I just got home from my 6th grade daughter’s Invention Convention. This “convention” is actually an annual statewide competition aimed at inspiring children to find solutions to everyday problems. According to the website, “Invention Convention envisions a day when EVERY child in Ohio has the chance to follow their natural curiosity, invent creative solutions to problems, and be inspired to achieve their highest level of personal accomplishment. Through these efforts, Ohio’s future will be brighter and its workforce more capable and productive.” On the surface, it sounds absolutely wonderful- I mean… what parent wouldn’t want their child engaged in critical thinking and utilizing STEM skills to design and implement products to make a brighter future?
Parents that have to “win at all costs” is who… the parents that, instead of allowing their child to do all of the work, live vicariously through them and design a developmentally impossible product in the “name” of their child. This was my daughters third year participating, and I must say, each year more and more parents cross the line. All too often, the projects with parent CEOs come out on top, and in turn, set unreasonable expectations, discouraging those students who completed the actual project as intended (or was it truly intended that way?) I mean seriously, there were projects “created by third graders” worthy of MacArthur genius grants! (what 3rd grader do you know that uses liquid nitrogen and thermal coils?!? Yeah… me either!)
Parents, it is time to step back and let your kids stretch their own minds and utilize the creative thinking skills they are developing in school. There is a huge difference in “supporting” and becoming the CEO of their project. Supporting them means listening to them, responding to the struggles and frustrations they are having, but not taking over and completing the entire project for them. Contests such as this are designed to give children a chance to shine… allow them their moment- your time has passed. What benefit is there for your child if they win but yet did little in the actual creation? In my opinion, it sends a message that their ideas aren’t good enough but my ideas as a parent are. I know that is NOT the message I want to send to my daughter.
Tonite I stood back and watched, listening to other students attempt to pitch products that they clearly did not design. They stumbled through words that were inaccessible in their vocabulary and looked to parents to help clarify their meaning. Their products were amazing… things that could truly end up being awarded millions on shark tank some day. But, they clearly were not developed by the young students that were posing as the inventors.
In contrast, my heart swelled with pride for all of those students that put their entire heart into their invention. I wanted to go around and award my favorites to the ones with the crooked signs, glue splattered display boards, handwritten product guides, and developmentally appropriate inventions. These are the kids that are the real winners in my book… they are the ones that will come away from this project with a growth in knowledge and understanding of a developmental process that will stay with them throughout their lives.
From determining a need, brainstorming a solution, designing a product and the actual production of their invention, these two girls learned to work as CEOs, project managers, laborers, editors, and even janitors by the end of the project. In the process, they learned to use their critical thinking skills to adapt and amend and even eventually scrap one item from their product line. They burnt fingers on hot glue guns, misspelled a few words, glued tears on their trifold, reattached gems on their display right before their presentation, and ultimately, grew closer as friends. This is what this contest should really be about… and thankfully these two “got it.”
I am so proud of the invention that my daughter and her friend created, and although they were not chosen as winners, this project developed more within each of them than any medal or trophy ever could have. Tonite I allowed myself time to take it all in as I observed two confident girls, now turned inventors, rise to the occasion. They expertly explained their invention, their step-by-step process and garnered interest from numerous spectators. Afterwards, both supported the other inventors, congratulated the winners and complimented many others. They were the epitome of a team… with the entire gymnasium as their teammates.