Byline: EMMA BURNS
IF there's one thing our kids are going to need to survive and thrive in the years to come, it's creative thinking.
The ability to come up with new ideas, to ditch old plans if they're not working, to switch careers when necessary and to remain open in their approach to themselves, their work and their whole lives will be crucial in the fast-changing world they face.
Psychologist Dorothy Einon points out: "In the century before last, people were needed for cannon fodder and for factory fodder. They had to do what they were told. Sitting in lines learning facts by heart prepared them for that.
"For the 21st century, people need to be flexible and to question things, to come up with novel and unorthodox ideas, to invent and innovate and take different slants on things. All children are naturally creative, but nowadays we need them to remain creative throughout their lives."
But how can we help them achieve that? Here's how you can do it ...
AGE 0 - 4
YOU might think there's nothing much to worry about in this age group. Toddlers and pre-school kids tend to be, if anything, TOO creative, when it comes to using wax crayons on the living room wallpaper or finding a new use for kitchen implements.
However, Dorothy Einon, a university lecturer in psychology and author of the book Learning Early says it is crucial to spend masses of time talking to your children and encouraging them to talk back to you. That is what lays the foundations of children's future ability to think creatively.
"Talk to them, explain things and listen to what they say," she says. "They need to know it's all right to ask lots of questions and that you will do your best to answer them.
"Language is absolutely vital in helping children to be creative, because language is the key to memory and to planning."
Hands-on activities are very important too, as well as being fun. Let them try a whole range of things: get them to sit down with you and scribble a pretend shopping list when you're writing the real one, do simple jigsaws, get messy with clay or plasticine or mud in the garden, paint, jump about to music, make models, build with bricks, dress up, and bash drums or shake rattles.
Dr David Weeks, a consultant clinical neuropsychologist based at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, says: "In younger children, the synapses in the brain go through a great period of growth and development. At that stage, the more input and stimulation they get the better. Research on animals shows that the ones in a very stimulating environment have bigger brains, with more connections between the neurones, and are better at problem-solving."
AGE 4 - 8
TALKING is, if anything, even more important, particularly discussion. Most children will tell you something about their day if you ask at the right moment and in the right way. The better they get at gossiping now, the more likely they are to stay chatty later.
As well as talking about everyday subjects, try to encourage their imaginations. Get them to tell you a story - you can write it down for them if their writing isn't good enough yet. Or ask them what they think happens next after their storybook has ended. As they get bigger, you can ask them to explain why they think what they think - but in a gentle, encouraging way, not one which sounds as if you disapprove of their suggestions.
Ask them questions such as: "What are all the things you can think of that are red?" James Moran, an American psychologist, says some four-year- olds will come up with very original answers such as chickenpox or cold hands, but originality drops once they start school and start to worry about giving the right answer. He stresses that parents should welcome every answer - criticism will put children off.
If you have a highly creative child, try not to be overwhelmed by the stream of ideas and projects issuing from them. …