Creative Kids The Barcelona Way

Have you ever stood on the sideline of a youth soccer game and heard the constant demand from the coach to pass the ball? It might seem intuitive that in a team game the coach should teach kids, from an early age, to pass the ball to their team mates. However, this is where the most counter-intuitive thinking, from the the greatest youth soccer system in the world, tells us to do the exact opposite. That’s correct. Barcelona’s Youth Academy, La Masia, that has produced probably the greatest (and most creative) player of all time, Lionel Messi —  not to mention the countless other creative superstars from its academy and the club’s vast trophy cabinet —  has a radically different approach.

Celebration of any goal or victory is ALWAYS centered around the team.

Their message is a simple one: young players should focus on enjoyment and have as many touches on the ball as possible to foster confidence, technical mastery and creativity. The mistakes that will happen from dribbling are exactly how the players will learn, grow and become even more confident and creative. I can hear you thinking: ‘Doesn’t that mean the kids will lose more games?’

Here’s another gem from The Barcelona Academy that’s also add odds with conventional wisdom. Their belief is that young players will automatically learn about tactics through experience and games during practice; and, the young players have countless years before they need to worry about winning. Yes, that’s correct. They place zero emphasis on winning until the players move up into the senior teams. The first question after a game is not ‘Did you win or lose?’ rather ‘How did you play?’ This approach distinctly ignores results at the developmental stages. Their main concern is that results often conceal the growth and development necessary to produce a solid, final product — which only happens many, many years later.

This is monumental concept. The greatest soccer club in the history of the game has their youth focus on work ethic, competitiveness and development over winning. (Did we mention that the kids at La Masia also spend more time doing homework than playing soccer in order to produce smarter players?)

Using lessons from this approach we can draw some valuable lessons about nurturing creative children:

(1) Let kids run with their individuality and explore on their own.

(2) Focus on long term growth, work ethic & development over short term results.

(3) NEVER EVER discourage creativity in children; rather, inspire them to take risks.
(Please read this point again and again)

(4) Let kids make mistakes over and over again. That’s how we learn!

(5) Enjoyment leads to confidence which leads to greater levels of creativity.

Source: Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, Graham Hunter

What happened to recess at schools?

I still remember recess in elementary school. ‘Break’ as we used to call it. The fantastic games we played like ‘gagga-ball’, sliding on cardboard box cutouts down the field, marbles, red-rover, tag, not to mention all the sports we enjoyed. Regardless of skill level, we all played together, laughed together, argued together and forged beautiful memories together.

Maria Montessori so eloquently described “Play as The Work of the Child”. Say it again. Think hard about what she means. Whether you ascribe to the Montessori philosophy or not, it’s impossible to argue that our children have enough playtime.
Let’s be clear, I’m not referring to video games or television. Do you remember the smell of the outdoors, or even using your imagination indoors on a rainy day?
That’s the kind of play I’m speaking about. The type that leads to:
(1) physically, healthy children;
(2) encourages social behavior and cooperation;
(3) teaches spatial perception and cognitive awareness;
(4) and most importantly – it’s the place where creativity and imagination is expressed and cultivated.

When children play they learn and develop much more than we realize.
When children play they learn and develop much more than we realize.

Recently, I spoke with some parents who agreed that our kids do not have this wonderful experience. Our kids have so little recess that we weren’t surprised about how many were bouncing off the walls during class. (We’ll leave the debate about all the sugar they eat for another day…)

What really struck me as cruel and unusual punishment was the following: a ten-year-old has a twenty-minute lunch break followed by a fifteen-minute recess, and no more, throughout a nearly seven-hour school day!

The culprit? The never-ending standardized tests. It has created an environment where teachers are expected to shove the material down the kid’s throats. As much as possible, and as quickly as possible. Just make sure they crush that multiple choice test and the administrators will be happy. This neglects the long-term consequences it has on our children. It quite literally saps all the joy out of learning. What type of a society have we created around this most precious of all assets – our children’s education? There is no doubt in my mind that taking a leaf out of Finland’s book is a great place to start making a change!

