Research is showing a troubling decline in creativity in American schoolchildren, from kindergarten through high school.
“[T]he data indicate that ‘children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.’”
Considering our future, these findings paint a very bleak picture. Imagine a world with even less humor and passion and expressiveness than we have today. Where is it all going? How can we foster it in our kids and ourselves?
We need creative thinkers in every area and industry to provide solutions to real-world problems.
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 few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution; that’s why creativity is crucial to success in the real world.
Let’s start with ourselves, because everything trickles right down to our children. We can encourage more creative thinking in ourselves by making simple changes every day. Drive a different route to work and home. Plan an adventure to somewhere you have never been: a new restaurant, a different shop, a museum with an exciting exhibit, or perhaps a hiking path you have never ventured down. Start keeping a journal. Start keeping an art journal! Learn something new. What are you interested in? What are you curious about? Start there. Visit the library, a bookstore, an art gallery to jump start your thinking. Buy yourself some flowers, arrange them nicely, and take a photo. Draw them. Paint them. Write a description of them. Stand on a chair and look down at them: what do you notice? Lay on the floor and look at them from below: what’s different? These are all ways to see something simple through new eyes. If there are children in your life, they would love to participate in this with you. It’s a wonderful exercise in perspective!
We need to prioritize creativity and creative thinking. It really matters. It’s important. Too often, as adults, we feel stuck and stumped and we say things like, “I’m not a very creative person.” I think this about myself frequently, when tasked with a brainstorming session or when asked to, “come up with a creative solution,” (something that my supervisor loves to tell me to do). I get this flutter of insecurity and I think, “I’m not very creative.” I think this about myself because I have an image in my mind of what a creative person looks and feels like. I’m not a very spontaneous or whimsical person, which are two qualities I attribute to Creative People. Given a choice between painting a picture and reading a book, I’ll take the book any day. But just because I’m bookish doesn’t mean I’m staid. Thinking objectively, I can see that working with children keeps my mind (and body) flexible. I make up songs and stories at the drop of a hat, develop strategies to cope with new challenges every day, and see things from many different angles, both literally and figuratively.
When we engage in creative thinking practices ourselves, it’s easy and natural to pass them along to the children in our lives. That’s where I think we need to begin. That’s where change happens. Set aside the flashcards and worksheets and try a few of these things with your kids today:
- Give your children empty boxes and rolls of tape and see what happens. (One great example.) Note: You also must provide them time.
- Encourage expressive language in children by introducing them to deliciously descriptive words.
- As you read books together, ask, “What do you think might happen?!” before turning the page. Introduce scenarios you can build on together as the day progresses: “What if,” you might ask, “instead of the sky being blue, it was purple! I wonder what color trees would be.”
- Revel in the senses. (Explore your spice cabinet. Play in the sandbox. Taste new fruits. Listen to a new genre of music — with your eyes closed. Watch the sun set.)
- Ask your children for a solution. Did you forget the grocery list? Are you lost? Do you need to clean oatmeal off the floor? “What should we do?” Invite creative solutions to everyday issues that arise.
- Allow freedom for choices and expand both the freedom and the choices as they grow. A toddler can decide between a choice of two side dishes at dinnertime. A five-year-old can decide between three outfits before school. A middle school student can help research where the next family vacation ought to be.
- Foster a sense of humor and optimism by introducing a little silliness (and being able to laugh at yourself): Try on your toddler’s hat. “Does it fit? Does it look okay? What’s so funny?”
- Observe where your child’s interests lie and follow them. Is your one-year-old curious about the leaves on the ground? Gather a few of different sizes and colors for investigating. Is your seven-year-old fascinated with sharks? Research them together before taking a trip to an aquarium. Is your high schooler curious about Psychology? Invite her to administer a series of personality tests to the family!
- Encourage your child to question things. My six-year-old niece is currently fascinated with the topic of God and religion. Her parents answer her questions when relevant to their own beliefs, but also encourage her to seek her own answers and they actively show her that there is more than one system (more than one “right answer”) in the world. Children are naturally curious; the trick is to encourage this as they grow rather than letting it fade.
- Play games with your family that involve creative and flexible thinking: Pictionary, Scattegories, Cranium. Make your own games. Limit screen time.
How do we have time for this at all when children have homework and tests and an educational system that values the one Right Answer over the Creative Attempt? We need to be persistent and we need to prioritize the kind of thinking that leads to innovation. We need to advocate for systems that do value creativity and avoid the trap of seeing success as test scores and gold stars.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. – Einstein