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For Creativity: Instructions Need Not Apply – Updated

Baking, Curiosity, Creativity, Invention

This article on creativity originally appeared on Raising Nerd and has been updated.

My 11-year-old daughter, GirlTastic, has always been creative and continually seeks out new sources of inspiration. She spends hours watching videos on how to craft, paint and bake. She loves baking.

Having a sweet tooth of my own, I love her baking (most of the time).

But GirlTastic isn’t the type to scour a recipe for every little detail. That’s more like this Clueless Dad’s style. Instead, she heads into the pantry and refrigerator to pull out whatever she can find. Then she just wings it.

At first, I was horrified by this.

I thought, “How can she just wing it?” After all, baking is chemistry. It’s literally a science and, therefore, things need to be exact or they won’t work.

But GirlTastic has a stubborn streak in her – a trait she indeed inherited from her father. She has watched enough Cupcake Wars and Chopped Junior on Food Network to know that you often need to let inspiration carry you beyond your guidelines and make it up as you go. Instructions do not always apply.

Baking, Creativity, Food Network, Cupcakes
Credit: The Food Network

Sparking Creativity

I think back to a few years ago when she had to paint a portrait of herself for school. In classic Clueless Dad fashion, I planned the whole process for her. In my mind, I was helping simplify a daunting task. I encouraged her to first sketch a picture on paper. Then, once she had it perfected, she could carefully transfer her sketch onto a canvas. Finally, she should outline the picture in thin black paint and fill it in with color.

She looked at me blankly while I gave these instructions. Then she said calmly, “No, daddy, I like to go with the flow.”

I was blown away. Who was this mad woman? True to her word, she went with the flow, and her portrait, predictably, turned out amazing.

Like with all her other art projects, as GirlTastic tackles the kitchen, her adventurous spirit and creative experimentation amaze me, once again. To be honest, some of her early cupcakes were almost inedible. But we didn’t let that stop her. As she continues to explore different ingredients and flavors, however, she seems to have found her stride. The treats not only look incredible, but also taste pretty darn good.

As my little Nerd(s) continue to discover they produce increasingly better results through creative tinkering, I’ve learned an important lesson. If I can avoid cornering GirlTastic with what I think is the “right” way to do a task, she is more apt to find enjoyment and satisfaction during the process of discovery. For her, creativity comes from the heart as well as her mind. By nurturing her creativity in our kitchen “laboratory,” the results also seem to have a positive influence on my dad gut.

So how does one do this? How do you encourage your Nerds without bogging them down in your own processes or way of thinking?

First, remember that this is their project, not yours. Let them lead through the process. Second, ask questions like “what would happen” or “what if we did this,” even if you already know the answers. This kind of “poking” allows them to think for themselves and puts their creativity at the forefront of the project. Lastly, and this is the big one, let them fail. If the cupcake turns out awful, it’s not the end of the world. Talk through what worked and what didn’t. For the kid, this could be liberating. Knowing that failure is okay allows them to learn and grow.

In the end, creativity has no rules or boundaries. Continue to push your own Nerds into new and exciting directions and you’ll be amazed at what they discover and create.

How do you inspire creativity and creative problem solving in your own Nerds, whatever their science, technology, engineering, artistic, or mathematics passion may be?

Nerd On!


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