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Creative Kids (Part 2): 7 Ways to Teach Flow

Kids can be taught how to use flow to be creative.

1. DISCUSS THE CONCEPT OF FLOW. Learn the signs of flow (one way is to keep reading this blog). Point out to your child when she seems to have been most deeply engaged in an activity. For instance, when your child is playing with friends so intently that she forgets to stop for lunch, you might say, "Honey, you were really involved just now, having fun with your friends. When you're in flow like that, it's hard to get back to ordinary stuff, isn't it?"

2. TALK ABOUT YOUR OWN FLOW EXPERIENCES. Express your personal enjoyment of tough challenges, by saying something like, "Wow, that was really hard! I think that's why I enjoyed it so much. It feels great to stick with something long enough to see results!"

3. PROVIDE ENOUGH TIME AND SPACE. Make a point of not filling every moment of your child's day so she has more time to follow her own interests. If she's focused intently on reading or doing a puzzle, let her finish. If she simply won't stop, say, "It looks like you were really involved in figuring out that puzzle. No wonder you didn't answer me right away." When it's time for school or bed, acknowledge her frustration at the need to stop. Encourage a longer attention span by not having the TV on during homework time. Make it a family habit to put away one thing (or place it out of sight) before beginning another.

4. LEARN AND TEACH SELF-MONITORING. Show your child how to monitor her own attention by becoming more aware of your own limited attentional resources. For instance, say, "I'll have to read this later. I'm so tired right now that I don't know what I'm reading." She'll learn to recognize that it's a good idea to stop when her focus flags. Perhaps all that's needed is a change of pace or a rest break. Or does she need some help to get over a difficult spot in her homework? Suggest that your child note her daily energy levels. Is doing her homework the moment she comes home the best use of her energy? Would a snack first make her more attentive?

5. OFFER CHALLENGING PASTIMES. Encourage hobbies that grow more complex with play. With pre-packaged computer games, for example, the challenge doesn't last long. Instead, encourage drawing, story writing, photography, constructing dioramas, cooking, and kite-making -- all activities with infinite options. (My own earlier book, Playing Smart, contains many more ideas.)

6. EMPHASIZE ACTIVITIES FOR THEIR OWN SAKE. Encourage your child to do things because she enjoys them, rather than focus on how she's doing. Rather than, "You did a good job," say, "You certainly are having a lot of fun learning about dinosaurs, aren't you?" Don't resort to rewards and bribes -- research shows this may reduce the intrinsic motivation to learn. (I highly recommend this great article by Alfie Kohn.)

7. EXPERIMENT AND FIND THE NOVELTY. Teach your child to experiment with tasks in order to add novelty, thus raising his interest level and leading to flow. For instance, ask him to choose the simplest everyday chore, such as straightening his room, and find a way to make it more enjoyable. He could put music on, dance from location to location, try to beat the clock, decorate storage boxes, and so on. When cooking with your child, say, "What do you think would happen if we don't beat the eggs before putting them in?" Or, "It should be fun to try a new recipe. Let's see what happens if we add a little bit of onion." When something new doesn't work as well as you'd both hoped, point out that it's a learning experience anyway.