Designing our Family Creativity Camp

“Would you like to go to camp this summer?”

Last year's summer camp had been a big hit. Everyday, my children returned with stories of science, theatre, swimming, playing with friends, and generally having a great time. So, I was expecting an enthusiastic "yes" from them both. However, that wasn't what I received.

Instead, Clockobladder* replied, “what if we make our own family camp?”

*(please note, for the purpose of maintaining their privacy, I asked my children to select pseudonyms. My daughter chose Ana - the movie "Frozen" is currently having a big impact on our lives - and my son selected Clockobladder. Nope, I don't know either! In fact, extensive Googling has left us completely baffled.  However, until they select different names, that is how I will refer to them).

Back to the story of the camp. It is one of the strange rules of academic life that we only work for ten months of the year.  Obviously, this puts me in the unusual situation of having a lot of time off during the summer. This might not be true for you. But, please don't stop reading. Everything I am going to write about can be done in whatever time you can spare.  After all, I teach creativity, so I firmly believe that there is always a way.

After I got over the shock of my children's response, I started thinking about the idea, and realized that I quite liked it.  So, I responded to Clockobladder with, “Sure! Why not?” But what would it actually look like, and how would I design it?

Here are the principles I came up with:

First, I didn’t want all-day structured activities.  It goes against my firm belief that children needed unstructured playtime, as this is where imagination and curiosity develop.  Therefore, we would only have “camp” one or two hours a day.

Second, because I work in the creativity field, I wanted the camp to be, first and foremost, creative.  This would mean that we would need to approach it with curiosity, openness, a tolerance for ambiguity, and most of all, we needed to look at what might work from multiple perspectives. 

Third, people express their creativity most strongly when they are doing things they want to do, rather than things they have been told to do. In academic jargon we call those "intrinsically motivated activities". So, I wanted a way of creating those types of experiences.

Fourth, I wanted to have themes for each week of the camp, but I wanted to pick the themes based on the ideas generated from each family member.  And, I knew I wanted each family member (including mom and dad), to be able to select a few of the themes.  I felt this was very important for community building.

Fifth, I really wanted camp to be a learning experience that involved the whole family.   During the school year, it is very easy to get caught up in all the school work, and after school activities.  Sometimes, just learning head, shoulders, knees and toes together in Chinese can produce the most laughs and best family moments.

Finally, I knew I wanted to write about our journey.  Mainly, to record what we have done together.  But also, to inspire others to create their own family creativity camp.

So, if you can find an hour, or two, a day, why not join in and  create your own creativity camp. If you would like to write about it too, please tweet to me (@CyndiBurnett) so that I can bring people's stories together.

