Creativity Overview

We would like to begin our exploration of creativity with a definition.  While creativity includes the process used by musicians, writers and the artists who paint or sculpt, we are focusing on a larger definition.  Our definition more closely resembles the common cliché ‘thinking outside the box”. Creativity in this sense involves the freedom to mentally explore ideas unfettered by preexisting structures or rules.  It can include day dreaming alone, brainstorming with others or tinkering with materials or objects.

The reason that having the freedom to create is so important for our children is that this is what enables them to learn how to solve problems.  Creative thinking potentially provides a solution to any kind of problem including how to get along with others or how to build a robot. Yes there are facts to be memorized in school, but that is different from creative learning.  Having facts combined with a creative mind and a passion about figuring something out is what has enabled scientists to discover medical cures, authors to write great novels and activists to develop programs to send the children from an entire inter-city neighborhood to college. It is that process that we explore at this site.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”    Albert Einstein

Creativity: Time and Space

We have suggested that “thinking outside the box” might be a good beginning definition for the creative process.  One of the first things for us as parents to then consider is what can we do to support and encourage our children’s creative thinking processes.  Three key ingredients are time, space and attitude.

Lives, ours and those of our children, are generally busier today than was the case when you or I were young.  Today’s children have the opportunity to begin scheduled sports activities as young as age three.  Other three and four year olds might be starting to learn the intricacies of ballet or how to place their fingers on a flute in order to create beautiful music.  The physical activity of soccer, the joy of dancing and the beauty of music can all be valuable activities for our children.  However learning to master the skills for such activities is a process involving learning and practice but not creativity.   These activities may be more enjoyable for many children than learning to spell correctly, but the process of mastering the skills is similar.   On the other hand having time to move our feet and bodies to a tune in our heads or the sound of the wind in the trees will make the music and movement our own creation.  Children need time to gaze at the clouds, to experience the inner quietness of day dreaming under a tree or in a cozy chair in order to free their own personal creativity.  Providing unscheduled time is an important ingredient for fostering creativity.

While the beginnings of creativity take place in our children’s minds ultimately the exploration requires the space to move and dance or an area where they can safely and comfortably use a variety of somewhat messy materials with which to create.  Where in your children’s  environment are they free to engage in this kind of exploration?  What kind of open-ended materials are available for your children to use?  For example chalk or paints and blank paper encourage creativity while crayons and coloring books do not.  Or simply providing a variety of music—classical/jazz will support creative movement whereas music with words is more limiting.

By providing the time and space to explore we are sending a clear message that such activities are important and that we understand that it is the process of exploring and trying that is important not the product or end result.  The ideas, the drawings, the dances or music, the stories all belong to our child and are steps on their unique path of discovery.  We encourage them by providing the ingredients of time, space and materials and by listening if they wish to tell us about or show us their creations.  However we take away from their ownership of the creative process when we interject our advice or praise.  It is our child’s thoughts and opinions that foster their creativity, and it is their excitement, joy and perseverance as they explore that is validating.  When they offer us their painting we can encourage them with words like, “tell me about your painting”.  However if we frequently say “I like your painting” then there is potential over time for our child’s goal to become approval seeking instead of creative thinking and personal satisfaction.

We will continue to talk about children’s creativity in future blogs and would love for you to send us your thoughts or questions.

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