Why Kids Need to #PlayUnplugged

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It’s a free art day. Kids can make anything they want. This used to be a golden day for my students. But now, I’m bombarded with questions and concerns: What should I make? Give me an idea. I don’t know what to do.

Why is using their imagination so difficult?

Kids love working with devices. It’s hard to get them to put their devices down, even in school. Whether they are playing games or learning programs on the computer, there is usually a well-defined goal to accomplish. This is like taking a test. They know that with repetition and problem solving, they can come up with the “right” answer. How do I get through this maze? How do I win this battle?

But with imagination, there may not be a right answer. And sometimes, kids get confused when they don’t know exactly what the final goal should be.

So how do we encourage imagination and innovation?

Stretching the imagination begins with thinking outside the box, participating in open-ended activities that don’t have a “right” answer for solving them. This can be as simple as doing something that you do every day, in a different way.

For example: What if they had breakfast for supper? What if they had a picnic breakfast on the living room floor?

By trying different ways of doing a traditional activity, kids begin to imagine other ways of changing them. What if we only ate yellow foods for lunch or foods that started with the letter L? What if we #PlayUnplugged and act out the video game instead?

Thinking of alternatives opens their imagination to a multitude of answers.

Summer is a great time for open-ended activities.

Stretch kids’ imagination by doing activities that don’t follow traditional rules. Could they invent a way to play Quidditch from the Harry Potter books, even though in the books it requires flying? If they were to make up an entirely new type of game, what would it be?

Try activities that require kids to experiment to find the answer. My kids spent an entire summer finding acids and bases from things around the house, by dropping them into red cabbage juice and watching it change color. Is there a better way to design a paper airplane? Could you build a catapult that would knock down a wall of milk cartons?

Use art to expand their ideas by filling every square in the sidewalk with a different chalk drawing. Make your own playdough or slime and the tools to work with it.

You don’t have to think up all these activities yourself.

Books such as “100 Screen Free Ways to Beat Boredom” can help. It is filled with ideas that can be expressed in many different ways.

For example: Put on a fashion show, make string art outside in the yard, start an herb garden, or make alien hats out of tin foil. These open-ended activities allow for surprises and unexpected results, delighting kids with what they can accomplish.

To help push the imagination a little further, ask questions such as: What else can you add to this? Are you missing anything? Does this work or look the way you imagined it would?

Unplugged and open-ended.

Now when kids ask me what to make, I steer them away from the iPads, and challenge them with open-ended questions. It doesn’t take long for their imaginations to kick into gear with all kinds of possibilities. And before you know it, comments like “I don’t know what to do,” disappear altogether.

Diane Davis has been an art teacher for over 30 years. She has two grown children, and a new granddaughter who she can’t wait to start creating with.

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