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Cultivating Children’s Creativity

“He decided he needs a gray crayon,” a father explains to the water at Tutu’s, a restaurant where they provide crayons for children waiting for their meals. The waiter happily searches through the stash of crayons. Meanwhile, the six-year-old artist has rearranged cups and plates on the circular table, as he busily draws on a piece of art paper, probably brought from home. The father validates his efforts saying, “I see you’re making a still life!” Sure enough, the boy proudly holds up a realistic representation of a cup and some other cutlery.

The father turns to my husband, where we sit at an adjoining table and says, “He and his older sister are always drawing. She has asked for a box of markers with 150 colors, but I’m glad to get them as many colors as they wanted. It’s so much better than being on the iPad.”

How great that this dad brought blank paper rather than having his child fill in the coloring book pages provided by the restaurant and that he supports his son’s efforts get his drawing just right. He may not be aware in that moment that he is facilitating his son’s creativity – a way of thinking that will help him build success in every area of life – but his encouragement sends the message that his son’s ideas and efforts have value. Psychologists say that the ability to think creatively is the biggest predictor of overall success as children grow into adulthood.

Creativity isn’t just about art. We want children to be able to think outside the box – to come up with new ideas and problem-solve. One of the ways we foster creativity is helping children make their vision a reality. This could be as simple as offering them props that extend their imaginary play or encouraging them in a project to earn extra money, like having a bake sale.

Research shows that children’s scores on tests of creative thinking have declined nationally for decades. In general, an approach to academics that focuses only on getting the right answer undermines creativity. At our school, children benefit from exciting learning, coupled with an infusion of the arts, which stimulates flexible thinking – at every level.

We nurture the ability to think imaginatively by noticing when it occurs in any area of life. “I see you had a whole new idea for building with those blocks.” “You guys really came up with a great idea to settle your problem.” The future depends on children growing up believing in their own ingenuity and ability to approach even the biggest challenges in creative ways.

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Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT, offers 10 easy-to-implement tips for creating a fertile environment in which children’s creativity will “take root, grow and flourish.”


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