How to Prepare Our Kids for Their Future

Creative thinking - job skill #1

I am the mother of four children. Two of my kids are in public schools; the other two are in college or transition to college. Our kids’ future and how to prepare for it is a constant topic in our house.

The intention of parenting and schooling is to provide our children with the tools they need for their lives. To prepare for the future we tend to look into the past and deduct the necessary skills. The academic learning in schools seems to aim mostly to prepare for white collar careers. If the grades are high enough, this is in most cases the preferred path. If the grades are less good students get to choose a different route.  So far so easy. And by easy I mean it is easy to understand the concept of working hard to be good in academics, getting good grades, scoring high in tests, getting into a great college, graduating with a good degree and starting a successful career. The idea of this model is easy; the execution much less simple.

The problem right now for us parents is that a huge shift is happening that is affecting this generation of our kids.

Mark Cuban described in a recent interview at Bloomberg TV how the nature of work is changing. Millions of jobs will become automated in the next years. This doesn’t just affect blue collar workers like miners or drivers, but also white collar workers like surgeons, lawyers, and even software developers. If artificial intelligence (AI) is taking over many of our jobs, what will be left for us humans to do?

Mark Cuban is voicing what has recently become common knowledge in the corporate world. Within the next 10 years the most sought after job skill will be: creative thinking. Creativity is a core trait that distinguishes humans not only from animals but also from artificial intelligence.

Unfortunately this is not what our schools are good at. On the contrary, there has been a lot of evidence that schools actually suppress our natural ability to be creative. Schools are teaching conformity and compliance. (Check out two videos from Sir Ken Robinson in which he explains this in more detail. Do schools kill creativity? And Building a Culture of Innovation.)

Problem with today’s education

I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather get educated out of it.

– Sir Ken Robinson

There are several severe problems with today’s schools:

  1. Students are very diverse. Their interests, needs, and talents are different. But in the classroom we teach the same curriculum using the same learning methods to all kids. For example, we don’t take into account that many kids need to move their bodies while learning or at least in between activities. We teach  5-year olds to sit still in front of a table for 7 hours each day.
  2. Standardized testing has changed learning in schools. Teachers, administrators, colleges, and schools themselves rely on and are measured by testing results. It therefore comes as no surprise that teaching to the test became the norm in our schools. Standardized tests need to provide objectively measurable results by counting the correct answers. This leads to the following problem.
    worksheets that don't prepare for our kids' future

    worksheets and spelling test

  3. Most of the time learning is applied by providing the right answer to a question. In the typical spelling test or simple math problem (see the picture to the right with a few examples) there usually is only one right answer. Creative thinking needs open ended problems that have many possible solutions.
  4. In many schools or school districts funding for art programs has been cut. (Read an article from the Washington post about this problem.) In some cases parent organizations step in to provide financial support to hire an art teacher. In those schools where parents don’t have those financial resources children no longer get an art education. The recent plans to eliminate the funding for the National Endowment of the Arts brings the revalidation of the arts to a whole new level. But where if not in the arts can you learn creative thinking?

Parents’ dilemma to prepare for their kids’ future

So we parents are left with a huge dilemma. We hear convincing arguments about how the work situation will change drastically for our children, but we also notice that they are not prepared to face that change. What can we do? How can we as parents fill that gap?

We can follow Mark Cuban’s advice and encourage our kids to get a liberal arts degree. But young adults who haven’t learned to use and develop their creative thinking since the age of five won’t be prepared  for that.

I think the first step is being aware of the problem because only then will we keep our eyes open for possible solutions. And I believe we have to shift our own system of thinking and beliefs as well. We grew up in a society where creativity was only relevant for artists and for the rest of us it was just fun for leisure activities. Parents have to learn to value creativity and thus be a model for our children. We used to hire math tutors to get our kids’ grades up. Maybe it is time to shift priorities.

I am not saying that math and reading are obsolete; of course they are not. But we also have evidence now that children who are engaging in the arts are better in academic subjects as well. They are better learners and have better test results. (Click here to see a compelling list what children actually learn through the arts.)

Finding individual solutions

I think at the moment we are left to find individual solutions to develop our children’s creative thinking skills.

For me this means having family art projects where our whole family comes together and paints. (But gosh, we haven’t done that in a while!) My youngest daughter participates in Destination Imagination, a program where kids have to find creative solutions for science, art, or technology based problems. In her team this year the kids came a long way in developing creative solutions and learning to find and explore them as a team.

And I offer Fine Arts camps for children with the mission to foster their creative thinking skills from a broad range of opportunities. In open-ended projects they learn exploratory and inquisitive approaches that involve all the arts and stimulate their imagination. Through these experiences the kids gain confidence and learn to trust their creative ability.

Let’s share ideas how we can develop the creative thinking of our kids and help them become prepared for their future. We need this conversation.



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