So my passion for creativity extends beyond the classroom, to my non-school life as well. What I have learned over the years is that when children are born, they are innately curious and creative. We have heard scholars, etc. talk about this before. The conversation then turns to schools and why are they, “killing creativity.” Is it because traditional educational settings require compliance and conformity? Is it because it is easier to educate in the Industrial Age than the conceptual age? Is it because creativity can’t have a number stamped on it. Well, probably yes to all 3 and many more thing too. The most important aspect of creativity that is missed in schools and homes today is encouragement. How do we encourage creativity? One would think that is easy. Offer praise for the rainbow painting. Hang up the family portrait. Frame the water-color horse. But, what happens when creativity isn’t so easy to encourage?
Case in point. My daughter is a creative girl. She does the typical creative “things.” She paints, draws, creates in a typical manner. That is her practicing and developing her creative capacity as a thinker. But how does she apply it? Well, first we have to get at the root of creativity. It is elaboration, originality, flexible thinking, and fluency of ideas (Torrence) and much more. Creating a painting is about finding a path, it is about expressing a thought, persevering through moments of failure. It is elaborating on an idea or image they saw earlier, to create an original idea. It is exhibiting fluency of ideas by trying many different ideas until arriving at the one that sparks the imagination. All of these amazing thinking routines are a part of the art making process. Now, back to my question, “how does she apply creativity (elaboration, flexible thinking, fluency of ideas, originality, etc.) as a thinker?
Every evening I always ask her to clean her room. It looks like a tornado rolled through there all the time. Almost every time I glance in her room, I see her dancing in front of the mirror “cleaning” away:) One night, I went up and she had cleaned up her entire room. Everything was gone. I then walked around her bed… only to see a little box that read, “Lost and Found.” I took a moment and realised this was a moment where I would either encourage or discourage her creative capacity as a thinker. I could have quickly dismissed this box and told her to take everything out and place it where it goes and expressed my disappointment while doing so. Or… (What I did), praise her for coming up with a solution that worked. A closer look at this example reveals the key components of creative thinking that she was developing while painting, drawing, creating and now applying to a given situation. She elaborated on a familiar idea she sees in her school everyday. She took the idea from school and put her own twist on it by bringing it into her bedroom. She exhibited fluency of ideas, because of the countless times she tried to clean her room and just not finding a way that worked for her (many times we focus on our own desires and outcomes and ignore that of the child). She also exhibited flexibility of ideas because she was able to see the box in her room, which was a small decorative doll house she had made, and turned it into a lost and found box. So, this one little act was how my daughter applied her creative thinking. My response to this situation could either encourage her creativity or discourage it. Artists always push the boundaries. That is a good thing. That is how we progress as a society. Conformity is the antithesis to creativity, yet it is the desired mode of educational practice in schools today. It is easy when all students conform and are compliant. But is that what we want? Of course I am not advocating for unsafe behaviors, but rather a school where curiosity and creativity are expected and encouraged and not marginalized. A classroom where students are encouraged to take the path less traveled. Letting go of adult expectations and yielding to child inspirations.
Another short story. Same daughter was outside playing in a creek in our backyard. I was off doing yard work. My daughter yells over to me to come see what she created (see left). When I get over to see her, she shows me a carved gourd with eyes, nose and mouth. When I ask her how she created such a wonderful sculpture, she shows me the tools. A plastic knife, piece of glass (found in the creek) and pruning shears from the garage. After counting all her fingers and happy they were all there, I realized again I was at a defining moment to either encourage or discourage her creative thinking. She used the tools she had available to create her sculpture. She used her flexible thinking to see the carving tools not for what they were, but what they could be. She was able to creatively solve the problem set before her, using her creative thinking skills. I chose to praise her ability to use the tools around her to create such an interesting sculpture.
Everyday, we will be tested by students and children to see if we will encourage or discourage their creative dispositions. It is our duty to encourage creative thinking, boundary pushing and box breaking to prepare future generations to think the unthinkable, imagine the unimaginable and question the unquestionable!