See those smiles? Happy kids learn so much more.

Why is Finland flying away from the rest of the world when it comes to education?
We summarized a few reasons for you that we totally agreed with:
(1) Focus on learning and working rather than marking and evaluating;
(2) Only one standardized test that comes at the end of high school;
(3) Very little homework- average is less than an hour a day;
(4) The average Finnish student has 75 minutes of play compared to 27 minutes in the US;
(5) Teachers in Finland are held in the highest regard with fierce competition to become a teacher.

When we create our books at MakeThinkers, we constantly think about the notion of “play”. We adhere to what Albert Einstein said: “The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”
In other words, creative and critical thinking work best together when done through play. That’s exactly what we believe and how we help your children grow.
Never, ever forget to have fun!


Please, can I have another test?

Enough with the tests Said no child ever. NEVER! EVER! Mind you, I can’t think of many adults who’d go for that one either. Go ahead and type in standardized testing for elementary schools. Yup, that’s correct. Our children go through more tests than the juiced-up Russian Olympic Team. I can’t help but wonder how much precious time is being wasted. Wasted by poor teachers who have no choice but to teach our kids how to beat tests instead of solving useful problems by combining critical thinking and creativity.

I always found tests could be beaten. Find some ‘sitzfleisch’ – good ol’ fashioned persistence – and learn the tricks to beat it. Of course, a big thank you goes out to Kaplan, Schweser and the other supplemental study guide manuals. Alright, I don’t live on Mars. At least not until Elon Musk takes us there. I understand that we want our children to do well in these tests, build the perfect resume and get into that second best school called Harvard. But, as parents we must heed the words of Mark Twain: “Do not let school interfere with your education.”

Why you ask? Our supperconnected hi-tech world is changing faster than our evolved brains can handle. As the technology revolution continues morphing into a robotics and AI paradigm shift, do you think the best test takers will rise to the top? Not a chance. It will be the children who are out and about playing, exploring, making up games, having immense amounts of fun while learning math, science, languages, music, tech, engineering and sports. Why? Because they will be discovering a passion for learning that fosters creativity. It will be the creatives who possess patience and perseverance coupled with the structured reasoning required to communicate clearly. It will be that child who isn’t afraid to constantly ask ‘why’. That child who digs wider and deeper searching for the unknown. It will be that child who looks at a problem and can break it down to its core by reasoning from first principles (click for more info on first principal reasoning) That child will be the pioneer of the future.

Ben Horowitz, of the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, illustrates in “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” that really critical problems cannot be solved through a learned framework or some regurgitation from a class. Let’s apply this concept to climate change, resource depletion, energy dependence and global food shortages. Do you think we’ll really solve those problems by learning how to constantly beat tests? That’s what I thought. To be fair, testing does have its place. But, just as an athlete trains towards something more meaningful like the Olympics, so too should it be with young children taking tests. The goal and result should not be a child who is brilliant at taking tests. These tests should not drive our children crazy with pressure at such a young age, make the lives of teachers who are so passionate about teaching more difficult, and worry the pants off of parents at a time when cultivating a passion for learning should be the focal point.

It’s pretty clear that trying to fight the nebulous school system is a daunting and improbable task. So where do we begin? How do we put our kids on the right path? How about we start inside our own homes. Yes, that’s right. Doing the little things that add up immensely over time is where we start. Remember that hole in a stone caused by a small continuous drop of water? Impact is made when small steps are counted together.

The time it takes to read to your child a MakeThinkers. bedtime story with challenges is around 15 mins. However, those two challenges in each bedtime adventure add up to 16 challenges monthly, which in turn add up to almost 200 a year. That’s 1000 in five years! Look back at your childhood and think about the impact 200 yearly challenges designed to unlock creativity and critical thinking completed with your parents would have made to you. Think about it. You get to spend time with your child building a strong bond while they expand their creative minds and critical thinking skills all WHILE HAVING FUN! I struggle to find a better use of those 15 minutes. How about you?