Building a Mental Library:

Ideas for celebrating National Keep Kids Creative Week

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Building a Mental Library

“Creativity is just having enough dots to connect.” Steve Jobs

One of the reasons I think that so many kids have trouble utilizing the creativity inside of them is that they just don't have many books on their shelves. I don't mean the actual, physical, wooden shelves in their room (though it works that way as well), but the room upon room of book shelves in their minds.

Other pages about
Keep Kids Creative Week

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Getting Started
• Building a Mental Library
Be Creative!

Why fill the shelves?
New ideas come from taking what one knows and combining things that don't usually go together. That's the heart of creativity. You put chocolate with peanut butter and you have a Reese's peanut butter cup. You combine comic book heroes and a chess-like game and you have HeroClix. Most of the children I work with in schools have a limited range of ideas in their mental library. I'm astonished that so few kids have been to museums or concerts or art galleries; they don't know many of the great kid movies or books; they haven't been exposed to much of a range of music. So when we brainstorm, they have a hard time coming up with anything but the most trendy TV reference. It's hard to be creative with only a few ideas to pull from.

How to fill the shelves
Give your kids a wide range of experiences. Let me give you some examples. I've done most of these with my kids and I've seen how much these have helped them fill up their "library of the mind". In all of them, the keys are give them a wide range of input, and make everything of the highest quality.

Watch good TV

Television isn't bad, it's a mixed bag. Watching cartoons can give kids lots of ideas, but just a limited range. Sit down with them and watch other things, like a fun travel show like Globe Trekker, or a cooking show, or a family film.

• Listen to music

We all have our favorite kind of music. But expose kids to other kinds as well. That may mean turning the radio dial from time to time. Libraries have music CD's; take out different ones and listen to them while you make dinner and the kids are milling about.

• Read books

Encourage your kids to read -- not only their favorite fiction, but other genres. Read aloud to them. If you read a picture book aloud, take time to talk about the book -- what the characters are feeling, observe details, ask your child what she would have done if she were in the story.

• View art

My four-year-old daughter and I have a tradition of looking at what she calls "painting books" while we eat lunch together. If you can, go to an art gallery. If that's too difficult, do what we do: take out art books from the library. There are good ones geared toward kids, but don't be afraid of those big coffee-table books in the grown-up section. I find the bigger the pictures, the easier it is to for kids to enjoy them. Start with Impressionists like Monet or Renoir, or a later painter like Van Gogh. They're colorful and easier for children to connect to.

• Spend time in nature

There's so much to see in the outdoors. It's important for kids to have in their mental library what clouds look like, what a stream sounds like, the coolness of an early morning fog, the shape of a spider's web, and the brilliance of stars. I find that for many families, this is a hard thing to do. It means a planned picnic or a day trip to a park. Believe me, it's worth it.

My wife and I have made an effort over the years to give our kids a steady diet of excellence. Now that our oldest is in college, we've seen what a difference it's made in their creative level. You can too. And the great thing is, filling their minds with ideas they can use is easy to do within the daily flow of your family's life!

To see examples of what I'm doing with my youngest child, go to Adventures in Graceland.

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter