Bridget Chapital, BS, MEd | April 5, 2020
In a famous quote by beloved television host, Mister Rogers, he advises people to “look for the helpers" during times of catastrophe. This timeless message is relevant to parents today as we watch doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and other essential staffers working tirelessly so that the rest of us can practice social distancing at home.
The novel coronavirus has led to an unprecedented opportunity to use our collective ingenuity to combat this global threat. And during this time, it is just as important that we teach children to look for the innovators as a way to inspire them to be part of the solution.
From scientists developing vaccines that will one day prevent the virus, to researchers using the plasma of COVID-19 survivors to treat the sick, to clothing entrepreneurs and breweries redirecting their operations to fill shortages in personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, to the Kentucky college student creating homemade masks with plastic screens so the hearing impaired can read the lips and facial expressions of medical staff, there are thousands of examples of people finding creative solutions to this current crisis.
Last year, The World Health Organization published a list of the top ten threats to global health. An epidemic caused by a brand new virus or bacteria was on the list, along with other threats like food insecurity, climate change and a lack of adequate sanitation and healthcare. We must act now while there is still a chance to prevent the rest of these threats from becoming reality, and it will take a culture of innovation and the brightest ideas that we have in order to do so.
Put simply: The future needs scientists, engineers, problem-solvers, innovators, thinkers.
Where will these bright minds come from? There are several habits that parents can start -right now- to develop an innovation mindset in children and prepare them for these roles.
Encourage imaginative play as a way to help children unleash their imagination and practice problem-solving and conflict resolution skills that will be useful later in life.
Encourage risk-taking by removing the shame from failed experiences. As parents, there is a natural tendency to minimize the amount of failure that our children experience. But by stopping them from jumping in a rain puddle because their clothes will get dirty, or from cooking in the kitchen because they will make a mess, we’re actually depriving them of a chance to interact with their environment and make natural observations. We are also teaching them that maintaining order is more important than learning new things.
Encourage possibility thinking by asking “What if” questions. This helps children to see the world as full of endless, rather than limited opportunities. An example would be having kids come up with a list of possible new uses for common household items.
Making these habits part of an everyday routine will spark an innovation mindset in children that will have many future benefits, and might just lead to the next big medical breakthrough.