The Washington Times-Herald

November 23, 2013

Imagination and creativity - it's a brain thing

Mike Leighty
Scouting Matters

---- — First, to avoid any controversy I need to open this month’s column by stating this is not a critique of the local school corporation. I have deep respect for those who chose to teach. I even spend a small amount of time annually assisting. Nonetheless, I have found some eye-opening information, which aligns with my thinking of how Scouting Matters. Allow me to explain.

We have all experienced how preschoolers are wildly creative. They can invent games on the spot, role-play countless personalities, color both inside and outside the lines and sometimes on the living-room walls. Then something happens: they go to school. They can learn at an astonishing pace until they run into a world that becomes linear and expository. As soon as day one, imagination and creativity begins to be replaced with rote learning and getting the right answer becomes the objective. The system focuses on getting kids to remember things and test scores with limited time left over for imagination and creativity. By the time they are teenager’s they are as much a part of the system as the lockers in the hallway. If we’re honest, we have observed this in ourselves and our children. I know I have.

However, if you look around you can detect the rest of the world has begun to move beyond this model. It’s not that we don’t need to teach our children math and to read and write, because if we didn’t things would be total chaos, but if you look at the current generation of young adults, the people who are really thriving are the creative and imaginative ones. Those coloring outside the lines.

It’s safe to say that a mandated and regulated educational system isn’t going away. Therefore, what can we do to enhance the quality of education of this and future generations? Well the good news is that every child is wired to be creative. Just remember those living-room walls. What parents have to do is simply unleash their kids’ natural creativity, to expose their child to different avenues for imaginative socialization and learning. By now, you have probably guessed what I’m thinking. That Scouting provides a sound foundation not only for expanded creativity but the opportunity for advanced parent-child interaction. Okay, let’s go with that and explore this line of thinking in a simple 3-step process. Tell me what you think after trying it?

Step 1 – is to demonstrate that you value imagination and creativity. If a parent values it, so will the child. It’s that simple. Where and how do you spend your free time? Do you spend it on creative adventures – together – that are eye opening and allow the imagination to run wild? Scouting at any level or age serves up eye opening opportunities that demonstrate and encourage creativity and healthy interaction.

Step 2 – requires some observation. What activities really attract your son or daughter? As a dad, we all want our son to be a sports star. Our schools and society have geared themselves to this, but seriously, what are the visual, verbal and non-verbal information we receive from our children. Very few sons become the local, let alone national, sports stars. It’s a nice dream but sometimes we need to simply observe the patterns and then trust our intuition.

If you have to make them practice or play, observation is telling you something! If your child leans towards visual arts then encourage it, if they are movement-oriented then give them space to move. Scouting offers a focused, time tested, program that can satisfy an observed need, we just need to take the time to look. Do not be afraid to go with the grain of what you see and foster your child’s observed passion.

Finally, Step 3 – is all about feeding the young mind. Creativity flourishes when kids are in the right state of mind. Without being to clinical, there are two relevant brain states, “pause and plan” and “fight or flight.” In the former, the body sends nutrients to the part of the brain where creativity is housed. In the latter, nutrients go to other parts of the brain and creativity gives way to instinctual action. Studies reveal it is really all about reducing stress to boost creativity. One way to do that is to reduce the pressure to perform and achieve, something kids face all too much these days in the classroom, on the court and field. All kids are placed under these stressors but only a select few will ever rise above. Achieving a balance between the system and our own observations is necessary.

I’ve witnessed my Scouts who have grown up in a system that constantly asks, “How are your test scores?” and “Did you get the trophy?” I’ve watched them be reluctant to try the simplest of tasks because of fear of grading or failure. In Scouting, every attempt is made to create a performance-free zone of opportunity where we can ask, “What did you learn from your mistakes?” With the tools provided, the pace is the Scouts. We need to mentor and teach that mistakes are not something to be ashamed of as the system teaches. Mistakes are opportunity for growth, creative problem solving and imaginative thinking, which will take you a long way in life.

I believe “scouting truly does matter” because each individual Scout can operate within the boundaries of a performance-free zone with creativity and imagination, feeding their brain, and excel in ways they never dreamed possible. After all, even today’s elite performers in our society – whether it’s the arts, sports or academics, you name it – have a positive orientation toward mistake making and failure. We hear and read that every day.

If you would like to learn more about the Scouting opportunities in your local area, give me call 295-8417 and I will help you make contact with a local Scouting Unit.

Yours in Scouting,

Scoutmaster Mike