Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fostering Creativity in Children


There is a serious creativity disconnect developing in today’s children. In the not-so-distance past, a plain old cardboard box could become a car that could take a child around the world as fast as light. Back then, “Hide and Seek” and “Cowboys and Indians” were standard games that could fill up an entire summer day. As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  

          Back then, creativity was pretty much all a kid had to entertain themselves. These days cardboard cars have been replaced by real battery-operated automobile miniatures; Facebook has replaced “Hide and Seek”; “Cowboys and Indians” has been deemed politically incorrect, whereas video games that encourage kids to sit alone in their rooms and score points for headshots are becoming normative. It is not really surprising that kids are becoming increasingly less creative though, especially in the face of the digital age. Today it seems that more and more academics, particularly those who have attended Ph.D. Programs, are arguing  that this fall in creativity is partly due to the fact a child is born with a certain creative caliber, and that this caliber is difficult—if not impossible—to foster effectively. Fortunately, there are many studies and experts that disagree with this perspective.

          In an article for Goshen.edu, Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. wrote, “while most 5-year old kids have a high level of confidence in their artistic capabilities, most of that confidence will be diminished within three to four years by the push to replace creativity with social conformity.” As an art teacher, Mr. Bartel noted a significant drop in the level of imaginative work produced by older children as compared to art projects produced by their younger counterparts, which to him appeared to be caused by a lack of challenge to their creativity skills. Whether due to laziness or a lack of interest in challenging their students, many teachers simply give their pupils free reign on assignments today. While this may inspire creativity in some, most have a tendency to revert back to their comfort-zone in order to ensure their success.

A better approach may be to set a child's boundaries somewhere outside the edges of their comfort-zone. For example, if a child displays a tendency to use only oils or clay for art projects, establish that they cannot use traditional art tools to apply the paint to their canvas or require that they create their next sculpture blindfolded. This way the child will be forced to try a new approach for an activity they are already comfortable with, which ideally will get their creative juices following and prevent them from being stuck in a rut. As Mr. Bartel explains, “So long as the difficulty level is reasonable, new learning happens.”

Patricia Dischler, an expert of teaching creativity in children, believes that while it is important to teach kids the "3 R's: reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic," by also instilling in the principles of the 3 C’s in a child: creativity, curiosity and courtesy, teachers can perpetuate a child's natural precociousness and love of learning. Parents can participate in the development of their child’s imagination as well as their reasoning and problem solving abilities by encouraging them to get off the computer and engage their friends in creative, real-world activities. According to Ms. Dischler, doing so will “teach children to overcome their fear of making mistakes, teach them the value of patience and combine right and left brain activity.” Ultimately, these activities serve to strengthen a child's ability to be creative and to use their imagination rather than resorting to a dependency on others to solve problems.

Likewise, you can foster creativity in your children simply by encouraging them to resist blind conformity. When they question the public zeitgeist or express disagreement with what is deemed by the majority to be socially acceptable, talk to your child. Show a genuine interest in hearing their perspective. Encourage them to explain their reasoning and to give a specific example of why they feel it is right to go against the flow.

With a young child, creativity is as natural as breathing. However, it can be difficult to find a similar expression of the imagination in older children and adults. Primarily, this is because these creative juices are suppressed almost as early as they begin to surge through their brains. As parents and teachers we encourage intellectual conformity with something as simple as the expectation for them to color within the lines in their coloring books.

According to Robert Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams at the Center for Development and Learning, “Creativity is as much a decision about and an attitude toward life as it is a matter of ability.” Encouraging children to explore novel and interesting ideas will help them develop problem solving skills and to make connections between things that otherwise fly over the heads of others. It is the ability to translate theory into practice and abstract ideas into practical accomplishments that will provide them the survival skills they will need when they leave the nest, and will give them a competitive edge in the job market.

Art and scholastic endeavors are not the only activities in which a child can develop their mind. While providing their own unique set of benefits, participation in both individual as well as group sports can also play a dramatic role in expanding and strengthening a child’s personal character. Statistics compiled by a 2007 online survey conducted by psychologist Dr. Jamil Qureshi for Henley Centre Headlight Vision, found that a child’s level of self-confidence, perseverance and passion could be directly linked to their level of participation in sports activities that honed those skills. More specifically, Dr. Qureshi noted definite correlations between sports and specific values gained through involvement:

1) Football promotes both teamwork and individual passion;

2) Athletics itself breeds a healthy balance of self confidence and humility;

3) Golf instills the virtue of integrity and honest decision making skills.

There was once a time when the imagination was pretty much all a kid had to entertain themselves. Now, in the era of the Internet and online social networking, kids rely on pre-packaged entertainment with limited or predetermined objectives. Today, through either apathy or pure laziness, the challenge of imagination and creativity has been replaced by mindless repetition and conformity.

Children have often been referred to as “the future.” Considering that they will be the ones assuming the role of tomorrow’s business and government leaders, by our lack of guidance that future may be in jeopardy. While children are born with an inherent curiosity that inspires creativity, just like a muscle in the body if it is not exercised regularly it will atrophy and grow weak. Therefore, perhaps it’s time for parents and teachers to recognize that what some would like to call social progress is actually taking our children backwards.


Jeremy Fordham is an engineer who enjoys and encourages discussion at the boundaries of many different disciplines. He is a proponent of renewable energy and distance learning, and contributes as a writer to resources promoting online education.

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6 comments:

Stephen Tremp said...

It was my Art teachers that really helped develop the creativity, curiosity and courtesy, in my life. And I have an award for you over at my blog today. Have a great weekend!

kathy stemke said...

Thanks Steven!

Karen Cioffi said...

Wow, this is a fantastic article. It's so interesting the we as parents or educators can actually stifle a child's innate creativity simply by expecting him or her to color within the lines!

Rena said...

Wonderful article!

kathy stemke said...

Thanks Karen and Reno for your words of support.

Nancy said...

Great job, Kathy!!!! Love it!