Community Voices

Ways to salvage your child’s creativity — responding to the crisis

In order to see things differently, we have to know what we are working with. This means we must be intimate with concepts before we can imagine them as something new. Not being comfortable with basic concepts and/or experiences puts students at a disadvantage for using their imagination to transform them into new ideas.

Schools, teachers and parents all play a role in either promoting or thwarting creativity.

▪ Impact of school. Bronson says that amid this creativity crisis, there are countries that are making creative development a national priority. British secondary-school curricula — from science to foreign language — emphasizes idea generation. In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, they are adopting a problem-based learning approach.

In reality, creativity isn’t about ignoring facts and research. Fact-finding and deep research is vital to the creative process. That being said, current curriculum standards can still be met, if the information is proposed in a different way. The key remains how kids are asked to approach the plethora of information. This is why we cannot solely teach to tests. Tests kill imagination.

▪ Impact of the teacher. Preschool children, on average, ask about 100 questions a day but sadly this innate curiosity dwindles. By middle school not only have the questions disappeared, most kids either think they know the answers, or worse, they simply don’t care. This is the same time when student motivation and engagement is needed most – to minimize the fallout.

Kids lose interest when they are no longer asked to ask questions. As more information is crammed into a child’s brain, they can become overloaded. Creativity suffers. But when creative children have a supportive teacher — someone who welcomes unconventional answers or a detour in conversation — they have a chance to see the relevance of the information and arise from the quagmire of data. When they don’t, they grow frustrated, bored and tend to underperform — or worse, drop out of high school or college.

▪ Impact of family. A study of families showed that parents with ordinary kids had several rules for homework and bedtime, while parents of creative kids had one or less. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile shares the difficulty of nurturing creativity, but reminds us how very easy it is to thwart it.

Researchers Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gary G. Gute studied the childhoods of highly creative people. They found that highly creative adults tended to grow up in families that promoted uniqueness but stability. Parents were highly responsive to kids’ needs, yet kids were challenged to develop skills. This resilience – the ability to move between chaos and boredom cultivated creativity. Also, highly creative adults frequently grew up with hardship. Hardship often forces people to become more flexible and intuitive.

Even playtime has a defining role in creativity. Preschoolers who spend more time in role-play have higher measures of creativity: voicing someone else’s point of view helps develop their ability to analyze situations from different perspectives. The idea is that play is a safe harbor to work through forbidden thoughts and emotions.

In her article, Cultivating Imagination, Ainissa Ramirez shares how even toys have diminished creative play. Play changed radically in the late 1950s when children shifted from being focused on the toy itself. No longer were children using tree branches to play sword brandishing pirates. No longer did kids provide the sound effects of dolls or laser guns. Kids stopped making toys, stopped improvising, stopped creating, and began to play using cues from the toys themselves.

We aren’t going to stop buying toys but consider toys that promote free play — a toy without a goal, like a set of building blocks. Allow kids to make something that isn’t one of the examples pictured on the package. Have kids reenact scenarios using symbolic props (like a hairbrush for a microphone), and teach children how to make their own props. Allow kids to make fortresses from couch pillows and to slide down the stairs in a sleeping bag (my personal favorite).

There are various imagination exercises to inspire creative thinking. Draw a keyhole shape. Then draw something inside that shape and have your child imagine what is behind the door. Be open to silliness — and be silly yourself. Don’t lose sight of your own role — the biggest mistake you can make as a parent is to not be brave yourself. Be imaginative, and be willing to play and use your own imagination and engage with the child.

There are number of other ways to foster your child’ imagination:

▪ Finish the story. Tell the child a story, but have her make up the ending.

▪ Swap bodies. Role-play with your child. “To not be you is a great liberator of the imagination,” according to Imagination First.

▪ Play with limits. Give a child five random items (pencil, rubber band, empty box, toilet-paper roll, penny) and ask them to invent a device (a burglar alarm, a time-travel machine, an ice cream maker). Save odd cast-offs in an “invention box” (egg cartons, strawberry baskets, mint tins, etc.), along with masking tape and pipe cleaners.

▪ What is it? Show the child an object such as a pencil, ruler or small box and ask him to dream up an entirely different use for it, and create a scene around it. One catch: It cannot be used as what it really is.

This PBS link shares other ways to help foster creativity in your child:

For more view on creativity crisis, watch this TEDtalk:

To paraphrase Adam Grant, all the mothering and fathering will not make a child creative. With that mindset, the best you’ll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.