Risk Taking Leads to Confidence

Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, treetop adventures courses -- take kids out of their comfort zone, and you might be surprised at the results!

Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, treetop adventures courses -- take kids out of their comfort zone, and you might be surprised at the results!

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would join my kids whitewater rafting on the Colorado, rock climbing in Alaska, cliff diving in Hawaii or tackling a treetop adventure course 30 feet above the ground, I would have said you were crazy.  Me? An outdoors person? But I realized that if I wanted my kids to be creative risk takers and learn how to expand their comfort zones, I would need to lead the way.  

You know your kids and their limits.  Discuss what you would like to do as a family and why. Get their input and a feel for their comfort zones.  Talk about what you will do and how you will do it, and look up articles from others on ways to be safe and have a good time.

If your younger ones are a bit fearful, a little risk taking can give them the confidence they need to push themselves in less than comfortable situations. If they are naturally less fearful, experiencing accomplishments before they become self-conscious middle schoolers will ensure that they do not succumb to self-doubt as they get older, preserve their child-like confidence into their older years. Even older kids can benefit from a little risk taking -- and under your guidance you can model limits, such as what risks are ok and not ok to engage in.

The results? My shy daughter who never wanted people to speak to her and would not voluntarily try something new, just finished a summer studying whales and marine life on board a sailboat that traveled up the Atlantic coast -- without anyone with her that she knew -- something she never would have done had she not experienced 10 years of encouragement and gradual confidence building.  And my son who would experience physical and emotional stress when asked to do something he hadn't done before, tried repelling again this summer and this time, found he could do it -- and on a recent weekend got further on a high adventure ropes course than anyone else in the family. 

Although I haven't had any real physical training, I've managed to survive these adventures and not look too foolish. Turns out that years of ballet as a young girl gave me the balance and agility to undertake a variety of outdoor activity without too much strain.  Even though this 50 year old body does take twice as long to recover from an excursion than it used to, trying new things can be exciting and life altering, even in middle age.  What's next.....sky diving?? 

Encourage Creativity & Scientific Thinking

Creativity is the root of genius inventions, great ideas, and awesome innovations. However, we often hear about a lack of creativity in kids today. As parents, we have the ability to nurture our children's creative endeavors that will lead them to be the future leaders of the world. 
Art classes and music lessons are often the go-to, but with science and technology being extremely influential in our everyday lives and the increasing emphasis on STEM education, it's time to try something new. Resourcefulness and risk-taking in science has given us the technological leaps and innovations that we enjoy today. So now more than ever, our children should start developing creativity skills in those STEM areas. 
To drive that creative process, it is important to emphasize open-ended play and unstructured opportunities to create and experiment. Here are a few activities that will inspire your kids to think both creatively and scientifically.
1.    3D Building Activities
Whether it's playing with Legos, modeling with Play-Doh, or designing an egg drop project, there are no bounds when it comes to creativity in building.

When competing in an egg drop contest, for example, will challenge kids to think creatively about how to cushion the egg (the cradle), how to slow the fall or how to minimize the weight. I’ve seen effective solutions from giant popcorn pillows to more minimalist designs made of coffee stick holders, with and without hand-sewn plastic bag parachutes. Not only is this an opportunity for kids to brainstorm analytically and critically from an engineering and scientific perspective, they get to test their ideas and improve upon them. It’s an invaluable opportunity to experiment creatively, and they’ll achieve immense satisfaction when they can be successful as a result of ideas that were theirs.
2.    Experiment in the Kitchen
With a little bit of science, you won't be scolding your kids for playing with their food anymore. Plus, what could be more fun than food? Experimenting in the kitchen is great way for kids to learn about science, creatively explore, and have fun.

Beyond mixing ingredients (the “chemistry” of cooking), there are ways to use everyday kitchen ingredients to see science in action, and encourage kids to not be afraid to "try and see".

A popular and easy activity among kids is making naked eggs using vinegar, which involves an acid-base chemical reaction. By submerging an egg in a bowl of vinegar for a day, the shell will dissolve. The result is a naked egg!

