select the best STEM toys for the all the children on your list:

STEM toys should promote inductive and deductive thinking.

Inductive thinking encourages kids to build off their observations to test and generate larger theories. Deductive thinking challenges kids to start with a general theory or hypothesis and then test it within the context of their own experiment. Does the toy encourage children to formulate, test, or generate different theories or hypotheses about how something works?

STEM toys should develop systems thinking skills.

Systems thinking requires creators and innovators to consider how different parts and linkages work together within a larger network or system. Modern technology is built off complex systems that can be understood through smaller segments and parts, so it’s important for children to practice these skills. Does the toy help children learn how smaller parts work together to create a more complex whole?

STEM toys should encourage kids to solve problems.

This might seem obvious, but STEM thinking is about solving problems and creating innovative solutions. Therefore, STEM toys should allow kids to solve problems by creating their own solutions. Does the toy promote problem solving skills?

Hopefully, these simple tips will make your shopping duties easier, but if you’d like some more specific examples of the latest STEM toys, check out this GIFT GUIDE we found at

10 Picture Books That Demonstrate Creative & Innovative Thinking


Picture books combine both visual and written mediums to create texts that bring stories to life for children and adults alike. When we reminisce about childhood, we’re bound to remember the experiences surrounding at least one particular picture book: the person who read it with us, the feelings it evoked, or how it piqued our imaginations.

As we seek to cultivate children’s creative lives, picture books are a simple–but powerful–way to model how they can innovate and think creatively. Here are 10 of our favorite books that demonstrate creative and innovative thinking:

1. Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

Have you seen a child build a cardboard fort? If not, you’re missing out! In this whimsical picture book, Antoinette Portis shows readers that a cardboard cube is anything but a box.

2. Round Trip by Ann Jonas

Typical early childhood reading skills include understanding how to hold a book with the correct orientation, and reading the book from front to back. In Round Trip, author-illustrator Ann Jonas, surprises readers with a story that can be read from top-to-bottom and front-to-back, but when it’s flipped upside down, the story continues through words and images that reflect into a new plot.

3. Bad Day At Riverbend by Chris Van Allsburg

What happens when a story incorporates a secret threat from outside the pages of its book? You get an amazing story with rogue crayons attacking the characters. In this often overlooked picture book, author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg demonstrates some of his most creative thinking as he re-imagines how a reader can affect a story’s plot.

4. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

There’s nothing more frustrating for a child than feeling like they can’t draw. But, when a teacher intervenes to show them the genius of their “dot,” a child’s despair is transformed into a creative drive that leads to a gallery of work. Who says it’s just a dot?

5. Press Here by Herve Tullet

When toddlers can unlock a smart phone and understand the power behind the tap of their finger, what’s so cool about a picture book? Author-illustrator, Herve Tullet shows children that the pages of a book can be just as responsive as a mobile app.

6. Duck Rabbit by Amy Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

There’s nothing like a good ole’ optical illusion to get your brain ticking. Don’t let the simple text and images fool you! This book gets a room full of children asking: is it a duck or a rabbit? Well, it depends on how you look at it…

7. Big Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems

Who says a picture has to be stuck on a page? Not Mo Willems. In this whimsical “pop-out” book, poor Big Frog just won’t fit! Based on this hilarious story, it looks like it might be time to make a bigger book.

8. Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Every artist understands the frustration of making a mistake–too much shadow, the wrong shade of green for that leaf, or a splatter of paint in the middle of that white cloud. Barney Saltzberg shows readers that the most frustrating mistakes can be transformed into our most creative work.

9. What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

When you’re trying to explain how an idea comes to life, there’s nothing handier than a metaphor. In this delightful picturebook, the author and illustrator work together to create a visual metaphor that shows children how their ideas are like an egg that needs to be  protected, nurtured, and given the time to grow before it can hatch.

10. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Every creator and innovator knows that their process is magnificent, but painful. Things don’t always go according to plan, the ideas in our heads don’t come out the way we imagine them to be, and sometimes, our ideas just don’t work. In The Most Magnificent Thing, children can see that even though the process can be frustrating, when we step back and relax, we can see our work with a fresh eye and sometimes, we find the perfect solution!

10 Ways to get Kids to Think Creatively


When working with children, we’re often challenged to promote creative thinking. Our challenge is not to “teach” children to think creatively, but to encourage and support them as they engage in authentic creative learning experiences. Too often, adults are faced with standards, expectations, and programs that run counter to the practices of creative and innovative thinking.

Rather than outlining a scripted formula for getting kids to think creatively, we’d like to offer 10 suggestions that are specific enough to be actionable, but open enough to be catalysts into further exploration and practice.

1. Set the stage

Creativity thrives in open and inspiring environments. While these environments might look differently for individual children, creative learning environments are flexible with space and time, and reflect the shared values of inquiry and experimentation.

For more on creative learning environments, click HERE.

2. Lead with questions or problems

Creativity is sparked by questions or interesting problems. As adults, we can encourage children to think creatively when we position a topic or unit of study as a series of inquiry-based questions or problem-based scenarios that allow students to explore various solutions. 

3. Provide multiple materials

An easy way to promote creative thinking is to provide an array of materials for children to use in their work. When paper and pencil are just one of many options to express and explore ideas, children are primed with the tools they need to think and represent their thoughts in alternative ways.

