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:

Monkey See, Monkey Do: How kids learn through observation and immitation

Have you ever watched a toddler mimic their father shaving in the mirror? Or have you seen them carrying their mom’s purse around the house as they pretend they’re busy shopping for groceries? If so, you’ve observed authentic socialization in action.

It’s easy to gloss over the terms socialize and socialization because we often use them interchangeably. Although the terms are closely related, it’s important to notice how they are distinguished in academic theories and research.

The word socialize is a verb used to describe social activities among groups of people. For example, we socialize when we play games, go to work, build relationships, engage in conversations, etc. While also a verb, the term socialization is used by sociologists to describe the process of inheriting the norms, customs, and behaviors of a larger social group.

When considering the terms in these ways, socializing is what leads to the socialization of individuals within any given society. As adults who work with children, it’s important for us to understand the social nature of child development and to question how our interactions with children are contributing to their socialization.

With these ideas in mind, it’s interesting to consider how our actions affect how children perceive the world and interact with others. In 1961, psychologist Albert Bandura conducted an experiment in which children observed an adult beating up an inflatable clown. Then, the children were given the same toy and observed as they interacted with the clown. Not surprisingly, the children who observed the adult abusing the clown were likely to show aggression, too.

Bandura’s study confirmed that children can learn by observing and imitating others’ behaviors.  Since children act out the behaviors they observe from others through their interactions with other children, the adult world strongly influences the socialization process.

Want to learn more about Bendura, the Bobo Doll Experiment, and child socialization? Check out this video by Crash Course:


Three Excellent Documentaries About How Children Use Technology

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve witnessed the phenomenon of children online. As a generation who’ve had access to screens before they could even crawl, today’s children are digital natives. Despite its undeniable benefits and endless possibilities, the effects of technology on children’s physical, mental, and social development is a hot topic for researchers and adults across multiple arenas.

Not surprisingly, some excellent documentaries have been produced that explore the ins and outs of how children are using, consuming, and interacting with technology in different ways.

Here are five of our favorite documentaries about children and how they are using technology:

  1. Minecraft: The Story of Mojang   There’s just something about kids, computers, touchscreens, and pixelated building blocks. If you’ve ever wondered why in the world kids spend so much time building worlds on Minecraft when they could be playing in the woods, this documentary will show exactly what this game is all about and why it’s all the rage with kids and adults alike.
  2. Screenagers: Growing up in the digital age   When kids grow up with constant access to screens, do the benefits outweigh the risks or should we be more concerned about the influence of screens on their development? In Screenagers, the filmmakers ask these questions and explore issues like social media, internet safety and cyber-bullying.
  3. #BeingThirteen: Inside the Secret Lives of Teens  Do we really understand the effects of growing up online for today’s kids? That’s the question explored by CNN as they studied the social media use of a group of 8th grade students across the United States. They collected over 150,000 social media posts and investigated the content to better understand the online language today’s teens are developing.

These documentaries are not only eye-opening, but they share insights into the digital lives of children in the 21st century. As adults, we must be aware of the multiple ways children are using technology within their social groups so we can provide the skills and tools they need within these digital social settings.

**Disclaimer: These documentaries should be previewed by adults to determine how and if they should be viewed with children.


How to use Technology to Engage Kids

Recently, we explored the question of how much is enough screen time. Through this discussion, we learned that adults should play an active role in children’s screen use so that we can guide and support them as they encounter new ideas and technologies. Using technology with children provides us with opportunities to engage with them in real-world contexts as they experiment with technology and view media.

Here are FOUR suggestions for using technology to engage children:

  1. Observe kids as they use technology. Kids quickly develop preferences for games, shows, and websites, which provides the perfect entry point for adults. When children are using technology or viewing media, adults should ask them to tell us about what they’re doing as we observe them using the media.
  2. Use technology with kids. We can take this engagement to a deeper level when we participate in media activities with children. Are they connecting worlds on Minecraft? If so, join in. Are they streaming their favorite youtube channel? Become a subscriber and watch with them.
  3. Show kids how adults use technology. Instead of always peering over their shoulders, adults can let kids in on the ways we are using technology. Invite them to observe and use technology with you, but be sure to choose media that is appropriate for young audiences.
  4. Understand who kids are and what they’re trying to achieve. In his insightful Tedtalk, researcher Maurice Wheeler discusses the importance of understanding who children are and what they’re trying to achieve with technology. He argues that until we understand these key points, we can’t authentically engage with them. Check out his talk to see the three developmental groups that children fall into online and how this effects how they consume and use online media:

Are you ready to start?

This spring, we have welcomed 12 passionate, engaged, and motivated professionals who are committed to cultivating children’s creative lives. These individuals are committed to using their own creative talents and their careers to support children as creative and innovative learners. Currently, our students are taking part in courses that invite them to explore what it means to be a child in the 21st century and how creativity and learning are positioned in multiple ways.

Soon, our students will have opportunities to connect with local organizations that are doing creative and innovative work with children. These experiences will provide them with hands-on-learning experiences that will support them in their personal pursuits.

Applications to begin the MACIE program in Fall 2017 are due May 1st.

Will you join us in cultivating children’s creative lives?

If so, learn more about the application process HERE.

How much is enough screen time?

Studies show that children are spending an average of 3 hours a day on screens. This includes activities like watching television, streaming videos online, playing games, and doing school work.

Some simple multiplication tells us that that if kids are spending 3 hours a day in front of a screen, then that means they’re spending 45 days a year staring at a screen. Before we start pointing fingers and lamenting the screen-free days, we should probably take a long look in the mirror.

Studies also show that parents are spending as much time on screens as their children. Whether it be at work or at home, we adults are clocking in about 9 hours a day on our screens.

For those of us working with or raising children, these numbers are concerning, especially when we consider how little time is left for other social and hands-on learning experiences.

As with all things, screens are beneficial when we use them in moderation, but our problems are in figuring out how much is “enough,” and choosing to engage in quality screen-based activities.

Last November, The American Academy of Pediatrics released their revised guidelines for children and screen time. According to their recommendations, children should:

*Avoid screen time until over age 18 months;
*Limit screen time to one hour per day between ages 2 to 5;
*Co-view media with adults and engage in conversations about what they are seeing;
*Develop a media use plan with an adult after they reach age 6. This plan should include an appropriate amount of use time and an outline for the kinds of media that they will use.

One consistent theme throughout the guidelines is an emphasis on adults engaging with children during media use. This allows adults to help scaffold children’s learning and provides adults with authentic opportunities to teach the importance of safe-use and online citizenship.

As children reach the ages of 6 to 8, the AAP suggests that they work with their parents to develop a Media Use Plan that outlines when, how, and where they will view screens.

The Media Use Plan is an interactive template that can be found HERE.

“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.


Give the gift of presence


During the holiday hustle and bustle, sometimes we need a reminder about the gifts that really matter. When you cross on thing off your to-list only to see five more tasks pop up in its place, it’s easy to spend our days caught up in the “next thing” instead of the things right in front of us.

In his book, The Gift of Nothing, Patrick McDonnell shares the power of presence during a season obsessed with presents. The book tells the story of Mooch and Earl, two characters from his award-winning comic strip, Mutts, as Mooch searches for the perfect gift for Earl. But, what do you give to a friend to a friend who has everything? After searching high and low, Mooch finds the most special gift: friendship.

If you haven’t read this heart-warming children’s book, consider this recommendation our gift to you–it’s bound to brighten your day.

*Image credit:

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