Letting Kids Be Creative

We've had a couple of discussions about fostering creativity in kids. I wrote that schools weren't very good at teaching innovation, but it's not really their fault. They have to push 500 kids through a school day. If they let every kid do their own thing, then they wouldn't make it past the third period. I don't really expect schools to do much on that end. That's my job when the kids come home. 

Encouraging creativity in my kids is an important goal. It's not going to help my kids land an important job in the future, but I think it will give them a richer life.

This is a rushed post, but here are some of things we semi-consciously do with our kids.

We go places. Random, quick adventures. Not only to zoos and museums. I take them to Lowe's to buy paint supplies or vegetable stands in Chinatown or diners on Route 17. We ride the subways in New York City for the hell of it. We take walks in the woods. We drive to Washington, DC or New Hampshire.

We create zones for mess. Jonah has an IKEA shelf and light above his top bunk. He can do whatever he likes up there. He hangs folders off the ceiling and tapes pictures on the walls. It's a real rat's nest, but I don't care. I just climb up to change the sheets every once in a while.

I never yell at them for dirty clothes. They just have to take off their shoes when they come in the house. I let myself get dirty. I jump in the pool and let my hair get all wiry. I have races with them down the block. 

I give them all the tools they need. We have shelves of art supplies that they can pillage whenever they want. I set up an area in the basement for Lego, so they can spread out widely and never have to pick up the pieces. I'll lie down on the ground with them and make stuff, too.

I read to them and get into character. I actually do a very good Hagrid.

9 thoughts on “Letting Kids Be Creative

  1. We’ve given up keeping the downstairs walls clean–in fact, we’ve painted over an entirely wall which chalkboard paint, just to give them a place to scribble like mad, or create backdrops for adventures and imaginary games. They love it.
    We read out loud to the girls until they’re old enough to read on their own–usually around seven or eight, but sometimes longer than that, depending on the kid. My wife does accents much better than I; she creates Russian, English, Irish, French, Australian voices for the characters she reads to them out of fantasy or fairy-tale books.
    I take them on hikes. Any kind of outing will do, I think. Our younger girls love walking down to the run-off creek beside our home, and following it down to the tunnel which goes under the main road. We always find interesting looking rocks and whatnot.
    Encourage them and help them to learn to cook. Damn, it’s a mess, but they love to do it, if you give them some actual responsibility.

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  2. I’m working on fostering less creativity in my girls. These days, one is a dog. (“You may NOT crawl on your hands and knees on the bathroom floor!”) One is a Wizard (“Remove that curse from your sister this instant!”) and the third is Cinderella (“You may not leave this house until you have BOTH of your shoes on!”)
    We’re reading “Holes” for bedtime stories this week, and I’m thinking some forced manual labor with unchanging scenery may be just what they need.

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  3. We don’t have much of a problem with creativity in our house, to be honest, though I’ve never had to insist a child remove a curse. 😉 And just so you know, we’re not really traditional artistic types, except maybe my husband the photographer/graphic designer. I’m talking about creative thinking the way Lovecky does.
    When I talk about how schools should be teaching more about creativity, I think I’m identifying that one of the things that distinguishes my high-achieving family from others (that have kids who are not succeeding or seem less likely to succeed) is that creativity that drives my family.

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  4. I’m kind of opinionated about this one but I really believe that one key element to creativity in the sense of lifelong experimentation and achievement is… mastery.
    Not the drill-and-kill or standardized test kind but the sort where you have all the skills you need to achieve the result you want. Without, of course, the lifeblood drained from your soul so that you have a new and unique result.
    But anyway I tend to think that just as self-esteem comes from good acts, creativity comes from completing work, whether that work is understanding or actually making.
    So I actually wish a bit that schools would get out of the “fostering creativity” business and back into mastery. A kind, gentle sort maybe but a kind nonetheless. Here is the canon for each field; here are the skills and tools you need to add your stamp to the canon.

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  5. Funny – I was telling someone just yesterday about letting my kids “decorate” their own rooms with posters, stickers, whatever. My 6 year son’s room could induce dizziness in those prone to it, since nothing is posted quite straight on the walls.
    I also let the kids wear what they want, within the boundaries of warmth and suitability to the day’s events. My daughter’s combos of stripes and patterns, as well as colours, can be blinding but it’s not a battle I choose to wage.

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  6. Actually, I most agree with JennG that “fostering creativity at school” need not be as mystical as some make it seem. And it is not “Take a walk in the woods and write a creative essay about how you felt.”
    Generally, “creativity” is mastering Word Problems in Elementary Math, where you aren’t fed “24-(7+8)” but have to figure out what the equation is from “John has 8 eggs and Mary has 7 eggs. How many more do they need to fill two dozen-egg crates?” In Junior High Social Studies, it’s looking at a demographic chart of Russia and listing 10 potential problems that could be faced by an industrialized country experiencing rapid population decline. In High School History it’s “Compare America under the Articles of Confederation to the current European Union.”
    “Creativity” is any problem with multiple approaches or multiple right answers (but also definite ranges and wrong answers), plus enough time to sit and think through all the possibilities — and a few nudges along with way for kids who have problems starting.

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  7. “”Creativity” is any problem with multiple approaches or multiple right answers ”
    I think you don’t even need multiple right answers. There might only be one right answer, but one might have to approach it from outside of the box, or think creatively in order to figure it out (the classic example being the dots, lines through them). It’s making progress towards solving a problem when the path to the solution is unclear. Or at least, that’s one kind of creativity.
    There is another kind of creativity, one where there truly might be no right answer, or hundreds of right answers (visual art, writing about feelings, interpretation, . . .). And, the two might be joined by a continuum. With small children, who may not have the cognitive skills to come up with a creative solution to a problem that has a right but difficult to find answer, the open-ended creativity (scribbling on walls, talking about one’s feelings about the woods, . . .) might help in teaching the concept of creativity.
    My daughter has been focused on “doing something new” nearly all of her rather young life. But, she also recognizes that doing something new requires knowing a lot about what’s already been done.

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  8. I think one of the things that frustrates me is that there are so many ways to get creativity into a school curriculum while still teaching to mastery. It doesn’t have to be drill and kill.
    Teachers could begin teaching a new math concept by first allowing kids to try and solve the problem themselves using their own algorithms, and then teaching the standard curriculum algorithm. In Language arts there are so many ways to allow for choice and creativity while still making sure kids learn to spell and punctuate correctly.
    Our kids need to learn to think creativity to thrive in the world they are growing up in. As I saw on another blog (can’t remember which one!)
    “We aren’t raising factory workers anymore, folks.”

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  9. If I read one more complaint about how “schools don’t X very well..” and that person doesn’t pull their kids out of school the next day, I think I’m going to come to their house and puke on their lily-white ReBoks.
    Schools suck. Face it. Kids grow up, whether we do anything with them or not. The older kids should have responsibilities for the younger kids in schools, and ‘individual instruction’ should be ‘individual action’, and fall upon the student. You want them to master something? How about mastering the art of manipulating teachers and parents? Schools work the angle and parents work the angle back. Meanwhile, our property taxes buy buses and football fields and pay health benefits to the companies that the teachers’ unions own.
    Schools are a racket now, based on the desire to have socialized daycare providers.
    Most of the programs are designed to feed fodder into the factory/city model which is failing economically now. If our food and schools make our kids stupid and lazy, how will they ever find out?

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