21 Ways to Celebrate Creativity with Your Children

April 15th-April 21st is World Creativity and Innovation Week (WCIW)!!!
WCIW is a global celebration of our natural ability to create. It is about “celebrating our ability to get new ideas, use imagination, and make new decisions to make the world a better place, and to make your place in the world better too”. The wonderful thing about WCIW is that you can celebrate your creativity anywhere.
To jumpstart your creativity, I wanted to provide you with twenty-one things you can do this month to celebrate creativity with the children in your life. Many of these ideas are taken from a book I am currently co-developing with Michaelene Dawson and Amy Freiermouth. The book is called, “My Sandwich is a Spaceship: Creative Thinking for Parents and Kids”. If you are interested in learning more, please sign up (on the right of this page) for our newsletter. The book will be out in the fall of 2013!
  1. Teach your children your favorite childhood game. If it is a board game, go online and see if you can find it, and treat your family!
  2. Create a curiosity tree or corner in your house where you can post all of you and your children’s questions (post-its work great!). Talk about the questions over meals.
  3. Take a day to mindfully play with your children. Turn off tvs, cell phones, and computers, pack a picnic and go to a small park. Get lost in the park, daydream, and spend time being totally present. Notice new things around you in the park.
  4. Eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. Completing tasks out of sequence has demonstrated higher levels of creative thinking. Let your children pick the meals.
  5. Get a big professional canvas (Michael’s or Joanne Fabrics has many sizes), put on your painting clothes (make sure you have a spare set of clothes and washcloths on hand), pick up some finger paint, and together using all body parts, paint a “masterpiece”. Once complete and cleaned up, talk to your child about how they felt, what colors they used, and what your picture looks like. Most important, find some place in your house to showcase your work of art.
  6. Engage in fantasy games with your child. My son loves to make up games. His current favorites are called, carzoom, dropsidy whapsidy, and train around. Don’t be afraid to engage with the imagination and to create your own games!
  7. Try a completely new meal together as a family.
  8. Together, come up with as many ideas for a Saturday morning as you possibly can think of while delaying your judgment (so try not to put down any of the ideas). Then, plan and execute a Saturday morning adventure (breakfast at the local diner, swinging in the local park, followed by launching their favorite stuffed animal into outer space – or as far as they can get it…)
  9. Pick a room in your house to rearrange; sit in different chairs, and notice how the view has changed.
  10. Plant a small tree (it is also earth day this month) in your backyard and take a picture of it. Then, make a family pact to take photos each season.
  11. Come up with different ends to your favorite bedtime story. (In the great green room, there was a telephone and blue baboon and a picture of grandma jumping over the moon…).
  12. Pick up some kabob sticks at your local store, and put your children’s favorite foods on the stick. Then, add in some new foods and see if they will try it.
  13. When faced with a parenting problem, try to look at it in another way. For example, when my son wouldn’t eat cheese, I gave him “sprinkle cheese” and he was eating it by the handfuls. What is something else you can try?
  14. Find a color wheel on the internet. Go grocery shopping, and try to find food from the color wheel.
  15. Create a song from one of your favorite tunes. For example, imagine singing “cookie cookie, chocolate milk” as the title to the song to “Twinkle Twinkle little star”.
  16. Think about your favorite soundtrack as a child. Mine was Disco Mickey Mouse. Download it from iTunes and dance with your children.
  17. Together, think about all the things that can be created with water. Then, try to do something new with water (maybe create a river in the bathtub where the toy dinosaurs can live).
  18. Go through your closet and get rid of things you haven’t worn in the last year. Then, use those clothes as dress up clothes. Remember your old skirt could be your child’s superhero cape.
  19. Have a “silly” talent show, where each member of your family showcases a silly talent (holding a spoon on your nose, singing the abcs in a gibberish language).
  20. Before you throw anything in the garbage, think of another use for it with your children. Perhaps the baby food jars could act as spice holders or your cereal box could be the head of a robot you build!
  21. Think about something you used to love to do as a child and try it with your children. One of my favorite memories as a child was sitting in the Burger King parking lot with my mom, eating french fries in the car and talking about anything. Being the youngest of five, I was so grateful to have time alone to talk to her. Think about what you might do this week (and beyond!) to build creative memories with your children! And don't forget to take photos!
If you have any more ideas you would like to share, please post them in the comments section below.

Check out the following website for more creative ideas to try at home, in education, or at work! And don't forget to share what you did with the world!

Popcorn Me: A Lesson in Delaying Your Judgment

Several years ago, I was running a creative thinking workshop for Kindergarteners and their parents. Our overall theme was popcorn, and we brought in five garbage size bags of popped popcorn to eat. My students and I performed a skit, where each of us was a kernel, waiting to “pop” with an idea. I then began to share with them the four essential guidelines for divergent thinking:
  1. Delay your judgment. Don't judge an idea- good or bad.
  2. Strive for as many ideas as possible. Novelty typically comes after the first 30 ideas generated.
  3. Seek Wild and Unusual ideas.
  4. Build on other ideas.
“The most important thing”, I stated, “is to NOT judge your ideas. Remember, in divergent thinking, all ideas are good ideas!”
And with that, I gave each parent a pad of post-its to capture ideas, and challenged each parent/child with, “what are all the things we could do with these five large bags of popcorn?”
I could see the kids eyes light up with excitement.
“We could have a movie party!”
“We could build a tower!”
“We could give it away!”
“We could make a popcorn me!” cried one of the 5-year-olds.
“You couldn’t do that” said his mother without hesitation…
“Remember we are using divergent thinking and we need to delay our judgment” I quietly reminded the mother.
“Right. Sorry.”
As parents and teachers, it is often difficult to delay our judgment with silly, wild and unusual ideas. However, this is where we are squelching creativity in our kids. Yes, there is a time and place where it is not appropriate to be creative (I would prefer my son not be creative in how he uses the potty). But there are a hundred opportunities a day that you can allow for those silly ideas to be honored and not put down.
So, as you go about your day, think about how you are responding to the ideas that your kids come up with. Do you react immediately, perhaps without thinking through the possibilities? If so, then why not try delaying your judgment. Find out what happens if you just listen to what they say, without feeling the need to reach a decision.
In a future post, I will explore the idea of affirmative judgment- the principle for convergent thinking - so that when you do respond, you don't hinder your kids creativity.
Popcorn me? Let’s explore that idea. How could we make that happen? I decided to make a "popcorn me" with my son today (although it was the popcorn that doesn't have kernels as my son is under 5). What might your "popcorn me" look like?

This I believe...

