Surrounding yourself with children isn’t the only way to stay young at heart — acting like a kid can have benefits, too, says Shauna Adams ’79, associate professor and executive director of the University of Dayton’s Bombeck Family Learning Center.
“One of the reasons children are so vibrant and interactive is that they inspire each other. As adults, we often look for ‘the’ answer, and once we find what we think it is, we don’t go any further,” says Adams.
Joy Comingore, curriculum and field specialist at the Bombeck Center, cites author Rachael Carson, who says that for children to keep the sense of awe and wonder they’re born with, they need the companionship of at least one adult who hasn’t lost his or her own sense of fascination with the world. Adams notes that there is a correlation between creativity and innovative thinking in young children and their achievement later in life.
“For every dollar spent in early learning, between $7 and $16 is saved later in terms of fewer jail cells, less special education and intervention, lower high school dropout rates and more potential to collect tax dollars from successful citizens,” Adams explains.
Want to get your creative juices flowing? Try these tips.
1. Put down the to-do list. “Children are present in the moment. They notice what is happening around them rather than concentrating on what is coming up next or re- hashing what they just experienced,” Comingore says. “We miss the common, everyday experiences that can enhance our lives: the young rabbit in the front yard; the funny-looking cloud; the smiles on the faces of others, especially when we have smiled first.”
2. See the potential. Remember when a towel was a superhero cape, a row of kitchen chairs be- came a train car and a stick was a mag- ic wand? Reignite that imagination. “Innovation can be about physical play and items that you have in front of you, but it’s also a mindset, a communication style, a problem-solving style,” Adams says. For example, when Bombeck Center teachers led their preschoolers through an investigation of earthworms last summer, they asked themselves what other connections the lesson could hold. Since earthworms self-generate electricity as they move through the earth, the group moved on to study friction and
3. Do the hokey pokey. When Comingore sees students’ eyes glaze over during class, she has them get up, walk around, swing their arms and touch their elbow to the op- posite knee. Teacher and educational consultant Ann Anzalone ’90 points out that movement helps build the brain. “Crossing the midline of our body activates the brain and gets different areas of it working,” she says. “Children naturally get these movements in as they run and play. As adults, we have to be more intentional about incorporating brain-integrating movement each day.”
4. Don’t play the villain. Approach relationships in a non-threatening way, and they’ll be more fruitful. “Fear, threats and too much pressure increase cortisol levels and close down the learning receptors in both children and adults,” Adams says, adding that collaboration and flexibility are precursors to innovation.
5. Be silly. Start any brainstorming session with the mindset that there is no stupid idea. “Often, brainstorming is done ruthlessly, with specific rules about what it should look like,” Adams says. “But the absurd ideas have value because those are the ones that allow you to see things in a new light and find a unique solution.”
Hear more from Adams about the power of play in this 90-second Lecture.