How to Help Kids KEEP an Innovator Mindset
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written by Katey Howes, picture book author of Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe
Our children are born with the mindset necessary to be top-notch innovators. From day one, they are curious, flexible, and persistent. As babies and toddlers, every development milestone is achieved through trying, failing, and trying again. No blame, no shame when things don’t go right the first time.
Young children use all their senses to explore the world around them. They use everyday items in novel ways. They invent ingenious ways to pull off their socks (and pajamas, and diapers!) They wear buckets as hats and turn hats into fish ponds. They manipulate their environment until they can reach the cookies on top of the counter – or on top of the fridge!
Without anyone telling them to do so, young children employ principles top inventors recommend: Identify the challenge. Borrow from others. Think outside the box. Adapt. Evaluate. Refine. Repeat until the goal is met.
Then, somewhere along the way, those naturally curious, persistent and creative traits get stymied. Kids say, “I can’t” and “that’s impossible.” Kids think “that’s too hard” or “I’m not good at that.” Kids become ashamed and afraid of making mistakes.
A few more years go by, and they worry about standing out, being too different, breaking from the expected. And as kids lose their willingness to color outside the lines, to break with tradition, to fail spectacularly and try again, we as a society lose our greatest resource: Innovators.
When I started writing about Magnolia Mudd, I had in mind my daughters and the limited number of strong, smart, daringly innovative female role models pop culture offered them. I wanted to create a character who never lost those basic principles of curiosity, flexibility, and persistence. I wanted them to read about a bright, quirky, self-confident girl who loved science and technology. In naming her “Mudd” I thought I was simply giving a nod to the idea that girls can get messy and dirty in the pursuit of their goals – that they needn’t stay neat and polished and pretty. But as I wrote, my character taught me that there was a lot more to MUDD power.
Now I use MUDD as an acronym to teach kids how to embrace their innovative nature and tackle any challenge. I tell them that every great invention is born of MUDD power.
M is for Make mistakes. We all need a reminder that perfection is not the norm, and that mistakes, rather than something to be ashamed of, are a necessary and important step in discovery and achievement.
U is for Use your Unique talents. Just because there’s a way something is “usually” done, or has always been done, doesn’t mean that’s the perfect way to do it. Every challenge has infinite solutions – and the BEST one for you is the one that incorporates your personality, strengths, and interests.
D is for Dream Big. Kids need your permission and encouragement to think on a grand scale – because with the right guidance and support, they really can achieve grand things. Don’t place artificial limits on their plans – nothing squashes creativity like “that’s too messy,” “that’s too hard,” or “that would take forever.”
D is for Design and Do. The design step is an important one for innovators and inventors of any kind. Mapping out the challenge, the potential solution, and the pieces that need to come together to make it great is a skill that kids can apply to any problem-solving task – and one that will serve them well into adulthood. But don’t stop at designing – really empower kids to follow through on their plans!
When I share these ideas with kids at story times or assemblies, I find they really embrace the principles of MUDD Power. They take pride in thinking of themselves as innovators, and they are relieved to be given permission to fail. In our fast-paced society where kids are tested and rated on so many things, embracing a mindset of experimentation and invention with room to dream and to make mistakes helps kids be two very important things –
Bio: Katey Howes is the author of picture books GRANDMOTHER THORN and MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE. She loves physics and biology, reads everything from classic children’s lit to modern neuroscience, and has strong opinions about commas. A former physical therapist specializing in brain injury, Katey now divides her time between writing and raising kids with a love of books. In addition to her own blog about raising readers, Katey is a team member at AlltheWonders.com and contributes to websites like STEAMpowered Family and Multicultural Parenting. Find her online at kateyhowes.com, on Twitter @kateywrites, and on Instagram @kidlitlove.