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Foster creativity that lasts a lifetime

“Matthew is going to tell us about his picture,” says Ms. Kathy. She has brought his art work to the director’s office, and other teachers have gathered around for a look.
She continues: “Today at group time, I invited the children to help design the artwork for the new T-shirt we need for our school, and this is Matthew’s.” She holds up his picture of geometric shapes, yellow lines, brown circles, and a blue shape. Others in his classroom have made pictures of children playing and catching butterflies or crosses and flowers associated with the school’s faith-based program.
Ms. Kathy nods to Matthew. He explains:
“This is like if I was flying in a helicopter over the school, what everything would look like.” He points to the black that dominates the picture: “This is the parking lot.”
The geometric shapes, he says, represent the various lines of the building, and the small brown circles represent the river rock in the landscaped beds in front of the school. The yellow lines represent the parking lot stripes, and the blue, a handicapped parking spot.
Everyone listens, aware that Matthew has never flown over the school in a helicopter. But they recognize he has the ability and creativity to visualize it. “Yes,” says one. “Of course,” says another. “Thank you for telling us about it.”

The reaction of Matthew’s teacher and colleagues is ideally how all teachers of young children will respond when children create something unexpected. Ms. Kathy could see past the conventional and accept the creative.
Children don’t fit in a box, except in Dr. Seuss stories. As professionals working with young children, we don’t force them there. There are many times during the school day that conformity is necessary, perhaps for safety reasons. However, children also need the chance to exercise their natural inclination toward creativity.

What is creativity?
Adults often struggle with the idea of creativity because they feel they are not creative themselves. This goes back to the definition of creativity: the ability to produce something new or novel. We often confuse creativity with artistic ability. However, creativity may also mean the ability to solve a problem in a unique way or devise an interesting theory for why the sky is blue.
Artistic ability is just one of many forms of creativity. In the classroom, we have come to appreciate the different types of intelligence that children possess. We can also begin to see that there are many forms of creativity, and everyone has it to some degree.
Young children tend to be highly open and creative. Honig (2006) notes, however, that creativity, if not nurtured, decreases by fourth grade. Children at age 5 ask about 30 questions an hour. By age 7 they ask just 2 or 3 questions an hour. Creative genius is displayed in 95 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 5. By age 10, it’s 63 percent; by 15, it’s 32 percent; and by 20, it’s down to 10 percent.
Intuition is another aspect of creativity. Intuition can be defined as the ability to sense or know something without reasoning, a quick and ready insight. Ludeman and Erlanson (2003) note that by the time a child enters the first grade, intuition drops dramatically. That’s because many group settings, schools included, encourage conformity and uniformity over intuition and creativity. Conformity works against the natural creativity that children possess.

Creative children can be challenging
Mayesky (2000) notes some general characteristics of highly creative children.
Lack of conformity
Finding fault
Strong sense of intuition
Willingness to take risks
Sense of humor
Preference for complex ideas
These characteristics indicate that creative-minded children can sometimes pose challenges in a group setting, taxing the resources of even the most patient teacher. This is where we encounter the danger of encouraging conformity, as opposed to creativity.
When faced with a highly creative child, however, we must take the positive traits and the less-than-positive traits together. If you think about it, determination and stubbornness are really just two ways of describing the same characteristic. As adults, we need to view the challenging aspects of creativity as an opportunity to nurture original thinking.