Encouraging Kids to Invent

A child in a construction outfit has a hand on their chin, thinking about what they might invent.
Provided Photo

Many of us have at least one young inventor in the family: that creative kid who is often building (and sometimes breaking) stuff or coming up with new ways to get things done. And that’s usually good news. After all, what parent doesn’t want to kindle initiative and ingenuity in their children?

But how much do most people—adults as well as children—know about actual inventions or the patents that protect them? Yes, patents. That’s the question David Pridham had been asking himself.

In the course of his career, he has counseled hundreds of clients on developing and protecting intellectual property. But when he tried to explain patents and related topics to others, their eyes glazed over. He knew there had to be a better way, and for that, he turned to his wife, Emberli, along with their three children, Brooke, Noah and Graham.

Emberli Pridham has a background in fashion but had always been interested in writing. When she and David decided that they wanted to encourage children to dream, innovate and even understand what patents are, it just made sense to write a children’s book about inventors and inventions.

Bringing together fiction facts, and family

Their initial publication, titled “If Not You, Then Who? The Inventor in the Pink Pajamas,” tells the story of Brooke, a curious girl with an eye for inventions, a presentation due at school, a big soccer game and a very supportive family. This colorful picture book became the first in a six-book series for ages 4 to 12 that covers topics from treehouse construction to fashion design, always throwing a spotlight on invention.

The books integrate fiction and nonfiction to inform and entertain readers at home and in educational settings, and the first two have been translated into Spanish (“Si No Tu, Entonces Quien?”) to reach a wider audience. That audience will expand quite significantly later this year when New York City Public Schools introduce the If Not You, Then Who? series as part of the curriculum.

According to Emberli, the best thing about writing the books was being creative together as a family. The Pridhams name and pattern their characters after their own children, and they review all of their work with the family. Emberli recognizes that not every author enjoys this kind of in-house “quality control”—clearly a benefit—and their oldest daughter, Brooke, even helped write the last book, “Weekend with a Fashionista.”

Expanding and engaging across media

These authors love to visit schools, where they read aloud, sign their books and hear students’ ideas for inventions that, according to the Pridhams, “could go on for days” if not stopped. Building on such enthusiastic feedback from their readers, the Pridhams created the “If Not You, Then Who? Young Inventor’s Journal,” an activity book with puzzles, games and a series of challenges to help children identify problems and develop their own ideas and solutions.

They also launched The Young Inventor’s Club (theyounginventorsclub.com), a free online forum featuring science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) activities, challenges and contests, as well as videos, a blog and a newsletter. Looking further ahead, they plan to turn the book series into a children’s television show.

Besides promoting creativity, all of these resources encourage an appreciation for the amazing inventions that surround us every day. From massive mechanical masterpieces to tiny widgets that make life easier (sometimes a lot easier!), helping kids understand that each contribution has value may embolden them not only to put their own ideas out into the world, but to think about what comes next: planning, experimenting, developing and perhaps getting a patent to protect that bright idea.

Sharon Hollander is a licensed psychologist who has written and presented on a variety of topics, including children’s literature, Autism Spectrum Disorders, study abroad, and therapeutic horseback riding. Michelle Hollander co-founded Career Carnival for Kids LLC (careercarnivalforkids.com) to spark career curiosity among elementary and middle school students. She also facilitates corporate knowledge-sharing forums for experienced professionals.

Parents looking to encourage their junior inventors to dream big and make friends at the same time can read about where to find STEM adventures here.