By Sharon Powers, Guest Author and Founder of InBetweenYears.com
Have you been anywhere recently where you could feel a radiating aura of enthusiasm? I’m referring to the type of excitement that’s visceral, but on an ordinary day.
If not, I’ll take you there.
Between the walls of an elementary school there’s a pivotal transition period that occurs between the structured school day and recess.
It’s one of inspiration, and a true juxtaposition.
Inside you’ll find the order of quiet classrooms, single-file lines and kids exercising utmost restraint to keep their hands to themselves. Swing the doors open to the outdoors, and you’ll be awestruck as kids burst through the doorway from school to the playground.
A transformation takes place. And it’s quite beautiful.
Call it childhood enthusiasm, zeal for life or the most authentic form of joy. The sentiment is palpable. To me, as an educator/school counselor, this is purpose in its simplest, most free-spirited and natural form.
Play as Purpose
Kids have a drive to play. Play allows children an opportunity to assert their independence and be autonomous.
By middle school, the age I work with, some of this electric energy dissipates and the adolescent years often welcome an air of apathy. Eyes go rolling and shoulder shrugs become a normal response. Recess is no longer sought after. Passive activities like gaming and social media envelope the teen mind.
Motivation and purpose, which parents and educators want to foster, can be harder to draw out in adolescents.
But let’s go back to those elementary years when play is a child’s motivation. Play is a child’s purpose to understand their world and be creative.
So the question becomes, how can parents and educators get older kids to tap into the creativity and energy of child’s play without sending teens into a sandbox. That would be awkward.
Inspiring a Purpose Beyond Self: The Power of Creativity
Kevin Brookhouser (watch his TED TALK HERE), who is an educator, author and Google Apps Certified Trainer and a Google Certified Teacher has spearheaded an initiative that does just that.
By giving kids autonomy to create and pursue their own projects, Brookhouser affords students an opportunity to find meaningful purpose beyond themselves.
It’s a concept called 20Time. Students get one day a week devoted to a student-led project. There’s another similar approach used in schools called Genius Hour.
This is the time where amazing and innovative ideas come to fruition. And parents could employ this practice in their own household by simply carving out the time for their kids.
Since kids these days don’t wander freely like they used to, give your kids the tools to stumble upon an idea, wrestle with it and then do something with the idea.
In fact, Gmail and Adsense were byproducts of this practice of deliberate and purposeful freedom embraced by employees at Google.
So why not try it with kids and teens?
Brookhouser has been fine tuning this model with his own students and is a huge proponent of setting aside time to allow the mind to wander, but in a productive way.
“I definitely believe that there is great value in having a playful mindset and when we talk about play in school we tend to think about sending kids outside in a playground to play, but I don’t think we envision it as much where kids are being playful with their brains,” Brookhouser said in an interview. “I try to create experiences for my students where they do have opportunities to really play with how their brain works and play with ideas.”
By early adolescence brain development allows for formal logic and abstract thinking. Capitalizing on these new skills is key when giving kids this time to be innovators and entrepreneurs.
This place, where students have creative freedom to explore abstract ideas, can resemble play, but unlike a swing across the monkey bars, this experience isn’t just about personal enjoyment.
Brookhouser ensures that this time has three conditions present that have been found to unlock motivation. These principles are autonomy, mastery and purpose. And setbacks are okay along the way. In fact, running into obstacles allows for kids to hone their resiliency skills.
We are talking about cultivating critical life skills.
Brookhouser makes it clear that the 20Time educational concept isn’t just about blindly following a personal passion or just having a good time.
“I hope my students have passions and I hope that they do pursue them, but I am much more interested in students working on a project they are interested in, but has a real purpose outside of themselves,” he added.
“It’s much more about finding a purpose. True passion follows a purpose. You need the purpose first.”
Brookhouser and other educators who employ these strategies empower kids to believe that their ideas matter and can be brought to life through meaningful action.
Sarah Titus, a middle school teacher, has also implemented the 20Time model into her classroom. She has found that an inquisitive mind is a mind ready to learn.
“The number one thing that is going to spur creativity and learning is questions,” Titus said. “At the end of the day, you don’t want a kid who can only follow directions, you want a kid who is empowered. You want a child who can look at risks and benefits, and can create something.
This is where we get away from that passive learning where teachers have the knowledge and impart it on their students. Here kids lead their educational journey, and along the way they may need a nudge.
Getting the ball rolling can be challenging because kids and teens can be overly critical of their own ideas or afraid that their ideas will be perceived as stupid or nonsensical. So where do you start?
The Bad Idea Factory
Brookhouser has an idea for that where anything goes.
“Instead of allowing my students to come up with bad ideas, I mandated it and I said for twenty minutes I want you to come up with the worst ideas you can think of and it was a blast,” Brookhouser said. “It completely transformed that experience into one where kids were truly being playful with their brains.”
This bad idea factory can be the inception of a great idea. What a great way to spur discussion at the dinner table with kids.
Learning has taken a different turn.
It used to be that educators strived for a classroom of respectful and compliant pupils, but times are changing. In order to flourish, kids need to be creators who can problem solve and get others behind their ideas.
And this business of preparing the next generation takes all types: parents, educators, mentors, family members, coaches, and the list goes on.
So what are you going to do differently to help a kid you love find their purpose and create something meaningful? Why not start now?
7 Ideas to Ignite a Child’s Purpose
Here are some strategies parents and other influencers can utilize to tap into children’s motivation and purpose using the principles of 20Time and Genius Hour.
1. The Elevator Pitch. Get the stopwatch ready and time your kid for 60 seconds as they explain why their idea matters.
2. Dialogue about Current Events. Use current events as a launching point to discuss ideas to help problem solve societal issues.
3. Bad Idea Contest. Make a game of it by writing down the worst ideas you can come up with and vote on the ultimate bad idea.
4. Allow Autonomy. Have your kids unplug and designate structured time for your kids to develop a purposeful idea. Give them the autonomy to develop a way to track their progress. Establish a routine for this autonomous time.
5. Teach Your child to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit. Encourage and allow your child to take risks and accept that failure is part of the growing pains of life. Fight the urge to remove barriers and discomfort that your kid may run into.
6. Get inspired by what other kids are doing. DoSomething.org features a host of kid-run campaigns to enact social change.
7. Share your own purpose. Talk to your kids about what drives you to wake up every morning and get out of bed. Be honest about the struggles you face and how you overcome challenges.
Sharon Powers is a middle school counselor, writer and founder of InBetweenYears.com, a website for parents and educators, supporting healthy teen development and adolescent well-being. Follow Sharon on Twitter: @InBetweenYears