Given how much interest there is on the topic of creativity, it is surprisingly difficult to find a commonly agreed definition. In fact, there are probably as many definitions of creativity as there are pizza toppings in your local restaurant. However, even though there are many definitions, one theme reappears in many different contexts, and that is that creativity is the generation of is novelty and usefulness.
I must emphasize, at this point, that many creativity researchers say this only touches one aspect of creativity, and I would certainly agree with them. But, it does at least provide us with a starting point for thinking about what 'being creative' might involve.
In order to understand what else might be involved, I want to give you with a very brief overview of my view of creativity. It isn't a definition (there are already more than enough of those) but rather a tour around some principles, and beliefs, that shape my thinking on the topic:
1. Everyone has the ability to be creative and we can all become more creative with practice.
2. Creative thinking is natural. One of my students recently said, “we each have been created, therefore we are each born to create!” I couldn’t agree more. You create everyday- whether you think so or not. Did you get dressed this morning? Make lunch? Decide how you would craft that important document? We are constantly creating our lives, and we have choices in how we do this.
3. Creative thinking is an essential life skill. I stole this one from my department chair- Dr. Gerard Puccio. We need to be able to think differently and to problem solve in order to get through each day.
4. Creative thinking is more than just coming up with new ideas. It is about living life in a way that is open, authentic, and curious. It is a mindset and approach to everything we do.
5. Creativity is relevant in the arts, education, business, science, math, English, health, and well- everything! Often times when I hear about creativity in relationship to kids, it is discussed in relation to the arts. And while that certainly is one domain that creativity is important, there are many, many more (and we will discuss this as I move along on this journey).
6. You can be perfectly healthy and highly creative at the same time. I have come across a number of books that discuss creative people as being emotionally unstable, depressed, bipolar, etc, which I think sometimes leads people to the belief that you can’t be a healthy creative person. This is simply not true. And with that, I refer to #1.
7. Creative ideas come from hard work and dedication to the situation at hand.While many people describe a creative insight as an “aha” or “Eureka” experience, it is usually prefaced with a great deal of thought and hard work around a challenge or situation.
8. A creative life can lead to a happier life. I have uncovered this both personally and with a number of my students. When you learn creative thinking skills, the world becomes a blank canvas to paint and create opportunities. You simply need to be open to exploration.
So, that's what I believe; what about you? How do you define creativity? Please share your thoughts.

Who am I and why am I here?

When I started my academic career thirteen years ago, people would often ask me - politely - what I taught. I think they expected some sort of recognizable answer such as "english", so when I replied “I teach creativity”, their expressions would quickly turn from a friendly smile into glazed look of utter confusion.
“You mean like arts and crafts?”
I had to learn to hide my disappointment at this response.
“No, creativity. You know, coming up with new ideas, and solving problems in different ways” I would say, bringing my smile back to the conversation.
Fortunately, over the last decade, things have improved considerably. Now, in the year 2013, I don’t get the glazed-over look nearly as often. This may be because of the press coverage of IBM’s Study that highlighted creativity as the core competency skill for CEO’s,  the Newsweek Creativity Crisis article and the incredible Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED talk is the most frequently viewed of all TED talks.   However, I believe the reason why creativity is inching its way toward center stage is because of the state of the economy.  Just look around you.  With great problems comes the need for great solutions. And, great solutions do not come from doing the same thing over and over (unless it worked really well the first time). 
In a recent adobe study, "8 in 10 people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two-thirds of respondents feel creativity is valuable to society, yet a striking minority – only 1 in 4 people – believe they are living up to their own creative potential".  
There is so much work to do! And that is the reason why I wanted to revitalize my blog (plus, I have a slight twitter addiction, and would rather craft discussions to share then try to fit big conversations in 140 words or less).
After 13 years of teaching creative thinking to babies, the elderly, and everyone in between, I can assure you that creative thinking CAN be taught and nurtured. And, it is my goal to show you how you can be a creative parent, teacher and in general, person!
In addition to my professional work in creative thinking, I am also the mom to two wonderful kids, who will sometimes act as the testers of my creative thinking tools, techniques and activities! Some of the activities in this blog will be geared toward toddlers/preschoolers and others will be aimed at older children. Whatever the case, feel free to modify as you see fit.
Enjoy the creative journey!
Feel free to follow me on Twitter (cyndiburnett) to receive updates on what is going on in the field of creativity.

Would you like a slice of Blueberry Pizza?

Did you wince at the sight of this title? Many people do!!!  The surprising thing is, they have probably never tried blueberry pizza.

Typically, I find our educational systems and business organizations run around saying they want to be more “creative” and “innovative”, but the ironic part is, they are usually not genuinely open to novelty. Creativity and innovation come in to play when novelty and usefulness are bridged together.

So who would eat blueberry pizza? Meet five-year-old Ronan. Ronan likes to put his clothes on backwards and requests blueberries on his homemade pizza. He inspired me to begin this blog to help people of all ages open their minds to novel ideas and become more creative thinkers. So thanks for joining me as we begin the discussion around blueberry pizzas.