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There are two easy routes to killing creativity in your children (if that’s what you want to do!)

Route One: say ‘no’ to everything they suggest, think about, play with and are curious about. Be sure to block initiative, stifle unacceptable behaviour and generate fear about the consequences of their actions. Worry them about their appearance, their status in other peoples eyes and what their attitudes and behaviour might say about you than it might say about them.

Route Two: say ‘yes’ to everything they suggest, think about, play with and are curious about. Be sure they understand there are no such as boundaries of any sort, that all kinds of behaviour in any circumstances are completely acceptable. Encourage them to think that all their ideas are perfect and require no further modification from any other source at all. Offer free, unconditional, unending praise for any kind of behaviour and have an unending supply of house points for every time they do something you think is creative.

So, whether you are a teacher or a parent, if you actually want to help foster children’s creativity, there’s a middle road between these two extremes, one that gives children support and structure. But what is the best way to provide these?

The notion of developing, rather than killing, children’s creativity has never been far off the political agenda in recent years; ever since the Russians beat the Americans in putting Sputnik into space, the educational establishment has been frequently jolted by politicians to come up with more and better methods to make sure our kids are more creative than the kids next door – so that we can have the edge on our rivals and make sure our economy delivers. The drive to creative nirvana is fuelled by the political expediency of economic growth, more jobs, more wealth, greater prosperity.

It’s no wonder that parents and teachers frequently ask themselves “how can I get young Emily and Emil to be more creative? What can I do to  find it and  promote it without then stifling it into the bargain?”

The answer, it seem to me, is that to enhance children’s experiences of creativity is an uncomfortable place somewhere in between the extremes set out by the structural approach and the child centred approach – and that place is likely to be found if we understand what the nature of the creative process is all about: something else which is frequently perceived as one of two extremes.

For some, the creative process is either the result of an unrestrained process of self expression and the unending generation of artefacts, all of which have equal merit and value and are generally deemed ‘artistic’ (“Look at this fantastic picture by little Emily – only 3 and she’s painting like a Surrealist master!”).On the other hand, it is the result of a self-punishing process in which an individual is caught up in an almost permanent psychotic episode of self-criticism and self-loathing, out of which is wrought their ‘masterpiece’ (“Look at this fantastic picture by young Emil – only 23 and he’s become a Surrealist master!“).

The process is, however, more complex than these two extremes offer and yet is understandable and observable: furthermore, steps can be taken to ensure that a child stands the best possible chance of undertaking and completing the creative development journey. Making a child ‘more creative’ is not as tangible as letting their hair grow longer or passing an examination; it is about offering time and space to understand and experience the processes involved – which need personal qualities of application, struggle and testing, alongside the social qualities of co-operation, collaboration and mutual criticism. To accomplish all of that needs the presence of an element far more important than a paintbrush, a guitar or a pair of ballet shoes: it needs youanother human being.

(Adapted from  Planning for Creative Development in The Early Years Foundation Stage: Theory and Practice.  (Ed. Palaiologou, I.) London: SAGE. – 2nd edition out now: