Teaching Methods To Make Your Child More Innovative

Find out how Albert Einstein and Mark Zuckerberg's early education helped mold them, and how you can help your own child build an entrepreneurial mindset.
November 18, 2013

Today, there are many parents who would like to raise their children to be entrepreneurs, to instill in them the belief that they can create their own wealth doing what they love rather than work for someone else. 

Unfortunately, not many children get an education that prepares them for an entrepreneurial path. But that may soon be changing.

In an inspiring article in Wired, Joshua Davis notes that a new breed of educators is inventing radical new ways to teach children to learn, grow and thrive. For these teachers, as Joshua puts it, "knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process."

Alternative Teaching Methods

There are many such teaching methods that ignite the power of thinking and learning in young minds. Here are three examples:

Pestalozzi: The Pestalozzi method emphasizes spontaneity and self-activity. Children aren't given ready-made answers, but are encouraged to arrive at the answers on their own. It cultivates observing, judging and reasoning. Above all, children are encouraged to use their imagination to visualize images. As Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world." He credits the year he spent in a Pestalozzi-inspired school with his success. As Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson observes, "The visual understanding of concepts, as stressed by Pestalozzi ... became a significant aspect of Einstein’s genius."

Montessori: The Montessori method of teaching allows children to spend large parts of the day however they choose to learn, while the teacher observes. It's predicated on the theory that structured teacher-driven lessons inhibit a child's natural development. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin claim that it was their Montessori education that instilled in them the spirit of independence and creativity.

Harkness: The Harkness style of teaching, also called Harkness Table, is the brainchild of oil magnate Edward Harkness. Learning takes place around a round table, conference style, rather than behind traditional school desks. This encourages students to take responsibility for their learning and to share their opinions. Phillips Exeter Academy, to whom Harkness made a substantial donation, is famous for its Harkness style of teaching. Among its notable alumni are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and novelist John Irving.

What Parents Can Do

1. Support your children's natural inclinations. If your children show an early entrepreneurial bent, give them a lot of support. As entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO and co-founder of Vayner Media, puts it "If your child is selling Pokémon cards in school, or setting up a lemonade stand, or picking flowers and selling them, and they’re only 8 years old, all you need to do is react to the fact that they’re already entrepreneurs and give them a lot of rope." This means freedom, support, acknowledgement and building up as much steam behind their entrepreneurial actions as you can.

Behind every successful entrepreneur is often a parent who cheered them on. Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, and Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, for example, are two entrepreneurs who credit a parent for encouraging them to be an entrepreneur. If you need inspiration in that regard, consider acquiring videos such as The Lemonade Story, which examines the impact that mothers have on igniting an entrepreneurial spirit in their children. 

2. Teach children about entrepreneurship at home. If you're an entrepreneur yourself, involve your children in your endeavors. Show them what you do, and how you do it. Give them small tasks related to your business. Point out businesses in your neighborhood that are entrepreneurial: the corner coffeehouse, the flower shop or the food cart. Encourage them to observe how these people sell, and how they treat customers. Use these as real world lessons. Create an environment at home that encourages entrepreneurship, without forcing it on your children if they're not so inclined. You can also share stories of grade school entrepreneurs, or expose them to magazine articles of successful entrepreneurs who got an early start.  

For additional inspiration, watch Cameron Herold's TED presentation on Let's Raise Kids To Be Entrepreneurs. Herold, an entrepreneur since childhood, was the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and is now the CEO of BackPocketCOO. Some of the ways he teaches his kids to be entrepreneurs is respecting the value of money, not wasting it, standing up in front of groups to speak, learning to tell stories rather than listening to bedtime stories, and not giving kids allowances but instead encouraging them to walk around the house and the yard looking for stuff that needs to get done and then pitching for the job. "Allowances," says Herolds, "teach kids the wrong habits. Allowances by nature are teaching kids to think about a job. An entrepreneur doesn't expect a regular paycheck." 

3. Pair them with an entrepreneurial mentor. Most successful people have a mentor or a coach. You can do the same for your children. Have them spend time with friends or family members who are entrepreneurs. You can also access mentoring resources at Mentoring.org. Additional resources can be found at Teen Business Link.

4. Find a big picture school.  Big Picture Learning is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to redesigning the education approach in the U.S. by developing innovative learning environments, and replicating new models for learning. There are 56 big picture schools in the U.S. Look for one in your area.

5. Send your children to an entrepreneur boot camp for kids. These are priceless experiences for children to learn about entrepreneurship in a fun environment. Watch, for example, what happens at The Youth Entrepreneurship Camp in Williston, or check out the Gutsy Entrepreneur Boot Camp in New Jersey. If you're in Canada, consider the Entrepreneur Boot Camp for Kids offered by the Canadian Institute of Entrepreneurship. For more entrepreneurial boot camps for children, read what Don Burton, a serial entrepreneur, has to say in Creating the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs: A New Start Up Bootcamp for Kids.

6. Encourage self-learning. Expose your children to online opportunities for self-learning, even if some of these, such as Skillshare, may seem to be geared for a more adult audience. It will stretch their minds. Here are some other choices to explore: Show Me, which includes thousands of free lessons in a variety of topics; Udacity, which offers free interactive classes; and LearnZillion, another free learning platform that combines video lessons, assessments, and progress reporting in a Common Core Standard.

7. Bring self-organized learning to your community. Don't miss Sugata Mitra's SOLE program, which is aimed at helping educators and parents to ignite the fire of curiosity in kids at home, in school or at after-school programs. You can download the SOLE step by step toolkit.

8. Join a movement to support entrepreneurial education in schools. Antony Delmedico, CEO, serial entrepreneur, and author of Kids In Business Around The World, launched the E2 Petition for Entrepreneurship Education, an initiative aimed at making entrepreneurial education a core curriculum in all public schools (grades 4 to12). This could help your kids and all other kids.

9. Instill the right characteristics. Above all, teach your kids the importance of values, and how to develop character. Here's a list of schools that incorporate character teaching into the classroom: It's KIPP, a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory schools. Their Seven Keys for Implementing Character in Your School are an inspiration for all of us.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

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