by Wendy Warren

Here’s a simple game to play with your family. Choose any object around your house— the simpler, the better. Perhaps you pick up an ink pen. Each of you take a turn sharing whatever you can imagine that object could be used for. You can imagine it far larger than it actually is, or far smaller, or just the same size. For example, pens have long been used as paper shooters—but what about as straws? Or maybe it could be a bridge for ants. Or a baton for someone leading a parade. Or if it was much larger, perhaps it could be a water pipe. You get the idea…Keep going until you absolutely run out of ideas and then pick another simple object, say…a paper clip, then start again.

This is practice in divergent thinking. Divergent thinking involves flexibility and playfulness. It can help you break out of a singular way of thinking you may have been taught and open a world of new ideas. It can also help with perspective-taking, which is a critical skill in helping people communicate across differences. Divergent thinking can help your children become problem-solvers, or, in the terminology used by Zoe Weil, solutionaries.

The Faculty Innovation Center at the University of Texas at Austin summarized why divergent thinking is important. They write that it:


  • Opens possibilities of innovative ways to solve more complex problems, overcoming the tendency of many learners to only work within the confines of first impressions or latent assumptions.


  • Fosters empathic understanding of difference and appreciation of varying perspectives.


  • Builds on learners’ curiosity, encouraging experimentation, risk taking, perseverance through failure, and self-expression.


  • Develops creativity, which is often cited as one of the most in-demand skills by employers.


Here are a few more resources to help you further explore divergent thinking:




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