Many of us are fascinated by stories of how some products we use every day were invented. Not all inventions are created by corporations nor are all inventions created on purpose. Some inventions are actually mistakes (like post-it notes) while others (like velcro) are created by curious and observant individuals.
What Does It Takes to Be an Inventor?
So, what does it take to be an inventor? It doesn't always take lots of money or corporate backing. It doesn't even take being an adult! Kids can be inventors, too. What it takes is a fresh eye, curiosity, and some creativity. An old Web article, 3M Develops a Way to Find Future Innovators (still available on the wayback machine), discusses some of the characteristics of an inventor. These include creativity, having broad interests, being multidisciplinary, and taking multiple approaches to a problem.
Sometimes, it's easier for kids than for adults to look at a problem from multiple angles because they have not yet learned about what will NOT work. Their minds are still open to possibilities. They aren't impeded by the idea that "it's never been done that way." And if your child has multiple interests, he may be able to draw on knowledge from all those interests to find a new solution to an old problem. When a person knows about only one area, she tends to think only in the way those in that area think.
For example, do you think a poet and a physicist think the same way about the physical universe? If you are thinking that only a physicist can solve a problem in the physical world while the poet can only express the longings of the soul, then you are already limiting your thinking. Your child may be more open to seeing problems in fresh ways.
Step by Step Approach to Inventing
If your child is creative and you would like to encourage his "inner inventor," then you can help him by providing a few step-by-step ideas on how to approach the inventing process.
- Take note of what you don't like to do or what seems more difficult than it should be.
This happens to all of us all the time. We frequently think, "I wish someone would invent a way to..." or "This is such a hassle..." or something along those lines. Abigail Fleck invented a new and healthier way to cook bacon. It came from an off-hand comment her father made, but that's how inventing often works. Someone hears a comment someone makes or they think themselves about what isn't good, what we don't like doing, what is a problem. This is where being observant comes in handy.
- Consider how the task could be performed better and/or more easily.
Once your child (or you) has recognized a problem, then the task is to determine how to eliminate the problem. In the case of Abigail, she came up with a way to cook bacon in the microwave by hanging it over rods and letting the fat drip. She was only 8 when she came up with this idea, so it's really not age and experience that always makes the difference, but creative problem/solution thinking that matters.
- Design a way to solve the problem
This sounds a lot like step 2, but it isn't the same. In step 2, your child is thinking of a general way to solve a problem. In step 3, she is now trying to deal with the specifics. Sticking with Abigail's idea for cooking bacon, consider that in step 2, she would be thinking of a way to let the fat drip from the bacon as it's cooking, but HOW would that be accomplished? What is the design of the product? What would it look like? How would it work?
Here are some additional ways to think about inventing. But keep in mind that while many of the ideas are directed at kids in 6th grade and up, some are also directed at kids in kindergarten, and the kind of thinking necessary to inventing applies to all kids!
I love creativity and I love the ability our gifted kids have for out-of-the-box thinking. Unfortunately, sometimes our kids don't always have the confidence it takes to forge ahead with their truly innovative ideas. If you want to help your child understand that innovation and invention don't belong to adults alone, then you might want to visit these Web sites with your child and have some discussions on what it takes to be an inventor:
- Kid Inventors, Innovators, Authors, and More
- Kid Inventions - Inventions for School
- Kid Inventors - Kid Inventions
- Kid Inventions