The Miriam Webster dictionary defines creativity as “the ability to make new things or think of new ideas.” It is the act of using one’s imagination in new ways to solve a problem or create something new.
Jeffrey Davis, (Psychology Today, 5/13/2013), writes that creativity is the act of applying the imagination in novel, beneficial ways. Creativity is a biological and spiritual impulse that arises out of our innate restlessness to make things new, better, beautiful, and true.
Unfortunately, creativity is not honored or even allowed in many of today’s schools. In Peter Gray’s article, “As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity,” (Psychology Today, 9/17/2002), he writes about his concerns with the decline in creativity.
During the immediate post-Sputnik period, in the late 1950s, the U.S. government encouraged identifying and fostering giftedness among American schoolchildren, in order to catch up with the Russians. The Torrance Tests were developed by E. Paul Torrance, a University of Minnesota education professor. Though most of his colleagues focused on standard measures of intelligence, Torrance chose to focus on creativity, the central variable underlying personal achievement and ability to adapt to unusual conditions.
In the most popular tests, the stimuli are marks on paper—such as a squiggly line or a set of parallel lines and circles. The task is to make drawings that incorporate and expand on those marks. The drawings are scored according to the degree to which they include such qualities as originality, meaningfulness, and humor.
Research has shown strong, statistically significant correlations between childhood scores on the TTCT and subsequent real-world achievements. High scorers “. . . tallied more books, dances, radio shows, art exhibits, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed. . .” than did those who scored lower.
For several decades we have been suppressing children’s freedom and now we find their creativity is declining. Declining TTCT scores signals a “creativity crisis.”
Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children’s lives today. In the real world most problems have more than one right solution, making creativity crucial to success. Our educational system assumes there is one right answer to every question and one correct solution to every problem. This system punishes children and their teachers for daring to try different routes.
One way to provide students with opportunities to learn that there may be more than one right answer is with creative problem solving. Done in small groups, it takes time to go through an often messy process and takes much longer than one person, usually a teacher, solving the problem and telling students how to do it. However, they probably won’t remember that answer, but given the chance to work at solving a problem in small groups, students are more likely to understand and remember the process. They may also learn that there may be more than one way to solve problems. Learning how to work together is another benefit of small groups.
We must also provide children free time outside of school to play, explore, be bored, overcome boredom, fail, overcome failure, to do all that they must do in order to develop their full creative potential. Believing in a child’s abilities, and offering choice and support will encourage a child to create.
According to Joanne Foster, EdD, play is a foundation for exploration, discovery, invention, and creativity whether you’re a painter, musician, sculptor, dancer, photographer, or writer. Unstructured learning opportunities are springboards for the more structured requirements (like effort, perseverance, resilience) that are ultimately necessary to attain goals.
Parents and teachers can help children learn to trust themselves, to take sensible risks, and do what they love to do. They can encourage children to be innovative and playful with pen, paint, crayon, paper, stone, clay, musical notes, sand, or whatever medium for creativity they choose. This will empower children to want to create—fueling that initial spark with a variable mix of passion, chaos, and clarity so it can ignite and become creative expression.