Ways of encouraging creativity and creative thinking in children

by Mary Ann on February 16, 2011

creative play pictures

Jacob Kaufman plays with his father James at their home in Redlands, Calif. Michal Czerwonka for The Wall Street Journal

“When art teacher Kandy Dea recently assigned fourth-graders in her Walnut, Iowa, classroom to create a board game to play with a friend, she was shocked by one little boy’s response: He froze.

“While his classmates let their imaginations run wild making up colorful characters and fantasy worlds, the little boy said repeatedly, “I can’t think of anything,” Ms. Dea says. Although she reassured him that nothing he did would be judged “wrong,” he tried to copy another student’s game, then asked if he could make a work sheet instead. She finally gave him permission to make flash cards with right-and-wrong answers.

“Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group, says Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The finding is based on a study of 300,000 Americans’ scores from 1966 to 2008 on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a standardized test that’s considered a benchmark for creative thinking.”

The above story and test results came from an article in the Wall Street Journal on December 15, 2010, A Box? Or A Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative. I am not particularly interested in test results and I don’t place a lot of credence on tests themselves. However, as a mom, grandmother and teacher, I have certainly seen this trend. Children seem to have more difficulty being creative now than when I was a kid.

There are some researchers who feel that the growing amount of time children spend on computers and in watching TV has decreased their ability to be creative and to enjoy play time. Others feel that children today have as much creativity as ever but that public schools get a D in encouraging it. The belief is that schools are doing a very poor job of encouraging and supporting creativity in children.

boys at play pictures

My mother said, "Go out and play"!

As parents it would be good to have some ideas about how to support and encourage our children’s creative thinking. Right? I have to laugh at that. In my day, what our parents did to encourage and support our creativity, was to send us outside and say “go play”; and we did. We had a lot of creative play. We made up games, we invented amazing machines, we made mud cakes and ran and skipped and hopped and created jump rope games, etc. That is how my parents did it.

Here are some ways for encouraging creative thinking.

Tip 1

*Solving problems is a way to practice and encourage creativity.

Have family councils. Let your children in on problems that need to be solved. Give them an opportunity to voice their ideas. Listen to them with respect. Avoid the tendency to decide that their answers are wrong or silly or naive. You may be surprised at what great ideas they come up with. I might also add that when answers to problems come from the children in the family they are much more on board with putting the ideas into practice.

child shovelling snow pictures

When ideas come from children they are more on board with putting them into practice.

Maybe in your family council you mention that your elderly neighbor is sick and needs help. What can you do to help her? Your children might volunteer to shovel her walks, water her yard or sit with her and read; things they might not be willing to do if the idea came from you.

In your council you might mention that you aren’t sure that you can save enough money for the annual trip to the family reunion and you wonder what ideas they have to solve the problem. Some may suggest jobs they can do for neighbors, allowance money they can save and donate to the cause, or heaven forbid, they might even suggest you cut off cable for awhile.

sitting by lake pictures

Have “familiar conversations” with your children.

Tip 2

*Thinking, discussing and voicing an opinion are ways to encourage creative thought.

Have “familiar conversations” with your children about current events, historical events, books that you are reading. Don’t dumb it down for your children. Make your open ended questions and comments age appropriate but dare to talk to your children about things that matter. Even four year olds have a view point on what happens in their world.

If you find this topic of interest be sure and read tomorrows blog, Tips for raising creative children and check out the article activities to build executive functioning.

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