Gratitude and Ideas for Problem Solving

This post is about two topics. For starters, I’m honored that Nessun Dogma published my book in Italian this month, making it the first secular parenting book in Italy. I hope there are many more secular voices to follow. While I’m on the topic of gratitude,  I’m honored and thankful that Sterling Publishing thought I had something worth sharing. Most of all, I’m honored that people take the time to read this blog–so thank you for reading and for the interesting comments and conversations we’ve had over the years. That ends my secular prayer for Sunday, October 18th.

Another thing I’d like to share today. Working in the corporate world again, I look at things differently than I did a decade ago. I see young kids, fresh out of college; I see the employees close to retirement, looking weary. Having kids who will go into the workforce in the next few years, I think, “What skills do my kids need in the business world, if they choose to go there?” Working hard and team work are still important, but creativity and problem-solving are more important than ever, no matter what your job function is. With many jobs becoming automated, creativity is still something that humans have that computers do not. It helps to be able to look at the work flow and see how everything fits together, and how things could fit together differently. Creativity and logical reasoning are not skills that the schools are particularly strong on nurturing. In fact, public education discourages kids from creating their own solutions. I remember this struggle in math class with my older kid. Sameness is valued over uniqueness.

What we need to do is teach our children how to couple creativity with problem solving. This is something we can nurture at home by asking our kids to solve problems or to consider the many possibilities in solving problems we have. For example, the vacuum doesn’t start? Why not? What are all the possible reasons? How could we fix it? Is there more than one way. Let them try to figure out why and how.

Playing chess help kids problem solve because it’s a game of logic and strategy. Also, reading–a lot–helps. Reading creative works as well as magazine and newspaper articles about many different topics helps expose children to a variety of ideas across many knowledge bases. If your child is too young to read complex material, you can play this game, which I used to play with my kids. Start with a banana. At about a year old, I’d ask my kids, “What is this?” (holding up a banana). “What is it used for?” I’d ask. “Food?” What else? “A smile.” (Put the banana in front of your face like a smile.) “A telephone?” “A frown?” “Decoration?” You’d be surprised by the answers kids come up with. But you can use this game to start kids thinking, and you can apply this idea with about any household item. Looking at ordinary things in new ways is the basis for problem-solving.

Because we have such easy access to so much information, what we know is not nearly as important as how we think about what we know.

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share them!


12 responses to “Gratitude and Ideas for Problem Solving

  1. Problem solving.. YES! I think the single-most-often uttered phrase in my house is “figure it out!” Unless it’s something way outside the realm of their comprehension, I leave them to their own devices to try to figure out a great many things. And most of the time, they do! It might not be how I would do it… but that’s just fine!

    As for schools, I’m thankful that my kids go where they do. It’s an arts-based curriculum that encourages both independent thought and individuality. They ask kids to come up with solutions more often than not, and they have them work in small groups regularly. They also have the kids teach sections of the material in the way that they best understand it. This method starts in Kindergarten and continues through high school. Not surprising that the school has an extremely high rate of honors graduates going into 4-year schools.

    And amazingly enough, they do all this without uniforms and staunch rules. In fact… there are kids in the high school with bright green afros, and my daughter wears cat ears and a tail most days. They have two full hours of arts instruction every day – fine art, chorus, orchestra, creative writing, musical theater, singing/songwriting, guitar, ballet, PE… they get to pick two and do them every single day. My kids love that school, and they look forward to going. It’s pretty awesome. I consider us very lucky to have it!

  2. Well said, and so important. We must encourage creative thinking, and yet it seems the schools are doing just the opposite — teaching standardized answers so the kids can pass all their standardized tests. The school Shanan describes is what all our children should have, not what most of them are getting. We’re talking about our future leaders and the future of the country, but we’re creating a generation with only cookie-cutter ideas.

    • @PT It often amazes me that politicians convince people to vote against their own best economic and political interests. I can only think that’s because we’ve been trained to be sheep….

  3. Food for thought… My husband’s company (a financial services firm) has in the last two years started hiring some of their entry level people directly from high school. They made the decision to go after precollege kids who are hungry to learn and can’t afford the high costs of a college education. These kids are excelling, excited about their job and getting paid to attend classes without incurring the crushing debt of going to college full-time. What started out as an experiment has turned out to be a win-win for both.

    • This is exactly how I got my degree 20 years ago. I couldn’t afford college! I started going and realized rather quickly that I was poor. Never felt poor growing up… hell, I even managed to get a pilot’s license in high school (paid for by playing my flute on the street in front of a coffee shop). But college… wow… that was something else when it came to cost. I made it through the first two years on grants, scholarships and a few loans, and then took a job in my industry (Computer Science). They paid me, while also paying for my school, while also giving me practical job experience. Yes, it was long, hard hours. And it was totally worth it. By the time I graduated, I’d paid off my handful of student loans from the first two years. I think it’s great that there are companies still willing to go that route!

    • @jaspur Kudos to your husband’s company. Your comment also ties in with my last post–it’s nice to know that there are other options for kids who have drive but lack the means to go to college.

  4. Have you ever been involved with Odyssey of the Mind? ( It’s a team competition for school-age children, where the goal is to collaborate on creative solutions to problems. There’s both spontaneous brain-storming events, and long-term projects that require the teams to put in extensive work and planning. Teams score points for a good solution, but score more points for a creative solution. My oldest participated for several years, and had a great time.

    • Hi ubi dubium. Yes I am familiar with Odyssey of the Mind. One of my kids did Destination Imagination. Great programs. Thanks for the link.

  5. Im not atheist. In fact im indifferent to atheism and listen to the debates. But i am neither. My experiences have made me realize that some of those older beliefs existed for a reason. I do not worship the gods and i tolerate atheists, every so often i come across some atheists that claim all religions are a mental illness. Thats a bit harsh, and it gives me good reason to say, this isnt for me, because from what ive observed, yes christianity and atheism are two sides of the same coin.

    • Hi Briana, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I find it hard to believe that you are “indifferent” to atheism if you are here commenting on this blog and if you listen to debates. To be indifferent means that you don’t care- you have no interest. That’s good for you that you’ve found a place in your belief that makes you feel comfortable, but to say that atheism and religion are two sides of the same coin indicates you don’t have a grasp of what atheism is. Are those who believe in magic and those who don’t the same of different? Would it be fair to say that all Christianity is bad because some Christians don’t believe that gays should have the same rights? Perhaps you *need* to spend more time listening to debates.

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