Kids Look Beyond the Obvious

By Shlomo Maital

    My wife and I have raised four kids.  Anyone who has children knows how amazingly creative those little minds are.  And research proves it.  Five-year-olds break the Torrance Creativity Scale.  Why?  Because we haven’t yet taught them what is impossible, unfeasible, impractical.  Anything goes for kids.  Then we send them to school.  And there, they are taught the rules, the constraints, what is rather than what could be.  The Torrance Scale plummets.   

    Amazingly, some kids survive school with their creativity intact.  We see this in some of our grandchildren. 

    U. of Michigan psychologist Susan A. Gelman has done pioneering research on this.  In her recent American Psychologist article, *   she observes that “children often extend beyond the tangible ‘here and now’ to think about hidden, intangible, abstract or nonpresent entities.”   In concrete terms:  For kids, a cardboard box can be a truck, a house, or …anything. 

     Here is a dilemma which I think is largely unsolved.  We have to teach kids physics, chemistry, math —  in other words, how the real world works. 

     How do we do this, while at the very same time,  cultivating their wild imagination and wild ideas, that go beyond conventional reality? 

     How do we train teachers to impart this skill and square the circle:  Discovery vs. Discipline?  Imagination vs. reality? 

      I think we first need to train the teachers.  But in college, I doubt this issue is addressed.   So parents can do a lot.  Just encourage wild ideas.  Go for toys that foster imagination – simple wooden blocks, rather than reality-based toy figures.  With my grandchildren, instead of reading story books,  we write our own, drawing the pictures on a sheet of paper.  We “hand off” – I start, with a lonely giraffe, or a hungry crocodile – and hand off to my grandchild.   

   I worry a lot about the vast quantities of creativity that we erase in our schools.  I worry about my former MBA students,  senior R&D engineers, who job description involves creative thinking but who tell me they long ago lost it. 

    In an age when Chatbots and AI can process day-to-day information, the obvious,  new value will attach to creative thinking, looking beyond the obvious.  Robots will do the humdrum.  Humans will have the ideas – if only they could.
Gelman SA. Looking beyond the obvious. Am Psychol. 2023 Mar 9. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36892919