Another educational activity is testing pH levels using a red cabbage. As a natural pH indicator, the cabbage juice will change colors depending on the acid and base levels of a liquid substance. By testing in various liquids, kids will have a rainbow array of colors. Even if your child is too young to understand chemistry, they will still have a fun time exploring and experimenting. 
3.    Origami
The only thing required for this fun activity is paper. While most people may think of origami purely as an arts and crafts activity, the process of transforming a 2D piece of paper into a 3D object involves visualization, logic, and lots of mathematical themes—the basics being geometry, angles, and fractions.

Kids can also learn about mathematical and scientific concepts from origami. For example, by folding a paper airplane, they can visualize fractions, proportion and geometry, and observe the interactions between an object's design, gravity and aerodynamic properties.
4.    Coding
To many people, computer programming may seem boring and full of nonsensical syntax. But as we know today, with apps that infiltrate every aspect of our lives, coding is extremely versatile and can lead to many creative opportunities. It allows people to bring their imaginations to life and to turn ideas into reality.

Educational interactive resources have made coding easy and fun for today’s kids. They can learn fundamental programming concepts while exercising their creativity through storytelling, animations, game development, and more. (Every December Code.org hosts an Hour of Code – a great opportunity for you to get your kids started!  www.code.org)
5.    20 Questions—Backwards!
Rather than guessing an object, play the game of 20 Questions backwards with your kids. Pick or show them an object and tell them to ask questions about it. Some questions may be more specific while others may be more open-ended.

By coming up with questions, kids will be encouraged to observe and analyze from all angles. Challenging your child to creatively brainstorm these questions will eventually lead your kids to start asking the bigger ones—the "what ifs" and the "hows".
There are so many ways that kids can explore their creativity, and it’s not limited to only art and music. As STEM education becomes more and more important, encourage your kids to delve into math and science. Building, food, origami, coding, and 20 Questions are just a few ideas to get them started.

Camps and Classes – Encourage Your Child Try Something New!

Sometimes you need a break. You can't be expected to orchestrate every new experience for your child. And with the right curriculum and instructors, you might get a few new ideas you can build on at home. Here are some things my kids explored in summer camps and classes. No prerequisites; easy for beginners to be successful at many ages (age 5-12). Very hands-on with a performance or presentation at the end.

·       Shakespeare

·       Robotics

·       Creative Writing

·       Solar Energy & Electricity

·       Coding

·       Ceramics

·       Sports basics (basketball, volleyball, tennis, soccer)

·       Dance

·       Musical Theatre

·       Wildlife & nature

·       Playing in a rock band

·       Cooking

·       Painting

I also appreciated camps with themes that were woven into crafts, outdoor activities and hands-on experiments. Some of the unique themes that my kids thought were really cool:

·       Knights and Medieval Times

·       Land Down Under

·       Galileo & Solar System

·       Roller Coasters

Can’t fit in or afford summer camps?  Get together with other families and form a weekend club to explore these areas with the kids. Each parent can pick a topic to research and plan, and lead the kids in the activity.

How to Nurture Scientific Curiosity

Remember the book “How Things Work”? Nowadays, it’s easy to bring the book to life. There are so many wonderful museums (with family free days) and university-sponsored family science events specifically geared toward giving kids hands-on experience with science.  Not only are these experiences the best way to build familiarity and confidence with topics that they will later learn in school -- an open-ended environment promotes the experimentation and “what if?” investigation that leads to creativity.

The best way to let young minds experience the exhibits is to follow their interests (read: follow them around the museum and let them explore activities at their own pace).  Occasionally you might suggest a special program that is happening at a specific time, but for the most part, let them drive the agenda for the day.

Watch them explore – you’ll learn a lot about their learning style, interests and how they interact with others. If you find yourself getting restless, try a few exhibits yourself. Then you can authentically express enthusiasm when you turn to your child and say, “Hey, try this. It’s cool”!

As kids get older, a trip to the science museum may seem juvenile. But often what kids are learning in school is excellently illustrated in the exhibits that the museum has constructed and geared toward younger children. Challenge your older “know-it-all”s by asking them to explain the science behind an exhibit to a younger sibling, or to find a display that they would improve to make it “cooler” for kids their age. You can also ask them to seek out an exhibit that teaches them something new, or tell them to think about topics or ideas for their next science fair project.

If you want to turn your backyard or kitchen into a hands-on science lab, there are plenty of websites with suggestions for activities you can do at home and in your neighborhood to spark kids’ curiosity about (and confidence with) science. Here are links to a few of them (they are great sources for science fair ideas, too):