What’s the key to nurturing innovation in young children?

Today’s children are tomorrow’s innovators. An innovative mind starts with a sense of imagination and a willingness to experiment. That is why Jacinth Liew, former schoolteacher and founder of Our Little Playnest, strongly believes that nurturing creativity in every child is important — and it begins at home.

As part of DAX U*, DBS Asia X opened its doors to parents and kids in celebration of Children’s Day. While the little ones were treated to fun activities like face painting and balloon sculpting, Jacinth imparted parents with insights into nurturing creativity through conscious cultivation and simple play.

Tell us about how you got started on your journey on Our Little Playnest.

I used to be a school teacher and I have always been very passionate about children’s education. While I am not teaching in a classroom anymore, I continue educating my own children, who are “forced” to be my students. I read that young children learn the best through play, and that’s when I began to plan purposeful play activities for my kids and document them on Our Little Playnest.

What were your greatest highs and lows in this journey?

My son grew up learning through lots of play, so it heartens me when he asks for more games. He will say things like “I like learning” and choose activities over screen time. The many positive comments from parents and educators from all over the world have also kept me thinking of more creative ideas.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be quite challenging, especially when I have to manage my kids all day. Sometimes the kids do not have any interest in my setups, or simply do not appreciate my efforts. Times like these have made me question if I made the right decision to leave my career.

How would you describe the work that you do with other parents, schools and organisations?

I share my pedagogical content knowledge and instructional approaches so that parents can become more educated about how their children learn, and make informed decisions for their kids. I convince parents that playing with their children is not a difficult task, and that all parents are their kids’ first teachers! I also help “mumpreneurs” by giving them feedback about their products.

What can parents do to nurture creativity in their children?

There are six main considerations for parents who want to nurture creativity in their children. Parents just need to remember “CREATE”:

Curiosity: Parents must fan that “curiosity flame” in their children by encouraging their kids to ask questions, and not to dismiss any type of questions that their kids have.

Read: This opens the minds of little children and broadens their imagination. Parents can make reading part of their daily routine and make books easily accessible to their children.

Environment: Set up an inviting space with accessible supplies for children to play, imagine and create.

Activities: The type of family activities that foster creativity include cooking or baking together, going for nature walks or pretend-play at home.

Time: Do not over stimulate your child with too many activities or classes in a day. Provide wait time when your child faces difficulties — intervening too quickly might deny them the opportunity to learn to problem solve.

Effort: Praise your child’s efforts instead of the outcome. This will encourage him or her to experiment freely without worrying about expectations.

You have been involved in this work for more than two years now, what drives you to keep doing what you do?

My children. Whenever they ask for play activities, I will never turn them down because it just shows that they associate learning with having fun. It also means that they enjoy learning with me.

How do you think we can foster an environment of innovation in the current education system to nurture creative and innovative talents?

It all begins with the family to include innovation and creativity in our daily lives. If a torchlight is broken, do we, as parents, just throw it away or can we figure out what went wrong? Children are watching us, and it is important that parents be the role model by asking questions and taking initiative to search for solutions.

The slew of changes that MOE made to our assessment structures should free up more time in schools. Teachers can now focus on developing soft skills. When students can discover their interests and pursue them, they are motivated to learn, explore and experiment.

Any other advice for parents or educators on cultivating an innovative mindset in children?

Make problem solving and critical thinking a routine in the kids’ lives. I often ask my two kids, “How do we solve this problem?” You will be surprised that they have very brilliant ideas. Children are innately creative, and we, as parents and educators, play a critical role in nurturing their imaginative minds from young.

Jacinth is a school teacher turned stay-at-home mum who engages her two children with purposeful play activities. She also shares her experiences on the popular parenting page @ourlittleplaynest. Jacinth spoke at DBS Asia X, the bank’s innovation centre, as part of DAX U — a series of learning clinics to promote an innovation culture.

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