A Mind Forever Young

Maintaining A Youthful Outlook

Two striking features of healthy children are a curious inquisitiveness and a sense of playfulness. Young kids are always asking questions. Ordinary preschool children ask about 100 questions per day. But then something tragic often happens soon after a child starts school.

Why Do Ordinary Kids Stop Asking Questions?
Source: A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

This is one of the tragedies of modern schooling and child-raising. Children who go to conventional schools too often have almost all the inquisitiveness stamped out of them. A conscious schooltime suppression of inquisitiveness in children makes them old and dull before their time.

The Problems of the Future Require People Who Can Ask the Right Questions

Solving problems in the real world is altogether different from scoring points on multiple choice exams in school. Improvisational problem-solving facilitated by asking the right questions makes a worker or an entrepreneur far more valuable and sought after in the real world — especially in a world of accelerating change where novel problems are always appearing.

The world and workplace of the future will demand that its workers and entrepreneurs be observant, nimble, and able to anticipate important trends and changes that are likely to take place. If children and youth never learn to ask the important questions about things and events happening around them, they will be lost and at the mercy of prevailing powers.

Sadly, too many children are discouraged from active engagement and the asking of questions by school systems that are more concerned with generating numbers for government departments, rather than producing healthy and inquisitive young people who can think for themselves.

Student Engagement Over Time

The graph above from a Gallup study reveals the steady decline in student engagement over time. This says more about teaching methods in conventional schools than it does about the students themselves.

Along with Inquisitiveness, A Sense of Playfulness is Indispensable

Play is central to the learning processes of very young children. And even as children grow older, play is a key component to learning foundational skills and for developing latent talents. Active play allows children to think outside the box and ask “what if?” questions which open new worlds of thinking.

New Generations of Youth Lack a Healthy Playfulness

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena discovered that recent engineering hires who were meant to replace older engineers who were retiring, did not know how to solve basic engineering problems with which they were confronted on the job. After investigating the reasons for this disturbing shortcoming of new engineers, they discovered something important about the type of engineers they needed to hire:

The JPL managers went back to look at their … retiring engineers… They found that in their youth, their older, problem-solving employees had taken apart clocks to see how they worked, or made soapbox derby racers, or built hi-fi stereos, or fixed appliances. The younger engineering school graduates who had also done these things, who had played with their hands, were adept at the kind of problem solving that management sought. Those that hadn’t, generally were not. __ From “Play” by Stuart Brown MD with Christopher Vaughan

The same problem with new hires and recent graduates is being seen in workplaces across the US as young people who were never given the experience of creative play and tinkering are hitting the workplace. People who developed the skills of improvising and tinkering in their youth will never forget these playful forms of problem-solving. Those who passed through their youthful years without developing these skills are at a serious practical disadvantage in a world of accelerating change, with newer unconventional problems popping up regularly.

Another example:

[Nate] Jones ran a machine shop that specialized in precision racing and Formula One tires, and he had noticed that many of the new kids coming to work in the shop were … not able to problem solve… After questioning the new kids and older employees, Jones found that those who had worked and played with their hands as they were growing up were able to “see solutions” that those who hadn’t worked with their hands could not. __ Play

We know that children pass through windows of sensitive neurological development as they grow older. If certain “connections” in the brain are not made during these sensitive periods of development, it will be more difficult — if not impossible — for many of these young people to make these important connections when they are older.

Asking the Right Questions Meshes with Skillful Improvisation

If humans grow up mastering the skills of playful improvisation and focused inquisitiveness, their minds will be continually “reset” and renewed, in contrast to the masses of people whose minds begin to atrophy soon after starting school — and continue sliding downward into mindless conformity the further their education takes them.

Children and youth who develop the skills of asking good questions combined with competent and playful improvisation will find themselves in demand. And if these youth and young adults have also learned how to manage their finances, they are likely to eventually find themselves reasonable well off financially.

Dangerous Children, for example, learn to master at least three means of financial independence by the age of 18 years. Besides having multiple skills that are sought after in the marketplace, they have also learned to manage the finances of a household and of multiple small businesses by that same early age. Where they go from there is entirely up to them.

But that is just the beginning of what makes Dangerous Children skilled and nimble in this world or virtually any other human world. It is never too late for a Dangerous Childhood, but the sooner begun, the better.

More information on questions, and play:

Right Question Institute
National Institute for Play

The above posting was adapted from an earlier article in The Dangerous Child blog.

This entry was posted in Childhood Development, Competence, Creativity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Mind Forever Young

  1. info says:

    How do we as older people redevelop our minds along the lines of youth. So that we can have Inquisitiveness and the sense of playfulness.

    • alfin2101 says:

      There may be a million ways to reshape our very plastic minds. One of the best ways is to spend more time around young children, watching them closely and engaging in their inquisitive play.

      Links to the Right Question Institute and the National Institute for play in the article above should lead to web pages that help to generate ideas along those lines.

      The book “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger along with the book “Play” by Stuart Brown, will offer even more suggestions for plastic brains of all ages.

      For those who suffer from various forms of mental dysfunction which cause them to become stuck and rigid, a number of novel approaches including various forms of brain stimulation, mindfulness meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy, neurofeedback, and more … may help to kick start the brain centres involved in creativity and novel forms of thinking.

      I have found that travel without a fixed itinerary can boost an attitude of relaxed playfulness and receptiveness to new ideas, along with a regenerated sense of curiosity.

      Nothing is likely to help, though, unless it is the person’s own idea to be more receptive to the curious and playful child inside himself.

  2. MC says:

    Agree with this article completely. I hired about 40 mechanical engineers straight out of college over the years. First question of my interviews was ‘Do you change the oil of your car?”. And went further into hands on questions. Straight A’s in school? Don’t care. You worked for a lawnmower shop and rebuilt engines during your summers off from school? Hired immediately.

  3. Someone says:

    Wow! That’s damn scary. I ended up with an engineering degree and never was a great mechanic, but I can see now how that could affect how you develop solutions to problems later in life.

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