Encouraging Creativity in Children

Peter Carnavas, an Australian author and illustrator of children’s books, came to our school and gave us a very insightful talk on encouraging children’s creativity. These are some of the highlights from his talk.

The Dot by Peter ReynoldsEncouraging Creativity in Children

The Dot is a terrific book about the journey of self-discovery that we can all identify with. When it comes to stepping out of our comfort zone and doing something we’re not familiar with, many of us would rather do nothing than give it a go. The Dot encourages us to start just by making a mark.

It’s a powerful lesson of beginnings because you can’t get anywhere if you’re never willing to make the first mark.

Encouraging Creativity in Children

1. Draw a picture with your eyes closed.

One of the ways to overcome our inhibitions is to take away performance anxiety. By drawing a picture with our eyes closed, we immediately remove the pressure of drawing well because none of us expect to draw well with our eyes closed.

2. Draw with your non-dominant hand.

Similar to drawing with your eyes closed, drawing with our non-dominant hand removes the anxiety of having to produce a good drawing. The other reason for using your non-dominant hand is that it increases creativity.

“If creativity is located in your non-dominant hemisphere, then using your non-dominant hand may stimulate those cells.” – Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., a neuroanatomist with the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Because brain mapping shows that creativity is housed in the right hemisphere of our brains, experts say we can stimulate this right brain through working with our “wrong” hand. This also works for lefties, as studies indicate that one hemisphere is active when we use our dominant hand, but both hemispheres are activated when we use our non-dominant hand. – NWI The Times

3. Word Games

  • Anagrams with your child’s name – e.g. “Tom Marvolo Riddle” = “I am Lord Voldemort”
  • One word at a time – play a game where everyone takes turns to add one word at a time to make up a story.
  • Mix and Match descriptive words with characters:
    • Descriptives: lonely, naughty, rebellious, incomplete, brave, bad-tempered, malfunctioning, shy, sneaky, clever, cheeky, old-fashioned, clumsy, evil, well-mannered, strict, nervous, friendly, talkative, goofy.
    • Characters: fairy, skateboarder, teacher, detective, superhero, pirate, explorer, schoolkid, orphan, inventor, slave, elephant, monster, ninja, alien, teenager, robot.
  • Imagine if: (continue the story)
    • you had to escape from…
    • you accidentally superglued their head to…
    • you got stuck in a…

4. Mr Squiggle

Taking a leaf out of Mr Squiggle’s book – make some marks on a piece of paper and ask your child to complete the picture.

5. Give your children time to:

  • be bored
  • daydream
  • wander
  • read together aloud
  • read anywhere
  • do things that don’t matter

Most importantly – model creativity.

6. Advice from Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut wrote the following letter to Xavier High School:

Encouraging Creativity in Children

Image Source: Letters of Note


How Can We Ignite Creativity in Education?

creativity (noun)

  • the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
  • synonyms: inventiveness, imagination, innovation, innovativeness, originality, individuality; artistry, inspiration, vision; enterprise, initiative, resourcefulness

What is creativity?

  • Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. – Creativity at Work
  • Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others. – California State University
  • Creativity is defined as the process of having original ideas that have value. – Ken Robinson
  • Creativity is in everything – not JUST Arts but also Maths, Science, English…
  • Creativity is a process that often involves trial & error. It is evolving. It is the determination to try again and again.

Why do we want to nurture creativity?

According to a recent Adobe creativity study, 88% of U.S. professionals believe that creativity should be built into standard curricula. Companies are looking for more than graduates who can do specific tasks, they want employees who can also think differently and innovate. To be successful, students need an education that emphasizes creative thinking, communication and teamwork. And as Sir Ken Robinson concludes in this next video “Creativity is not an option, it’s an absolute necessity.” – Adobe

  • Creativity & Problem-Solving are at the top of the list of skills that universities and employers seek
  • A 2010 survey of over 1,500 executives found that creativity is valued as the most important business skill in the modern world – Edudemic
  • Creativity will help to make change and make the world better

Image Source: Moco-Choco

Nurturing Creativity

From cardboard and duct tape to ABS polycarbonate, it took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get it right. And, even then there was more work to be done. My first vacuum, DC01, went to market in 1993. We’re up to DC35 now, having improved with each iteration. More efficiency, faster motors, new materials. – James Dyson on Wired

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

How can we nurture creativity?

