The Creativity of Kids Needs But a Bit of Encouragement

08/20/2013 03:23 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2013

Our granddaughter Devon turned 6 yesterday. She celebrated with bacon and eggs in bed (which she first helped to prepare) and a visit to Boston's Museum of Science (her choice over the beach).

This made sense because in recent days, Devon has changed her career goal from acrobat to inventor.

"What hasn't been invented yet?" she asked me the other day on the way to her cousin's house.

"I'm not sure," I said. "Because it hasn't been invented yet."

Devon was unfazed. "I would like to invent a flying umbrella," she announced.

Seems like a good idea to me. Who wants to walk in the rain when they can fly instead?

Given the harsh realities of climate change and all that, I suggested that perhaps her invention should be solar-powered. But my wife Kathy, ever practical, pointed out a solar-powered umbrella might not fly very far in the rain.

This again did not faze Devon, who during her birthday dinner asked her dad Paul whether they might get started building the flying umbrella that very evening.

"How about tomorrow?" he asked.

Devon, after all, already had had a big building day. At the science museum, we visited the dinosaur room, bought a perfectly-pink dinosaur named Elizabeth; watched Elmo soar to the moon in the Planetarium; and learned about the lives of butterflies in the ever-tranquil sealed butterfly room.

But her highlight, fittingly, was in the design challenge corner on the second floor. Just before lunch, she and Kathy built a space capsule there that successfully drifted for five seconds in the outer atmospheric space designated by two purple lines on a long spherical doo-dad (this is not the precise scientific term). Kathy is an engineer's daughter and I have 10 left thumbs, so I hung out with Elizabeth the dinosaur, watching. It took them only one try.

Before we left, Devon wanted to go back. The afternoon activity was to build a trampoline, which proved a tougher design endeavor than a mere space capsule. Hers didn't have too much spring and the ball used to test it bounced a mere 7 centimeters.

Not to worry.

"Let's build another one," Devon said to Kathy. And they did, with a bit more spring.

Among Devon's 6th birthday presents were her first two-wheel bike (pink, of course); a razzle-dazzle Barbie; a book; a drawing pad and several DVD's. But I think she was just as proud of the two circular red badges she got from the design challenges program of the Museum of Science.

"I love Engineering," they said.

I hope that in 10 years when she turns 16, that Devon still does.

In the meantime, I'll keep you posted on the flying umbrella.