How Parents Encourage Creativity in Kids

This Wall Street Journal article on creativity struck my fancy. An interesting fact cited in the article is that creativity scores for children kindergarten to 6th grade declined from 1990 to 2008. When you think about how the concept of “play” has changed over the years, this decline is not surprising.

When I was a kid, I had to “go outside” until the street light came on. We made up such games as “stick ball” and “can ball.” Almost any object could be used as a toy or for a game. When there was nothing around but the sounds of music, we would even create our own dances. Now that was creative, not to mention shameless. 🙂

Parent tips for Creativity

Today’s kids have a lot more entertaining diversions inside. Television and video games have certainly contributed to children expressing their creative even less. When the television and video game are turned off, parents have several options for stimulating creativity:

  • Invite your child to come up with ways to solve everyday problems
  • Ask open-ended questions and . . . get this . . . show interest in their responses 🙂
  • Refrain from judging your kids’ ideas
  • Emphasize effort over results

Unfortunately, our schools don’t always have the time to nurture creativity during the school day. Many K-12 programs have even cut their art classes. In these situations, parents may consider volunteering at school and presenting a project or event that will stimulate creativity. What creative activities have you introduced to your child’s classroom or school? Please share your ideas, especially if you have kids in middle or high school. Many parents may reduce their involvement when our kids are in middle and high school, but I encourage parents to step it up then. That’s when our kids need us even more.

Prep for Parent-Teacher Conferences

The research is clear that parent involvement is important for student achievement. Parent-teacher conferences demonstrate involvement and do play a role in student classroom performance. However, when I’ve spoken with parents about parent-teacher conferences, there’s often some mixed feelings about their value.

Many parents fear that these conferences can actually hurt, rather than help. Even when I recently went to my son’s school to meet with his teacher about a grade dispute, I was nervous about whether the teacher would be vengeful later. It was important enough of an issue that I felt the need to get involved and advocate for my son, anyway. Different from a typical parent-teacher meeting, my son also joined the discussion.

One of the more encouraging trends in parent-teacher conferences is student-led conferences. My middle-school sons have led their regular, twice-a-year conferences since 6th grade. I enjoy this style much better because it gives students a chance to hear what’s being said about them and encourages them to actively participate in their learning process. Communication with the teacher is part of that learning process. Likewise, the parents can model for students how to interact with their teacher.

For parents who are getting ready for upcoming conferences, Harvard Family Research has published a useful document for reference, in English and Spanish. It also includes preparation tips for principals and teachers, which shows that the conference should be two-way communication. Reviewing the roles of principals and teachers may help ease any parent uneasiness. The parent-teacher conference is still one of the most helpful ways for parents to be engaged in their student’s academic achievement.

Job openings and the impact on your Child

When was the last time you checked the openings in your district? You may not be looking for a job opening for yourself. However, the available employment opportunities in your district (or a college that you’re interested in applying to) can give a clue to the cultural climate of that campus.

I am registered on several list services that post current job openings. For a listing that I received today, there were “multiple faculty openings” at a university in an adjoining state. Some questions raised for me after seeing 15+ openings . . . What’s going on in these departments? Is the campus going through a growth spurt? Have faculty recently retired or been denied tenure? What will be the average class sizes while the search is being conducted? How will students be involved in the hiring the new faculty members? How long are these searches expected to last?

As part of the research that K-12 parents do each year when they’re looking into schools, it is a great idea to look at the  job openings. Similar questions can be asked at the district level, such as How will my child’s schedule change while a position is being filled? How will substitute teachers be supported? How will the course offerings change? How will parents be notified when new prospective administrators are being considered? How long is the search anticipated to take? What input will be taken from parents/community in the hiring process, particularly for a high-profile role such as chief academic officer or superintendent?

These series of questions can be used to help families manage expectations for their child’s academic experience. The answers to these questions may also provide clues to the climate of an educational setting. In short, if there is a lot of craziness going on with the adults in teaching or administrative roles, it will impact your child at the classroom level.

