There is a lot of talk about how to prepare today’s children for the 21st century. Most of the experts agree that students need to develop skills in four major areas. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, in its September 2009 edition of Educational Leadership, lists these areas, including:
• Core subjects and 21st Century themes like language arts, mathematics, science, global awareness and financial literacy • Learning and innovation skills such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking and problem solving • Information, media and technology skills • Life and career skills like initiative and self-direction (p.11)
When you look over the list, the one that jumps out seems to be learning and innovation skills. Just where does creativity, innovation, critical thinking and problem solving come from? For those of you who frequently read the things in this column, I am sure you know the answer….play during childhood. And, not just any play, but play that involves creativity, innovation, critical thinking and problem solving.
Let’s look at these four words. Webster’s defines it as “the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new”. The word innovation has some parallels to the word creativity. And, in order to be innovative and creative, you must use problem solving and critical thinking skills. There is inter-relatedness in all of these four terms.
Now, let’s look at play. You have a set of building blocks. You stack them in different ways. Is this creativity? Does the human mind think about how to stack blocks for a successful structure? For instance, if a child wants to make something higher, does trial and error add to creativity? Or do other forms of problem solving begin to happen within the child’s mind as he plays with the blocks attempting to stack them in a way that they don’t fall? Does the child use critical thinking as he plans out the next structure so that it won’t fall? Absolutely!!!
A young child, playing with blocks, or cars, or a blanket over the table for a fort has the capacity to work on all four of these critical skills for the 21st century. The key is to choose the item of play carefully. It must be a toy or item that causes the need to create, be innovative, use problem solving skills and critical thinking skills. Many of the available items in the toy aisles don’t offer the ability for this type of play. But in the long run, they will be the most valuable in developing 21st century thinking skills for your child. So choose wisely and sit on the floor, watching your child’s mind think and discover with your choice.
Johnson, P. (2009) The 21st Century Skill Movement, ASCD, (67:1).
Mary Rockey, Ph.D., BCBA is the Director of Pupil Service at Randolph Central School.