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By: Upper School Director Gail Clark
Rossman strives to provide a traditional education with innovation. Woven throughout the school’s program are innovative projects such as the sixth grade symbolizing heroes through ceramic art pieces, the third grade building rotational symmetry with LEGOs in art, and the fifth grade experimenting in science with motorized Scribble Bot machines to name a few. Innovation occurs when teachers communicate and inspire each other with new ideas.
Summer is the perfect time to continue innovative projects for children. Passions can be captured, and there is time to “play”, create, experiment and pursue opportunities. Tony Wagner, in his book Creating Innovators, The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, broaches this subject by asking, “How do parents encourage the development of the intrinsic motivation that drives successful innovators … the spirit of play, passion, and purpose that are the wellsprings for creative work?”
Wagner explores different ways that bring out the “innovative” potential we all have in us. He describes two types of innovators, Stem Innovators and Social Innovators. Stem innovators lean towards science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics, hopeful of making things that will change the world. Social innovators design new strategies to make change happen in areas of poverty, environmental destruction or injustice to name a few. According to Wagner, “These two groups have more in common than they have differences. Play, passion, purpose and service have been every bit as important in their development, as was having parents who supported them in the pursuit of their passions and the influence of an outlier teacher or mentor who made a significant difference in their lives”. Observing and listening to children helps guide teachers and parents in understanding their interests and can, in turn, help children find their passions and develop their interests in learning. Intrinsic motivation can happen naturally, whether in a formal classroom setting or the informality of your home’s playroom.
Experimenting with new ideas captivates Stem Innovators. With a little thought and research, Rossman parents can provide numerous experiences for their children at home as well as pursue the abundance of St. Louis opportunities for summertime enrichment. Hands-on opportunities might open the door to new interests. Children who enjoy stem innovations might tackle hands on creations or inventions if materials are accessible; for example, recycling and repurposing home products into something new. Providing our kids with tangible resources such as LEGOs, blocks or a variety of boxes to build with will invariably challenge their imaginations to invent. Clay, sand, paint, earth, plants, and water entice creativity.
In addition, trips to the hardware store for rope, pulleys, valves, clear tubing, pipes, small balls, etc., encourages discovery of science concepts. Children could learn to bake something by themselves by measuring and adding their own ingredients to create an original recipe. A trip to a stream where they could build a dam with rocks and sticks is challenging, and then ask them to describe their thinking and how they might do it differently the next time. In addition, digital cameras could be used for artistic value or to create a photo album or video production. A class like Rossman’s Afternoon Enrichment Program course “Idea Builder,” where students analyze problems with the way something works and create solutions with supplies they request to incorporate their idea, is another thought for summer exploration. Many times, it is the unstructured activities that enlighten us about children’s interests if provided with the materials to explore.
Social Innovators care about making a difference in people’s lives. Parents who are involved with charities or various organizations can share their experiences with their children, making them aware of other people’s needs. For example, one of our students discovered a passion after observing children in a St. Louis city school who were so excited to receive school supplies and other things that we sometimes take for granted. She promoted a read-a-thon over spring break to earn money for additional supplies. Also, Student Council’s involvement in fundraising has led several students to continue helping the same organization throughout high school. Often passions emerge when children are made aware of a problem and see the results of their efforts.
Summer ideas for beginning Social Innovators might start with lemonade stands or performing extra jobs around the house to raise money for an organization they want to help. Experiences like these can evolve into greater and more complex entrepreneurships such as gathering supplies for a Blessing Bag for the homeless or filling a backpack with supplies that foster children can call their own. In addition, collecting old blankets and towels from neighbors to give to the Humane Society or the St. Louis Zoo would give children a chance to help animals. The opportunities are endless. Coupling children’s interests with innovations combines their own passions with helping others and builds confidence in knowing that they can make a difference.
Innovation, service toward others, and building new structures to help society come from ideas. “Innovation is about creating a culture for ideas to foster – good ones and not so good ones.” While children are working/playing/creating, they are bound to come upon frustrations or problems. Wagner explains, “We want children to learn to observe what a particular conflict is about and think about other solutions and try different ones until they find what works best.”
A child’s passion in a project will feed their patience and fortitude, promoting continual effort to reach success. Listen to your children and the ideas they forward to you. Your children may not even know it when they are creating ideas, rooted in their curiosity and imagination. It is up to you as the parent to listen, process what they are saying and help them develop it into something tangible. Enjoy these special moments!