Every time I see a blind man, I am thankful for my ability to see the richness around me and remind myself that I do not need something to be taken away from me in order to appreciate it. Many people have good vision, but cannot see that the world is actually colorful, with many shades, with great landscapes and beauty all around. You see, it is not enough for beauty to be there. We must also learn to appreciate it.
My first realization of just how limited we are in seeing the richness around us, happened many years ago, when I worked for a special project run by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem called “Creative Thinking”. A group of first graders was asked to scribble on a white page as much as they like. The reason we asked them to do that was to teach them experimental Trigonometry using double mirror. The more colorful the page was the more rich and fun the experience was.
“Go nuts on the page”, I said to them, “Make it a big mess of different colors”.
To my big surprise, those 6 year-olds looked stunned when I asked them with excitement to scribble. They hesitated, then most of them first drew trees, houses and faces and then drew some lines over them. These kids were only 6 years old, young and innocent, having had only a year or two of formal education, and they already interpreted scribbling as a form of destruction. They had already lost the rich experiences of trying and making mistakes. For them, the world had already turned a bit gray.
The project had a specific philosophy of never showing the kids what to do, but we had to encourage the kids to develop their creative thinking, so we decided to scribble with them. Gradually and reluctantly, the color came onto the pages. Then, I asked the kids to sign their scribbling creation “just like artists do”. The kids smiled, embarrassed to sign their “mess” as art, but if the teacher was crazy enough to ask for it, they felt a bit safer.
Black and white kids
Over 4 years, the Creative Thinking project tried (and succeeded) to teach Physics to 6- and 7-year-old kids. Its fundamental conclusion was that formal education was blocking kids from seeing what they could see naturally without the limitations of “right” and “wrong”.
Every new concept we taught them, most of the energy of teaching focused on overcoming the walls of “This is how things should be done”, “This is what you need to do”, “This is right”, “That is wrong” – the “black and white” mindset – and the worst of all “This is what everybody else does”.
For years, I called them “Black and white kids”.
Years later in Singapore, my friend Galit introduced me to black and white grownups. Galit was an unusually colorful and special young woman. While at every official meeting most men looked like penguins and women wore gray, black or dark blue, Galit drew all the attention by wearing heavy makeup and colorful clothes. I learned from her that our clothes are a way of expressing ourselves and the colors of the clothes we choose reveal what is happening inside of us. When she suggested I put on a different color nail polish on every of my fingernails, I met a black and white person in the mirror!
Black and white parents
Kids are born with colorful minds. They can get up in the morning, wear a green shirt with pink pants and be happy and joyful. If we allowed them to go with makeup or face paint to day care, they would walk with their heads up high, proud of even the most ridiculous display of “facial art”. The party poopers are usually the adults in their life with sentences like “It doesn’t look good”, “Blue does not go well with pink”, “Red is a girl’s color”, “You look ridiculous” or worse, “What will people say?”
And where exactly are these “rules” written? Who decides what is ridiculous? Who has the right to say anything about the quality of our kids’ facial art anyway?
When parents’ mindset is in black and white, there is no doubt that the messages kids receive are in black and white. Black is the opposite of what Mom and Dad think and white is the truth, the one and only truth!
Every black message is a wall that prevents kids from experiencing life fully.
Every black message creates more fear and anxiety and reduces self confidence.
Every black massage limits kids’ social interactions and shrinks the range of people they will associate with.
Every black message limits kids’ creativity and thinking.
Every black message limits the options kids’ think they have and narrows their world.
And the world around them becomes small, restrictive and gray.
How to develop kids’ creative thinking
So what can you do to inspire your kids to be creative? Here are some tips:
- Every time your kids do things that are different from the majority, remember that the most creative people in history were different before they became great. Be happy your kids have a chance to be great too.
- Every time you think your kids’ creativity is strange, think of Picasso. No one has ever won any prize for being average. If they want to let a chicken print its feet on a piece of paper, that can be a good thing…
- Every time you want to say something about your kids’ taste, remember that taste and smell are not something you can teach. Allow them to choose their own clothes, allow them to put food on their own plate, allow them to decorate their own room or schoolbag and to express what they love.
- Every time you feel you need to control your kids’ mind, remember the parents’ curse “May your kids do to you exactly what you are doing to me” and break the cycle. Teach your kids to question, to doubt and encourage them to do things better than you. When you tell them your opinion, say it as your opinion only and let them know you understand other people do things differently and they can still be happy and successful even if they choose a different way. Ask your kids for their opinion and express respect to what they think even when they do not think like you.
- Every time you are angry at your kids that they do not do what you want them to do, make sure your expectations are not a call for perfectionism. Perfectionism is a disease transmitted from parents to kids and its symptoms are lifelong misery and frustration.
- Every time you are worried about what other people say about you or your kids, notice you are treating others as more important than your kids. If your kids are really the most important thing in your life, let them be who they are and ignore (your guesses about) what people (might) think.
- Every time you want to break a limiting wall of thought, teach your kids about attitude, about internal motivation, about dreams and about believing in themselves. Tell them about inspiring people – they are always inspiring because they managed to do things others could not by seeing things differently. Be a role model. Tell them success stories of thinking outside the square from your childhood.
In the special education world, we believe that people with difficulties are more creative. Their natural difficulty forces them to look for different ways to deal with daily life and when you look, you find. There, in the place combining frustration and challenge, lies the creativity and the color in life.
As parents, we have the honorable task of giving our kids glasses helping them to notice the world around them. No, we do not need to artificially create challenges for them to handle. Life has plenty of them already and all we need is to help them preserve their natural way of seeing life – in color.