By Bruce Van Patter
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Focus on the Family
Brainstorming is the best way to think of a whole pile of potential answers to a problem.

Thomas Edison said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Easy for Tom to say. The average child today finds it very difficult to come up with a variety of ideas in response to a problem. He is most likely to grab the first idea that pops into his head. That idea will be a borrowed one — usually from television. Kids are told that when taking a test and they unsure of an answer, they should go with their first idea; it’s usually the right one. But in creativity, the first idea is almost always a cliché.

That’s why many family activities should include brainstorming.

Brainstorming is a key part to the creative process. It’s the best way to think of a whole pile of potential answers to a problem. It also can be tons of fun. Here are some helpful tips:

Brainstorm as a family.

Creativity can thrive in a group if the environment is right. It doesn’t have to be a solitary child staring at a blank piece of paper. Brainstorming can be a team sport. Just plop into some comfortable chairs or sit around a table and begin to suggest ideas to the posed problem. An adult should jot ideas down as they come out.

Accept all ideas.

Make the tone positive. Even if an idea obviously won’t work, write it down or hear it out. Not only will the youngest of your kids feel included, that idea may be a stepping-stone to another, more useful answer. However, when I work with kids, there are times I limit them. I do tell them that we want to stay away from violent ideas or bathroom humor. If you have any restrictions like that, tell them up front rather than embarrassing someone right after they’ve shared their idea.

Limit the distractions.

Turn off the television, radio and anything that might pull away a child’s attention. Try it outside, lying on the lawn. Do it while traveling in the car. I find that my most productive brainstorming times have been on long walks with my son.

Push beyond the obvious.

As I’ve worked with children, I’ve found they need a gentle, encouraging push to get beyond that first line of overused ideas. So if you’re all dreaming up names for a super hero who’s a bear, know the first answer will be “Super Bear!” Gratefully accept it, then say something like, “Great idea! But what else could we name him?” Once your child gets past the initial shock that there might possibly be another answer, she’ll come up with more. And in the end, she’ll see how much better the fifth idea was than the first one.

Copyright © 2004 Bruce Van Patter. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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