Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Creativity

Sue Shellenbarger  (A Box? Or a Spaceship?  What Makes Kids Creative - The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, December 15, 2010) cites research by Dr. Kyung Hee Kim, assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary  and drops a real shocker...
"Americans' scores on a commonly used creativity test [the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking - a standardized test considered a benchmark for creative thinking] fell steadily from 1990 to 2008."
Shellenbarger continues:
"Researchers believe growth in the time kids spend on computers and watching TV, plus a trend in schools toward rote learning and standardized testing, are crowding out the less structured activities that foster creativity."
As my kids say...daaaahhhhh! [See my blog post "Our Education Dilemma" (Dec. 6, 2010]

Finally, Shellenbarger discusses how parents are "stepping into the breach by nurturing their kids' creative skills:
  • They are challenging them to generate new ideas or encouraging them to notice problems in the world around them and research possible solutions;
  • They are signing their children up for programs designed to foster creativity (she mentions three such programs in New Jersey and Florida);
  • Parents can ask open-ended questions and show interest in the responses;
  • Refrain from judging ideas;
  • Shellenbarger cites a parent whose kids would make up their own lyrics and dances to nursery rhymes.
My Response:
  1. This is a huge topic, Shellenbarger, deftly begins the discussion but falls short of discussing why creativity is so important.
  2. Shellenbarger's solutions are good, they are a start, but they unfortunately are not very creative.
  3. I am not familiar with these outside programs, but know that there are TONS of easy things your kids can do at home, when walking or driving, with or without friends to foster creativity.  I mention a few below.
Why creativity is important:  
  • It encourages novel solutions to problem solving.  Our greatest innovations resulted from novel ways of looking at a problem or ways of integrating common every-day objects and concepts in unique ways.
  • Demanding creative and independent thought in school makes whatever is being looked at more meaningful AND by having to generate unique solutions it means the student is integrating the topic with other information stored and retrieved from memory;
  • Creative thinking is FUN!! Learning will be more effective and more meaningful.
Some creative ideas for fostering creativity:
  • Lie down in the park or backyard and look at the clouds with your child.  What do they look like to you?  Make up a story about each of the clouds/characters/objects you "see" above;
  • If you go for a walk, think of different ways you can step/walk down the block (being careful not to be careless or get hurt);
  • When driving in a car look for and create fun license plates;
  • Read different types of books/media. Graphic novels are GREAT for this because the art, design, and wording HAVE to be creative to get their points (and inferences) across;
  • Visit parks, museums, sites in your area that you don't normally visit.  Talk about what you liked, what you hated, what was totally weird, gross, fun, etc.  Make up something that you think should have been exhibited but wasn't;
  • Have your kids make (instead of buy) cards for Christmas, New Years, birthdays, anniversaries, invitations, thank you notes, etc.
  • Before throwing out large boxes (especially now when you are getting so many deliveries), play with them - have your kids 'make' things out of them.  Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes) was a master at this.  If your kids have any trouble figuring out what to do with a large box, go find the comic strips, read them together, then go back to the box!
  • Take out various ingredients of food that you think might 'go' together.  Without a recipe, try to create a meal together with your kids.
These are just the tip of the iceberg.  I'd love to continue this conversation - especially with kids home for vacation!  What are you doing to foster creativity?

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy holiday and while I hope to write one more blog for the new year, let me wish you now a happy, healthy, successful new year to all - and thank you for your support!


    1. Hello, I found you via 'She Writes'.

      Lots of good ideas here.

      Happy holidays

    2. Are you familiar with the book Is Your Bed Still There When You Close the Door? Lots of great ideas for discussion, divided into age levels.
      Thanks for posting this. So much of school memorization or teaching how to take the standardized test. We forget about teaching kids to think.

      Happy holidays! TZ

    3. Comment by RYCJ on December 21, 2010 at 7:50pm
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      WoW. What a wonderful post.

      I could go on and on here, but you've already listed some excellent points & ideas.

      My wish for a joyous holiday and season goes doubly for you!

      Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

    4. Fantastic post, as usual! What I love is that your suggests are complex or difficult. They are simple and fun.

      To encourage creativity, we absolutely refuse to buy toys that are what we call "one-trick ponies," in large part because the boys will be quickly bored. Instead, we keep large quantities of building supplies (LEGOS, Tinkertoys) and art supplies within easy reach.

      We also refuse to buy toy kits when we can buy the real thing. For example, my son wanted a toy lathe kit. We bought a used, but real lathe where he could really explore. Rather than a camera marketed for children, he will also receive my used, somewhat unreliable Canon for Christmas with instructions to gut it or use it as he sees fit. (It's what he wants.)

      My middle son like to build with small parts he rescues from gutted computers. To encourage him, we gave him a small sum of money and let him pick out odds and ends at a hardware store to add to his building supplies.

      We also build with our boys. Our property often requires projects, and the boys are actively involved as their dad buys parts and designs creative fixes.

    5. Annie, those are truly awesome gifts! My kids are older but my husband and I found that the best gifts were often the simplest that they could meld, mold and manipulate in ways only they seemed to make up!

      Happy holidays,