  • make mistakes and embrace failure
  • promote divergent thinking
  • encourage risk taking
  • no “right” or “wrong” answers
  • instead of “direct instruction”, provide encouragement, opportunity, and coaching
  • offer group work as the sharing ideas can spark more ideas
  • do project-based learning
  • provide clear explanations of the focus or need
  • don’t always give grades as this can lead to a “right” or “wrong” approach mindset
  • create choices for students to tailor their learning
  • add constraints – e.g. you can only use these materials and nothing else
  • offer students real world problems to solve
  • provide opportunities to watch creativity in action
  • D.I.R.T – dedicated improvement reflection time

What’s D.I.R.T.?


Image Source: TES

  • Students are given a piece of work to complete.
  • Once completed, the teacher/peer/student will evaluate the work and provide feedback.
  • The student will review the feedback and make improvements.

How can parents help?

  • Encourage children to talk about their work. Ask ‘Why’? questions without aggression.
  • Change routines – drive a different way to school, try different foods, introduce novelty.
  • Try things out – scuba diving, music, making things. Creativity can come in different forms.
  • Encourage sleep – dreams help us solve problems we’re stuck on.
  • Embrace failure – if children are too afraid to fail, they will never try anything new. Being creative is about trying new things.

Relaxation & Creativity: The Science of Sleeping on It – Big Think

  • Dreaming as an integral part of the creative process – it’s not just about the problems of everyday life, it’s about solving them.
  • “A problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” – John Steinbeck
  • Dreaming allows us to think in a different biological state. When we dream, the brain is busy rearranging beliefs, playing out hypothetical scenarios and solving problems.

Sleep Inspires Insight – Nature

  • Subjects performed a cognitive task requiring the learning of stimulus-response sequences, in which they improved gradually by increasing response speed across task blocks.
  • The task was designed so that they could improve abruptly after gaining insight into a hidden abstract rule underlying all sequences.
  • Some subjects worked without sleep, others were given a chance to sleep.
  • Subjects that slept were more likely to figure out the hidden rule compared to those that did not sleep.

By restructuring new memory representations, sleep facilitates extraction of explicit knowledge and insightful behaviour.

The “Committee of Sleep”: A Study of Dream Incubation for Problem Solving – Dreaming

  • The study used dreams to solve everyday problems.
  • Subjects picked a problem to work on. They reviewed the problem in this minds before falling asleep.
  • Half the subjects dreamed about their problem. Some of those dreamed of a solution for the problem.

CreativityResources for Developing Creativity

  • Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques – from the linear to the intuitive, this comprehensive handbook details ingenious creative-thinking techniques for approaching problems in unconventional ways. Through fun and thought-provoking exercises, you’ll learn how to look at the same information as everyone else and see something different. Hundreds of hints, tricks, tips, tales, and puzzles that will open your mind to a world of innovative solutions to everyday and not-so-everyday problems.
  • ThinkPak – Use SCAMPER:
    • Substitute something
    • Combine it with something else
    • Adapt something to it
    • Modify or Magnify it
    • Put it to some other use
    • Eliminate something
    • Reverse or Rearrange it
  • How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day – drawing on Da Vinci’s notebooks, inventions, and legendary works of art, this book introduces the seven Da Vincian principles which are hailed as the essential elements of genius. Discover an exhilarating new way of thinking.
  • The Really Useful Creativity Book – provides approaches and ideas that will enable children to develop their creativity.
  • Design Cards – see image below…

* These are my notes (with personal annotations) from a workshop we had at school on Using Real World Problems to Develop Creativity.


Educating Children for an Unknown Future

There is a really interesting article I read recently by Mitchel Resnick promoting the idea that education should be one Lifelong Kindergarten. The logic for his argument goes like this…

Education Must Change to Prepare Children for an Unpredictable Future

The world is changing so rapidly that we cannot possibly imagine what it will be like when our children are grown. They will face issues and challenges in a future that we cannot possibly predict. What we believe is important for them to learn today is likely to be irrelevant by the time they are ready to make their way in the world. The only way we can adequately prepare them for this unknown future is to teach them how to think and act creatively. It is not enough to know things – they must be able to use their knowledge in creative ways.

