• Teaching Creativity to Young Children


    Over my years of teaching here at Orchard Hill Elementary School I have been asked questions that can be difficult to answer. By running a classroom that stresses expression, innovation, and creativity, students are encouraged to think hard and share their creative ideas with the classroom community.  New ideas are cherished and held in high esteem! Some children, as well as adults, struggle with coming up with new ideas for themselves. It leads to one of the most challenging questions for which I can attempt to find an answer: “How can we teach our child creativity?”


    Creativity comes from within. It is the creation of something new from something that is already known. Creativity and innovation are invaluable to our society as we search for problem solving strategies to find solutions in unknown situations. What might have happened to the Apollo 13 space flight or the Gulf oil spill had creative solutions not been found? Attaining some level of comfort with creation is a worthy cause. Hence the question:


    “How can we teach our child creativity?”

    Answer: We can’t.

    (Don’t be discouraged – read on!)


    Creative thoughts cannot be taught – teaching a creative thought negates its creativity, and, sadly, makes children more reliant on others to create their thoughts for them. Here is a question that I can answer:


    “How can we foster creativity in our child?”

    Answer: We can allow for, model, and encourage creative expression.


    Give your child opportunities to be creative! This means unstructured time: time during which there are no instructions, plans, or expectations – just possibilities. There are open-ended materials (art supplies, building supplies, imaginative toys) in abundance. When given this time your child might: a) make a mess, b) say “I’m bored” (don’t worry, it won’t last long), c) come up with new ideas you’ve never even considered, and d) increase his or her own creative strategies. If there is time and the necessity to occupy oneself, children will develop new ways to do so. This time is extremely valuable, as explained by author and play expert Bobbi Conner:

    The long-term benefits of your child learning to entertain himself far outweigh the short-term fix that a video might provide. Now, in truth, the road to self-entertainment involves many tiny steps. To keep your nerves from fraying when you hear your child’s familiar whine, remember that boredom is often the essential ingredient that motivates your child to discover creative ways to play.

                                                                                        - Bobbi Conner, Unplugged Play


              Often we unknowingly teach our children to suppress their creativity. Children are taught not to be creative by being told exactly what to do on a task or project. They are taught not to be creative when there is “only one right answer”. They are taught not to be creative when their activities, schedules, and entertainment are over-planned for them and they have few choices of their own to make. As adults we want the best for our children; we want them to learn lots and have the most fun. It often happens, however, that in trying to give our children the best we can “give” too much.  In giving too much in terms of structure, support, or activities, we can easily take away opportunities for children to explore and create new ideas for themselves. 


    In my classroom I plan time and opportunities that require creativity on the part of my students.  There are materials available and waiting for them and the freedom to take risks, share ideas, and explore. The only expectation is that they use their brains to be productive with their time. A child stating “I’m bored” is simply not thinking hard enough. He or she will be encouraged to keep thinking, because this is the child who needs unstructured time the most!


    Try as we might, some people will be naturally more creative than others. Creative thoughts and strategies come slowly with practice and time. My goal is for all children to attain a level of appreciation for and comfort with creative ideas and expression.


    Suggested Reading and Resources:

    Conner, Bobbi. (2007).  Unplugged Play.  New York, NY: Workman Publishing. 

    Elkind, David. (2007).  The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally.  Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.


Last Modified on June 30, 2016