how to be an inventorWhere would we be without inventors? They are the people who look at a problem and find a way to solve it. They are the people who look at the way we do things and come up with a better way to do them. Some inventions we take for granted – like the wheel. But someone at some time came up with the ideas and transformed human lives.

Some inventions are for fun, like stilts, while others change our lives and the way we live, like jets. It’s fun to learn the histories behind inventions. We can learn tat inventions are all the products of teams of scientists working at corporations. They aren’t even all created by adults either  Shubham Banerjee (pictured on the left), for example, was just 12 years old when he invented an inexpensive Braille printer out of a Legos Mindstorm kit.  He went on to create a new company, Braigo Labs. The name is a blend of “Braille” and “Lego.”

We also tend to think that people toil for months, if not years, trying to perfect an invention, but inventions often come to mind quickly. Some inventions are actually mistakes (like post-it notes) while others (like velcro) are created by curious and observant individuals. Of course, in most cases, a useful invention doesn’t pop into one’s mind out of nowhere. There really is a process, even if it’s often an informal one. Help your child understand how to be an inventor!

What Does It Takes to Be an Inventor?

So, what does it take to be an inventor?  It doesn’t always take lots of money or corporate backing, nor does it take being an adult. What it takes is a fresh eye, curiosity, and some creativity. What exactly makes someone a good inventor? The Quirky website has a list of 6 personality traits of successful inventors like Steve Jobs (Apple Computers) and Thomas Edison. In addition to curiosity and creativity, it takes persistence and some fearlessness. Someone who is afraid of failure will have a tough time as an inventor. When Edison experimented with creating a new type of battery, he never considered any of his experiments to be failures. He saw them as successes in discovering what did NOT work. He was clearly not afraid to fail.

When we are trying something new, we learn from our mistakes. If we are afraid of making mistakes, we don’t learn. We also limit our creativity. A large part of creativity is doing something different, seeing things in ways others have never seen them before. But how do we do that if we fear failure. Encouraging your child to think like an inventor is a great way to help them overcome a fear of failure.

Another part of being an inventor is the ability to look at a problem from multiple angles. That can be easier for kids than for adults because kids have not yet learned about what won’t work. Their minds are still open to possibilities. They aren’t impeded by the idea that “it’s never been done that way.” And if your child has multiple interests, he may be able to draw on knowledge from all those interests to find a new solution to an old problem. When a person knows about only one area, she tends to think only in the way those in that area think.

For example, do you think a poet and a physicist think the same way about the physical universe?  If you are thinking that only a physicist can solve a problem in the physical world while the poet can only express the longings of the soul, then you are already limiting your thinking. Your child may be more open to seeing problems in fresh ways. That doesn’t mean that they will all work, but without the new ideas and the willingness to take a chance, there is nothing new.

Step by Step Approach to Inventing

If you would like to encourage your child to channel his “inner inventor,” then you can help him by providing a few step-by-step ideas on how to approach the inventing process.

  1. Take note of what you don’t like to do or what seems more difficult than it should be.
    This happens to all of us all the time. We frequently think, “I wish someone would invent a way to…” or “This is such a hassle…” or something along those lines. Abigail Fleck invented a new and healthier way to cook bacon. It came from an off-hand comment her father made, but that’s how inventing often works. Someone hears a comment someone makes or they think themselves about what isn’t good, what we don’t like doing, what is a problem. This is where being observant comes in handy. It really is a matter of thinking about what we wish could be done faster or more easily. It often starts with thoughts like “I wish someone would invent a way to…” or “If only there were an easier way to …”
  2. Consider how the task could be performed better and/or more easily.
    Once your child (or you) has recognized a problem, then the task is to determine how to eliminate the problem. In the case of Abigail, she came up with a way to cook bacon in the microwave by hanging it over rods and letting the fat drip. She was only 8 when she came up with this idea, so it’s really not age and experience that always makes the difference, but creative problem/solution thinking that matters. When thoughts like “I wish that…” pop into our minds as we perform some task, that is a sign that we have some idea of how the task could be better. If your child doesn’t like the way she has to do something, she can consider why she doesn’t like it. It’s the “why” that is the problem.
  3. Design a way to solve the problem
    This sounds a lot like step 2, but it isn’t the same. In step 2, your child is thinking of a general way to solve a problem.  In step 3, she is now trying to deal with the specifics. Sticking with Abigail’s idea for cooking bacon, consider that in step 2, she would be thinking of a way to let the fat drip from the bacon as it’s cooking, but HOW would that be accomplished?  What is the design of the product?  What would it look like?  How would it work?  This is the step where an inventor has to make the wish a reality. What is possible? How can the process be changed? Is there a tool that can help? What would the tool look like? What could it be made out of? Those are some of the kinds of questions an inventor could ask at this point.

Here are some additional ways to think about inventing.  But keep in mind that while many of the ideas are directed at kids in 6th grade and up, some are also directed at kids in kindergarten, and the kind of thinking necessary to inventing applies to all kids!

Kid Inventors

I love creativity and I love the ability our gifted kids have for out-of-the-box thinking. Unfortunately, sometimes our kids don’t always have the confidence it takes to forge ahead with their truly innovative ideas. If you want to help your child understand that innovation and invention don’t belong to adults alone, then you might want to visit these Web sites with your child and have some discussions on what it takes to be an inventor:

Brainstorm!: The Stories of Twenty American Kid Inventors (Paperback)
by Tom Tucker

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Carol BainbridgeNurturing Gifts and Talentshow to be an inventor
Where would we be without inventors? They are the people who look at a problem and find a way to solve it. They are the people who look at the way we do things and come up with a better way to do them. Some inventions we take for...