4. Encourage independent AND collaborative thinking

Sometimes it’s assumed that collaborative learning is the best way to get kids to think creatively. While it is true that creativity thrives in social experiences and dialogue, it is also important to provide children with time to explore questions and problems independently as well.

5. Focus on the “HOW”

When we are faced with multiple standards and specific information that must be taught, we tend to focus on the “what” in learning. What standards did we cover? What did the children learn? What did they produce? If we want children to think creatively, we must shift our focus to address the “HOW” in their learning. Instead, we should be asking children: How did you solve this problem? How did you answer that question? How did you create this solution? 

6. Carve out time

Creativity takes time. A schedule that is compartmentalized and dominated by quantity rather than quality is not conducive for creative thinking. Children need extended periods of time to go deep in their creative thinking, therefore our schedules must demonstrate that we value this time.

7. Celebrate mistakes

Sometimes our best ideas are products of our mistakes. When children are encouraged and allowed to make mistakes, they have opportunities to learn what works and what doesn’t, and this process nudges them toward new ideas and better solutions.

For more on the importance of making mistakes in the learning process, click HERE.

8. Listen, listen, listen

Since creative thinking does thrive in collaborative environments, children must be taught how to listen to their peers. The most effective way for adults to teach active listening skills is to model these skills. When children see us listening and describing how we listen to others, they are learning how put these skills into practice.

For some simple strategies that teach children listening skills, click HERE.

9. Talk, talk, talk

Creativity flourishes in social situations where children can exchange ideas, ask questions, and explain their thought processes. As adults, we can model and encourage the types of dialogue that creative thinkers use in their work.

10. Share, share, share

When creatives share ideas, materials, experiences, and responsibilities, doors are opened into new possibilities and different ways of thinking. Children should have opportunities to engage in the creative process with their peers and to share and receive feedback on their work. This process should be reflective, offering opportunities for children to “think about their own thinking.”

For specific ways to support children as they share and reflect on their creative processes, click HERE.

Three Resources for Combating Fear in the Creative Process



This Halloween, we’re reminded that ghosts and ghouls aren’t the only things that frighten. As creatives, our process is embedded with fears that can either destroy or empower us.

Fear of failure is a battle every creator and innovator must face. This fear might be avoided in the short term, but eventually, every artist must slay their inner demons that cast doubts, inhibitions, and anxiety. Here are three resources that will fuel your creative fire and empower you to face your fears:


BOOK: The War of Art


Surely you’ve ready this classic creative manifesto, but if not, you must put Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” at the top of your list. Pressfield demonstrates the power of naming your fears and describes a creative’s fear as “resistance.” It’s resistance that comes between the creative and her work, and it’s resistance that we must come to grips with in order to experience creative freedom.


TALK: How To Overcome The Fear of Failure

In an interview with 30 Days of Genius, creative entrepreneur Seth Godin, discusses the difficulty we all face as we attempt to extract the genius that we all carry within. Godin explains that we “have to dance with the fear” because fear is an essential part of the creative process. In just three minutes, this video is bound to inspire you to dance along with the rhythms of your fears.


APP: CreativeLive

Sometimes, the best way to keep our creative fears at bay is to stay inspired. The logic is simple: feed your creativity, starve your fears. If you’re looking for a daily dose of creative inspiration, check out the new app by CreativeLive. Launched in 2010 as a web-based, CreativeLive is a worldwide creative education platform that connects more than 10 million students with more than 2 billion minutes of video. CreativeLive’s video library consists of content gathered from leading experts in industries such as photography, video, design, music, craft and entrepreneurship. Their latest mobile app allows users to access this content on their mobile devices and it offers one free class per day from any course offered on the platform. Check it out HERE.



3 Questions To Evaluate Creative Learning Strategies


As we increasingly recognize creativity as a valuable asset to the global economy, we will continue to see an emphasis on creative teaching and thinking strategies in schools and in the workplace. But, how do we evaluate these strategies to determine which best promote creative learning?

There are no clear cut ways to measure the value of creative learning strategies, but there are questions that we can ask in order to make judgements about their value for children.

When evaluating creative thinking or learning activities, strategies, and programs, it is useful to consider the following questions:

Does this activity, strategy, or program allow for divergent thinking?

The concept of divergent thinking was defined by psychologist J.P. Guilford and refers to the process of generating multiple outcomes, solutions, or possibilities for a given topic or problem. Creativity thrives in thought processes that allow for multiple possibilities and ideas. Can you identify opportunities for divergent thinking?

Does this activity, strategy, or program encourage children to consider different combinations of existing concepts and ideas?

Creativity is also practiced when individuals consider the possibilities of combining existing concepts and ideas in new and different ways. Artist and creativity expert, Austin Kleon,  compares creative thinking to mathematical permutations. What does the concept of combinatorial thinking (or remix) mean in today’s creative economy? In a presentation called, Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity, Maria Popova explains, “[creative] work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of two previous ideas.” Can you identify opportunities for combining existing concepts and ideas in new and different ways?

Does this activity, strategy, or program allow for experimentation and failure?

Creativity is often judged by the end product, not the process. Perhaps this is because the creative process can be messy, difficult to capture, and littered with mistakes. But, we all understand that our mistakes can drive the creative process by showing us what doesn’t work and directing us toward better solutions. Our mishaps can also surprise us with possibilities we would have never considered. Can you identify opportunities that allow for experimentation and value the possibilities in failure?