The One Thing Every Child Should Learn (But Is Not Taught in School)

Apr 28

We all want our children to succeed. For those of us with school-age children, a large part of their success right now is placed on their grades at school. When one of my sons bring home an ‘A’, I’m thrilled – throwing  accolades upon him for his achievement. When a ‘C’ shows up on a test or report card, my brow furrows with dismay as the questions pile up – did you not study enough? Is the teacher not doing her job? Are we going to see more of these rounded letters (’cause I prefer the one with the straight lines)?

It’s natural for a parent to panic when a child’s marks are below expectations. After all, just as a good university degree (or two) will increase a person’s career opportunities, so will good marks improve a student’s chances at obtaining that great university degree. Right? Well, maybe not. Unfortunately, a great university education cannot even guarantee professional success. Today, there is no shortage of unemployed twenty-somethings with a collection of hard-earned degrees.

So, if even stellar marks AND a great university education cannot guarantee a well-paying, fulfilling job, what hope is there for our kids who have yet to graduate to high school? The answer, I believe, comes down to one single word: Innovation.

Innovative thinking, unfortunately, is not taught in the classroom. In fact, except in the most progressive schools and under the most progressive teachers, today’s kids are fed their information in the decades-long drill and kill style of learning. I talk, you listen.

While there are many signs that this form of teaching is changing to incorporate a more hands-on approach to instruction, it could be another decade before we see major change. I think everyone can agree: sitting quietly at a desk all day does not encourage innovative thinking. While I do believe rote learning is necessary to teach kids much of the content of the curriculum (I have great faith in our many amazing teachers), I also recognize that kids need far more opportunities than they are getting to explore their imagination and seek answers to their own questions.

By encouraging our kids to innovate, we are preparing them for a future where there are no straight-cut paths to success and where the job market of today will look nothing like the one they will face in twenty years. Innovators aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions and then search for creative solutions, even in the face of possible failure.

Lucky for us, kids are born with innovative minds. It’s over-programmed adults, like us, that drain them of it. How many times during the day does your six-year-old ask you a question? How many times do you wave her off? Good luck getting a thirteen-year-old to ask anything other than ‘Can I have some money.’ Go figure.

So, what can a parent do to improve their child’s ability to innovate? Well, stop relying on schools, for one. The onus is on us to encourage kids to keep asking questions and to find their own answers… while still having fun. More work for them is not part of the equation.

You can join me as I embark on an innovation quest with my three boys through science experiments, cutting-edge software programs, improv, even LEGO building (love that stuff) and who knows what else. I can guarantee that things will get messy. Am I doing this in the hope that my kids will be the next great inventor of our age? No (although I’m not against the idea…) I simply want to ignite a lifelong spark of innovation that will help them become the best entrepreneur, inventor, musician, social activist – this list could get long – that they can be. I want them to know the sky’s the limit.


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Kids Can Be a Scientist in 3-Minute Video for $250 Prize

Feb 21

Parents and kids! This very cool contest, sponsored by invites kids to create their own YouTube video that explores an important issue facing society today. It can relate to health, the environment, world hunger, or any other issue that you think is important.

Just come up with a problem. Turn it into a question. And brainstorm your own solution. Then, through a 3-minute video, propose a creative, original  and scientific solution to your problem. This fun project is a great opportunity to encourage innovative thinking and inquiry-based scientific learning. And, best of all – it makes science fun!


Kids must be between the ages of 6 and 18 years old. The finished video must be uploaded with the title “2012: Science Can Fix That” onto YouTube by March 31st, 2012.

The video entries received are judged based on: concept originality; quality of the solution to the problem; creativity and imagination; scientific truth, ability to inspire; and adherence to the contest rules.

More about the contest is .

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Feb 01

There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur than now, and our kids will face even greater possibilities for business startups over the next decade. Digital technologies have broken down barriers that previously prevented many people from pursuing their business ideas. From thirteen-year-olds posting comedy sketches on YouTube to traditional book publishers creating apps, the distance from idea to implementation has shrunk significantly.

The downside is the plethora of bad concepts that have materialized into failed products. However, with the increase in failures comes the inevitable increase in successful products. As entrepreneur Kevin O’Connor said (in a Financial Post interview): “You need to come up with a lot of bad ideas before you come up with the great idea.”

We are doing our kids a favour by helping them realize that their favourite digital gadgets are more than entertainment units. They are incredible tools for creating and sharing ideas and products. Having self-published a book, I learned first-hand the changing landscape of an industry that was always very closed to entrepreneurs. New printing technologies and online promotion enable writers to take a concept from story idea to printed book sold on Amazon. Sharing this experience with my children helped them recognize how empowering digital technology can be. If such opportunities were unavailable ten years ago, imagine how many more possibilities will arise in another ten years.

By helping our children explore the possibilities of online technologies, we can encourage them to develop innovation alongside a sense of empowerment. This will prepare them to exploit not only today’s opportunities, but those of the future. Below are some of the ways I encourage my kids to think like an entrepreneur:

  • Talk about digital leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. Discuss how they changed the face of the virtual and real world.
  • Find articles magazines, newspapers and online sites to share with your kids that explain entrepreneurialism in simple terms or celebrate a young entrepreneur.
  • Ask your kids to come up with cool invention ideas – it doesn’t matter how crazy the idea. Ask them how their invention would solve a problem.
  • Start an Inventor Journal for your kids to keep a record of their ideas, whether it’s a story, video, or product. Pull it out regularly to encourage them to add to it.
  • Talk about how virtual technologies relate to “real” world. For example, explain the pros and cons of technologies like debit cards, Facebook, PayPal, and how they represent real people, real money.
  • Create a video, story, or invention together.
  • Find ways to balance their video game time with online learning opportunities, such as Khan Academy and instructional YouTube videos.

Have more ideas? Share them below.


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