While listening to another of Dan Miller's 48days podcasts, I heard an interesting question. The listener said that he and his wife did not have the financial ability for one of them to homeschool, and couldn't afford private school. He knows how bad the system is getting and wanted to know what they could do to help encourage their kids to find their creativity and be free-thinkers. I wanted to share a few ideas that I believe can help.
Children are born with certain qualities: Insatiable curiosity, a sense of wonder, a fearless nature, and of course boundless energy. How can we help our kids either maintain some of those qualities or regain them where they've been lost? How can we teach our kids to grow into free-thinking adults, and cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset?
1. Entrepreneurs see what it could be, not just what it is.
While it's important to be realistic and to be aware of the dangers of the world in order to better prepare for things that can go wrong, we can't let ourselves become so embroiled in the "what-ifs" that we forget to live in the moment. For children, everything is new, and they are perpetually beginners at something. Being in a perpetual state of learning means that there is always growth. Let your kids imagine the possibilities, and try things that may not work out well. Yes they may try many of the same things that you did as a child, and that you know will not work. That doesn't matter though. They need to experience it for themselves.
We must re-learn to see things through the eyes of a child so we can better see the possibilities. If that means that you have to follow them around and play their imaginary games, then do it. Be their Mrs. Nesbitt (remember Toy Story?) in their tea parties and help them build forts out of cardboard boxes. It's going to rain tomorrow? Who cares? Just remind them to bring in the stuff that'll be ruined.
Learn to see both what is, and what could be
Being able to see both sides of the coin is important. Many adults tend to see the world for what it is, but lose sight of what it could be. Kids are the opposite - they don't see what is, only what could be.
I think that entrepreneurs have either learned to see both sides, or are inherently more flexible in their thinking. They have a child-like sense of wonder of the world around, and an instinctive need to do something. Combined with wisdom that only comes through experience, this gives a completely different perspective.
2. Question everything.
I've heard it said that blind faith is a dangerous thing. We also have lots of great employees who are not capable of independent thought. But is it really so difficult to learn to think for ourselves?
I truly believe that kids are, by their very nature, impulsive with a purpose. It's not random, or a symptom of an immature mind, it's by design. Kids naturally gravitate towards things that interest them, asking questions along the way. We can teach them a trick or two, and learn something from them in the process.
Teach kids to question everything.
A sure way to break out of a rigid mindset and find creativity is to question everything. If homeschooling simply isn't an option for your family right now (or even if you are homeschooling), the best thing you can do for your kids is to teach them to question everything. Teach them why, teach them how, and teach them to do it respectfully - but get them asking questions. Teach them that in this life, you often get exactly what you ask for, especially if you ask for nothing.
Entrepreneurs do this constantly. My favorite question is "Why not?" but also "Why can't I do this?" or "Why shouldn't I do that?" These are usually in response to someone saying, something can't be done.
Give them lots of free time, without structure or rules other than those they make for themselves.
Give them space to play, to dream, to create. Let them get bored and think their way out of it. Let them run around (with good boundaries) without you standing over their shoulder.
Kids who have free, unstructured time without adult intervention are the kids who learn to think for themselves.
3. Don't just give them things that they could easily earn for themselves.
I love gifts, don't you? But kids that are given too much come to feel that they're entitled to whatever they want. We've all seen that child, hitting and screaming at his mother because she refused to buy just one more thing at the store. Heck, I've been the mom with a kid throwing a tantrum on the floor. The choice at that point though isn't whether or not to give in to get little Johnny to stop, it's how are you going to discipline him? How will you teach him to earn that thing for himself?
Give them ideas that they can implement to earn their own money.
Not only does this increase their ability to do for themselves, but kids who learn at an early age to earn their way through the world become the adults who find a way to make it work. They'll learn quickly what works and what doesn't. You may have to help with logistics, but what parent wouldn't be proud of their little miss who has figured out she's pretty darn good with animals and can take care of neighbors pets while they vacation?
What about a child who is good with plants, and can grow just about anything? Maybe he could make a business selling plants and/or helping people learn to grow them.
What about your little artist? Can she make enough items to take to a craft fair to sell?
What about a fruit stand if you have fruit trees or bushes?
4. Support them in their ideas, but don't do it for them.
This really is the crux of the thing. If kids don't feel that they have the support of their parents, the people who they love most in the world, they don't feel as safe to try. I suppose that's the difference between adults and kids. We know that we're going to be afraid... but we know that we must do it anyhow, and so we generally do. They, however, need to know that we've got their back, and we'll help when they need it. Helping with the logistics, with getting from point A to B is one thing, but that doesn't mean you do it all for them.
Teach them how to do for themselves, and answer the questions they ask.
It sounds like it should be obvious, after all, isn't that what we're supposed to be doing? But when we do something for them because it's just faster that way we are only hurting them in the long run. I remember when my twins wanted to learn how to cook their own eggs. They were seven then. I remember my husband showing them first, then helping, then watching, and now they are free to go into the kitchen and make an egg whenever they'd like, among many other things. Their eggs are perfectly cooked nearly every time too. I'm jealous.
Remember that kids are generally ready for the answers to the questions they ask. You'll have to decide how much detail to provide, but truly - I have found that the vast majority of my students, and all four of my kids were ready for the answers when they asked the questions. Sometimes the topics were uncomfortable for me - but something in their eyes told me that they needed to know.
It takes many years of schooling, being told what to do and when, and what to think to box up a person. But cultivating a free-thinker and entrepreneur is easier than you think - it starts with freedom.
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