Thinking outside the box: Checkers with 5-year olds

Sometimes creative thinking comes from unusual places. In the past, for example, I’ve discussed how restrictions can foster creativity. Regular interaction with my preschool-aged daughter has also shown me that creative ideas can come the extreme opposite of that: when you consider no restrictions at all.

My daughter, who’s 5 years old as I type, got a Disney Princess checkers set recently and was very excited about learning how to play. We set up the board with its non-traditional pink and purple color scheme and I explained the rules as we went. Now normally, I would try to lose an early game encounter like this. At most of her other games (Clue Jr. and Angelina Ballerina’s Big Performance Game being her favorites), she can beat me pretty soundly after she figures out the basic rules, but checkers was a step up in complexity for her.

Me and my daughter on the balcony of our Hawaiian hotel in November ’06

So we went through moving the pieces around and I eventually jumped her last piece. I didn’t immediately explain that meant the game was over but waited for her to make that deduction. She stared at the board very carefully with furrowed brow and I finally said, “You don’t have any more pieces to move.” To this, she simply replied, “Can I move one of yours?”

This insight struck me as a classic case of outside the box thinking (then again, she’s related to someone who invented concussion grenade fishing). Not completely clear on the rules of checkers, my daughter considered options outside the parameters of the typical restrictions the game presents. This doesn’t necessarily make her a genius (although I’m biased and would argue she’s pretty bright), but it demonstrates a gift we all have as children that we lose later in life. Kids don’t know what all the rules of society or physics or chemistry or whatever are, so they are able to use their imagination to propose solutions to problems that an adult would never come up with. Adults are used to conforming to a set of boundaries we have established for ourselves and we tend to not think outside those boxes we’ve grown into.

The next time you have a challenging problem to solve, ask yourself what would happen if you moved somebody else’s pieces. Think of the most absurd solution that removes all restrictions. It may not be reasonable to implement, but it can lead you to consider options that you wouldn’t have thought of when thinking about the situation within a predefined set of rules.

How many restraints are there? List them.

Which ones can be removed with some effort? With a lot of effort?

An hour thinking like a 5-year old may yield possibilities that would never come about otherwise.

5 Responses to “Thinking outside the box: Checkers with 5-year olds”

  1. Tina Says:

    I generally despise the Disney princess stuff, but was delighted to get the opportunity to introduce my daughter (also 5) to checkers through them. Sort of let me feel like I was getting to sneak some thinking into the princess schtick.

  2. Pete Johnson Says:

    I have to admit, even for a big Disney geek like myself, there seems to be no end to the Princess products marketed towards little girls. My daughter was into the very poor quality straight to DVD movies for a while there but we’ve thankfully redirected her to other things.

  3. ScrapScene Says:

    Nothing like having a kid to show you the way. My 2 1/2 year old solves problems that he shouldn’t be able to solve and the worst part is I can’t figure out how he does it. Wish I could get the child back in me – the one that works things out in a completely uninhibited and natural way. Nice post.

  4. JHS. Says:

    Thanks for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life. It will be posted at midnight (PDT) at!

  5. Rotem Says:

    i’m reading this article 12 months late but

    mentioning a grenade in an article that its main sentence is “Can I move one of yours?”

    reminded me this IDF platoon commander that has a hindrance in his M16 and run to the terorist who throw a grenade at him and use him as a shield.

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