Explaining Creativity to Kids

Explaining Creativity to Kids

Education February 15, 2017 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Explaining Creativity to Kids

Parents and teachers often encourage kids to “use creativity.” However, creativity can be complex. Just telling children to use it may be met with silence. Or confusion. Some kids may wonder what creativity is! Here’s some basic information, along with two vivid explanations that will help them grasp the concept—and also understand why creativity is important.

“When we consider the riches that humanity has created over the ages in every area—in art, science, philosophy, music, literature, and other domains—we see the achievements of those whose creative work has stood the test of time.”  (1)

People engage with the world in many different ways, and so they express their imaginative ideas in many different ways, too. Through, movement, writing, and drama. Through technology, business, and medicine. Through every field of endeavor! Creativity is contextual and individualistic in its essence and form. It can also be elusive, and work-laden. Nevertheless, by choosing to be creative (and by persisting and extending creative thinking), we contribute to our learning and personal growth—and, ultimately, to the world as a whole. That’s a LOT for kids to take in!

Children may have difficulty understanding what creativity is, and grasping its relevance. Parents can explain that creativity helps people solve problems, offers pleasure and enrichment, motivates, and leads to new ideas. However, it may also be helpful to provide examples that kids can relate to. Children can be inspired by the creative experiences and insights of others. To that end, here are two very different (and creative) perspectives on creativity. Each one is deceptively intricate, yet uncomplicated in its description. Both examples serve as springboards to help strengthen children’s understandings of creativity, and why they should embrace it.

Example #1  - About Creativity: In the Words of a Teacher                              (Many thanks to David [Senka] Naimji.)

“Have you ever noticed how a cucumber plant sends forth tendrils as it grows? They’re designed to wrap around something in the environment to give the plant some support as it gets bigger. Tendrils are like the plant’s divergent ideas. They shoot out in many directions, and if one of these tendrils affixes itself to a nail in the fence, then it wraps tightly around that nail and grows upward more strongly from there.          Many tendrils go nowhere. There’s nothing for them to attach themselves to. They eventually dry up. Still, one respects the plant for sending a tendril out to nowhere, for taking that risk. Sometimes a tendril going nowhere on one day will happen to latch on to something that wasn’t there the day before. One could say that some tendrils are ahead of their time.”

It makes good sense to honor, support, and encourage the many tendrils of a child’s imagination. Those tendrils are ideas, and they represent the beginnings of creative expression, personal development, and productivity.

Example #2 – About Creativity: In the Words of a Quilt-maker                        (Thank you, Judy Anne Brennan.)

“Creativity may seem to appear by magic but in truth it comes from a deep well of information. An occasional creative inspiration won’t get us far. Instead we need a deepening understanding of our craft as well as increasingly refined skills in order to expand our creativity. Without knowledge we cannot draw from our memory to find unique and interesting ideas or objects to pull together. A weaver needs to know the possible materials and patterns she might use… Without skills we can envision a unique quilt, painting, or poem but will not be able to bring the dream to life.”

Children become creative as a result of focusing on and acquiring knowledge and abilities. Simply put, learning opportunities fuel creative energy and expression. 

And, Finally…

Parents and teachers are well positioned to help children understand creativity and the many reasons why it is relevant, and to recognize that it requires preparation, incubation, illumination, and hard work. Creativity involves actively engaging in learning, inquiry, and experimenting, and being both resilient and broad-minded. “Creativity is built on passion, aspiration and perseverance. …It is by pushing one’s competence and by being open to ideas that people grow, expand, and invent new approaches and ways of doing things.” (2)

Educator, artist… Athlete, entrepreneur… Daydreamer, scholar… Young person, old person, or those in between... EVERYONE has the capacity to choose to be creative, and to use that creativity in myriad ways. Let’s help children appreciate the power of possibility by encouraging them to invoke a creative spirit (by sending out tendrils, and by acquiring knowledge). When we support children’s efforts, mastery, and creative ideas we help them flourish, now and into the future, no matter what they aspire to be.

“Encourage your child to get out and explore, to exercise body and mind, to find something new to learn and then really learn it, to be a maverick, to ask questions to be persistent, and to enjoy the process.” (3)

References and Further Resources

I’d like to extend my sincere appreciation to David (Senka) Naimji for his eloquent explanation of divergent thinking, and to Judy Anne Brennan for her thought provoking words about creative composition. Their views on creativity appear on pages 30 to 33 in Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. Additional information on this topic can be found within the book (and especially Chapter 2, "Intelligence and Creativity").

The italicized quotes (1) and (2) at the beginning and toward the end of this article are from Being Smart About Gifted Education (also by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster). These quotes appear on page 32 and page 40 respectively, and are extracted from the second chapter, entitled "Creativity and Giftedness." The final quote (3) is from page 143 of the book Not Now, Maybe Later (by Joanne Foster), wherein readers will find hundreds of suggestions for supporting and encouraging children’s efforts.

To acquire more information on topics related to intelligence, creativity, productivity, and child and adolescent development, please visit the Resources page at www.beyondintelligence.net

For additional articles on topics about children and creativity (for example, the experiential challenges of creativity; the importance of prior knowledge; why creativity should matter to kids; and strategies for supporting children’s intelligence and creativity), check out the column "Fostering Kids' Sucess" at The Creativity Post.

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