I just finished reading a stimulating article by Laura Seargeant Richardson, The Kaleidoscope Mind: Some Easy Ways to Teach Creativity, published in The Atlantic magazine. Richardson’s article was a breath of fresh air, focusing on the ability to train the mind to view the world not just in a different way, but in many different ways. She writes

The term kaleidoscope is Greek and is loosely interpreted as “an observer of beautiful forms.” So what, then, is a kaleidoscope mind? The Hans family would say it’s “a type of mind that is agile, flexible, self-aware, and informed by a diversity of experiences.” It’s a mind that is “able to perceive any given situation from a multitude of perspectives at will — selecting from a rich repertoire of lenses or frameworks.” They would say that a kaleidoscope mind is playful, and it must be able to “see patterns, connections, and relationships that more rigid minds miss.” And they would say that a kaleidoscope mind can be taught. I would agree.

I agree as well. I have coached an Odyssey of the Mind team for five years now, and I’ve seen evidence that creativity is definitely a skill that can (and should) be taught. In fact, in a post about the benefits of Odyssey, I said just that. I confessed that I didn’t always think so . . .

Originally, I thought kids either “had it” or didn’t when this type of thinking was involved. Yet, in almost 5 years of coaching Odyssey of the Mind, I’ve seen that this type of thinking can indeed be developed.

So how is it done? Like strengthening any muscle, you must exercise it – stretch it – challenge it. Here are a couple of the exercises I have used with my team of elementary kids:

What is it?

Take an ordinary, everyday object, such as a CD, and pass it around. As of that moment, it is no longer a CD. What is it? A mirror? A headlight or wheel on a cardboard car? The sequins on a huge disco ball? A Frisbee? A skating rink for ants? The rotor on a gyroscope? Sir Ken Robinson explored this a bit in his RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms. He says: How many uses can you think of for a paper clip? Most people might come with 10 or 15. People who are good at this might come with 200. And they do so by saying things like, “Well, could the paper clip be 200 feet tall and be made of foam rubber?”

Things that  _____.

In this exercise, you provide a word, and students brainstorm for different ways to use the word. For example, you might ask them to think of things that run. The creative mind will think outside the box and come up with answers such as politicians, water, or refrigerators. They’ll think that you can run your mouth, or get a run in your pantyhose. Then there’s a musical’s run on Broadway, a trait that runs in your family. You can run errands, run a fever, or run out of time…

Richardson wraps up her article with this wonderful quote by biochemist Szent Gyorgyi:

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

A creative, kaleidoscope mind is one that innovates – invents – inspires. It takes what it knows and turns it upside-down, inside-out, and backwards to see what new possibilities and patterns emerge. It will be able to view a problem from many perspectives, and find a solution/design more rigid minds could not.

Have you noticed that these are natural instincts for a child? Hand them a rope and suddenly it becomes a fire hose, a belt, a necklace, a lasso, a shoelace for a giant. Somehow we stifle and restrain their brains, when we should be freeing them to design the future and solve the problems of a 21st century world our black and white brains can’t even imagine.

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan, under terms of freedigitalphotos.net

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Patti Grayson

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