What Race to the Top means for your Family

Education news wires were abuzz today with the announcement of the new winners of the Race to the Top, Round 2 funds. States are vying for these funds as they see other sources to support education reform have dwindled over the years. In the process of applying for this substantial award, states have invested considerable time and resources. The grant was already released with guidelines and limitations on the parameters for using the funds. The reforms may focus on one of these areas

  • Data systems
  • Standards and assessments
  • Effective teachers
  • School turnaround

Early this year in the first round, two states – Tennessee and Delaware – won $600M to implement new initiatives in their respective states. The Round 2 winners announced today were Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. These states are splitting $3.4 billion to make education reforms.

If you attend school or have children who attend school in one of these winning states, please review your state’s application. There is a chance that these reforms may have an influence on your child’s classroom. Below are links to each state’s website where you can find more information about the reforms that will take place in your state.

With each of these applications, the next consideration is how these reforms will be implemented within the context of their districts and communities. For example, a new report was released this week about the state of education for African-American boys in school districts around the country. In NYC, only 9% of African American boys in 8th grade are reading at grade level. Scary. So, how will these RTT funds be used in the context of what these students’ needs are? (Things that make you go. . . “Hmmm.”)

If you have questions about the grants, reforms, or other, please don’t hesitate to send me an email.

Harvard is not the only one . . .


Many of us have probably seen the email announcements claiming that students with a family income of $60,000 or less can attend Harvard tuition-free. Within the last three years, Harvard has made an education there more affordable for lower-income families. Even more impressive is the fact that more financial aid is also offered to families with incomes of $180,000 or less.

These are attractive and compelling reasons for many more students to apply to Harvard, even if families would have previously thought that education there would have been financially out-of-reach. As Harvard states on its financial aid page, all financial aid awards are based on need only. This translates to no merit awards or athletic scholarships being offered by the university. Therefore, if you need money for college, the university awards enough to make college matriculation possible.

Before families get too excited about the prospect of affording a Harvard education, there are some important aspects in the admissions/applications process worth considering:

  • College fit
  • College planning and readiness

College Fit

“College fit” recognizes that every student isn’t a match for Harvard. Neither is Harvard a good match for every student. Students are better off if they start with why – Why do you want to attend college? Why do you want to attend Harvard? Too many students that I’ve met over the years apply to Harvard because of the brand name alone. What do you know about the university and how you might contribute to campus life there? If a student likes the fact that there are no fraternities and sororities at Harvard, there are over 1,100 private, four-year institutions that do not have fraternities or sororities. About 40 of those institutions are considered highly selective like Harvard.

Students should also consider whether they want to live in the Cambridge area for four years. If students visit the Cambridge area, they can get an even better sense of campus life and the surrounding community. On my visits to Cambridge, I have enjoyed the vibrancy of the community. Students visiting the area do need to recognize that it is an urban campus, much like UC Berkeley or the University of Chicago. When students start with why it forces them to think more introspectively about these factors and not just apply for the sake of a brand name.

I applied to Columbia as an undergraduate. After my acceptance there, I took advantage of an opportunity to attend Admitted Student weekend. What an eye-opener that was. It was a great experience but I quickly realized that living in Manhattan would have been too distracting for my weak study habits. That was good to find out before I matriculated and took the risk of getting off track in my studies.

College Planning and Readiness

“College planning and readiness” can’t be stressed enough for all students considering college.  To put it bluntly, students do not apply to a selective school like Harvard in their senior year. A rigorous high school program is a requisite for being competitive in the application process to Harvard. In order for students to advance through a rigorous high school program, they must start their preparation as late as middle school. (A recent study has shown that students know whether they’re going to college by the time they are in sixth grade.)

High-quality high school experience is most evident when students wait until senior year of high school to learn that Harvard requires 3 SAT subject tests, not only the general SAT test. A rigorous high school program better positions applicants to be prepared to take these subject tests in the early fall of senior year.

Even among the academically strong, exceptionally talented 30,000+ students world-wide that applied to Harvard in 2009-2010, less than 7% were accepted. So it is good to know that there are still a number of strong post-secondary institutions that could be a good fit for the 28,000+ students who can focus their college decision-making elsewhere.

Financial Assistance at strong colleges/universities

There are even several other institutions, aside from Harvard, that offer generous financial assistance to student applicants, across income backgrounds. Those campuses include:

So when you receive the email touting Harvard’s financial aid policy, you will know that there are many colleges and universities that may be more affordable than you think.