The Kindergarten Education Model is the Key

The only model of education that currently promotes this kind of thinking and creativity is the Kindergarten Model. It’s the one where children are encouraged to physically create the ideas in their heads. When they have a physical model of their ideas, they can play with the ideas, test them out, get feedback from others – these allow them to review, modify and improve their ideas. And on and on it goes, feeding a positive feedback loop that opens the doors for more ideas and more creations.

What is the Kindergarten Education Model?

In one corner of the room, a group of children is building a series of towers with wooden blocks. In another corner, a group is creating a large mural with finger paint. In the process, children are exploring important ideas: What makes a tower stand up or fall down? How do colors mix together?

These activities encourage children to develop their creative thinking. As they work together, they learn about the creative process: how to imagine new ideas, try them out, test the boundaries, experiment with alternatives, get feedback from others, and generate new ideas based on their experiences.

At the heart of the kindergarten education model is the opportunity to create – and that’s the real key to education.

The Kindergarten Model for Older Students

The idea sounds great in theory but how do you apply it to older students? Blocks, crayons, and finger paints will only take you so far. That’s where technology comes in… Mitchel Resnick talks about educational products like LEGO Mindstorms that encourage students to create.

The rest of this article is based on my interpretation of Resnick’s article. The main point I took home is essentially this: encourage children to create. Therefore any tool that allows children to create and express their ideas in physical form should work for the Kindergarten model. Here are a couple more tools that the children can use to create with…

Little Bits

Little Bits have been dubbed LEGO for the iPad generation because they connect as easily as LEGO but they let you create a lot more. Here are just a few examples of what you can create with Little Bits Smart Home Kit – smart fridge, smart AC, wireless lamp, remote pet feeder, and more…

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video.

The Raspberry Pi is probably the most interest “tech toys” I’ve come across. I was totally blown away by what this eleven year old girl created with it:

“Grandpa is getting pretty old. Out there all alone on that farm, he has no one to look in on him, just to see if he’s ok. He’ll use the landline, but he’s beyond of the range of mobile, and he’s never been really great with computers. No Skype or emails. Grandpa does have internet. So I built this for him.”

The girl points down to a small box with a few wires coming out.

“I can bring up a web browser, and take photos inside grandpa’s house. Has he moved his coffee cup today? Is the telly on? At least then we’ll know he’s okay. And I can even type messages” – she changes focus to a textbox inside a web form – “that show up on top. We used ImageMagick for that part… here, you can see it in our code.” – The Register

The Raspberry Pi Magic Mirror is also pretty cool – it can tell you the time, the weather, and the headlines for the day as you’re getting ready for work.

Image Source: PC World

Good Tools are not Enough

LEGO Mindstorms, Little Bits, and Raspberry Pi may offer some terrific avenues for our kids to create some really amazing things but we must remember that, at the end of the day, that’s all they really are – just tools. Like all tools, they can be used well and they can be used poorly. Simply having access to them changes nothing if our kids aren’t using them to create.

If all our children are doing is taking these kits and copying ideas already in existence (i.e. following instruction manuals on how to create cool things), there is no creative element. Copying ideas and following instructions may initially be a way to learn how things work, but after that, we should be encouraging our kids to make changes to it – fix it, modify it, extend it, and come up with better ideas. How can we modify it to make it work better? How can we add to it to make it more useful? What else can we make with these tools? Give our kids real world problems to solve with these tools like the girl and her Raspberry Pi project for her grandfather.

I want to make this clear – following the instructions is not a bad thing as long as the kids are learning something from the process. If following instructions teaches a child how to use the tool in a new way that he’s never thought of then that’s great because he can borrow the idea and apply it to a completely new project of his own creation. That’s the real goal we are after – raising children who can take what they know, change it in some way, and come up with something new.

Skills for the Kindergarten Model

If the fundamental goal of the kindergarten model is to encourage children to create, then there are many other ways to promote this creative process. Encouraging our kids to pursue the arts is one way.

Teaching children the arts is akin to giving them skills that will enhance their creative process.

The Bottom Line

If the goal is to encourage children to create, then anything that encourages that creative process is a good thing. They can be tools that facilitate the creative process, like Raspberry Pi, or skills that enhance the creative process, like music. I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll discover that there are many ways we can encourage this.