The other night I was studying at my parent’s house when my mom brought out some learning toys that she was bringing to her fifth-grade classroom. She showed me a geometric puzzle and suddenly, countless images of me on my parent’s floor bent over games and puzzles flooded into my mind. When I was growing up I was obsessed with puzzles. Specifically, the geometric ones that require you to tinker around with the way the shapes fit together to perfectly make a singular image. Because my mom was a fifth-grade teacher and my dad was a college professor, I grew up in an environment that constantly encouraged creative thinking.
In 2017, fidget spinners were all the rage. These tools were originally developed for kids with learning disorders, mental illnesses, or anxiety to help alleviate their symptoms. After the spinners were introduced, they developed into a cultural phenomenon. Kids, teens, and adults were spinning their fidgets regardless of whether they were part of the target market group. Although these can be annoying to some, they are a simple tool for people to calm down in a stressful situation.
Because I believe tools like fidget spinners have a positive influence, I think it’s important for educators and employers to provide tools for creative and calm learning. Not all people learn best by sitting still and “paying attention”. In fact, some listen much better and for longer periods of time when they can do something with their hands. Here are some of my favorite toys I used as a kid, that I believe could be implemented in the classroom or boardroom to boost creative thinking and problem solving as well as keeping us focused.
- LEGOS. Legos, for me, opened the door for creativity. While there are instructions provided, you don’t have to follow them. LEGO specifically designs their products so you can create whatever you can dream up. This is why legos can be fun for all ages; as you grow your designs mature with you. In addition, the blocks themselves can be used in many hands-on learning opportunities. Using blocks in meetings and in the classroom can be a gateway to additional knowledge. Their use shows that you don’t have to stay inside the box but can be creative. In fact, sometimes the things you can craft on your own are better than the defacto design.
- Blank paper and colored pencils. I know this sounds lame, but growing up I don’t remember a single car ride that didn’t consist of my parents giving me a coloring book or blank paper so I could doodle. My parents, who couldn’t leave me unoccupied, tried to avoid screen time and stressed more formative ways of killing time on long car rides. As I grew older I continued to be a doodler. today, most of the time when I am in class listening to lectures I doodle on my notebook paper. Not because I’m not paying attention but because the mindless act of drawing flowers and hearts help me retain and process the information that my professor is teaching. Having paper or coloring books in meetings can provide an outlet to keep employees or students from daydreaming because it forces your brain to expend just enough energy to stay engaged and thinking.
- Play-Doh. When I was in art class in middle school my teacher always had clay sitting out for us to play with during work time. Not only was it a fun thing to use to help pass the time but, it was also a good tool to use when we were in a creative rut. If we were ever getting frustrated my teacher recommended that we put down what we were working on and instead mold the play-do into shapes that bring us comfort. I liked simply rolling the play-do into snakes. This small act of creativity gave my brain the time it needed to recharge to continue with my original project. Putting play-doh in the conference room and having a meeting start by everyone playing with the clay will break down the stuffy and sometimes scary presence that meetings often carry.
Implementing these three toys can help employees and students break unproductive patterns. In addition, the employer or teacher will be making an active effort to help foster an environment that nourishes creativity. Although there are many more tools that you can use to create a healthy and engaging environment, these are a solid three to start. By having these simple toys it creates a message that learning and growing doesn’t have to be boring or stressful.
Until next time,