Creativity – What Is It?

Now that’s a question. If you ask 20 people what they think creativity is you’ll get 20 different answers. So, when you’re required to help develop creativity in children it’s very difficult if you’re not really sure what it actually means.

I’ve been reading a great book by Bernadette Duffy – Supporting Creativity and Imagination in the Early Years which throws some light on the subject and I recommend you get a copy if this is your area of interest. The following is paraphased from her book.


Problems with Defining Creativity

One problem with defining creativity is that definitions can be restricting in that it:

1. limits creativity to making something
2. only includes the ‘arts’ such as painting and music
3. is seen simply as a skill – so can be taught
4. will only develop if the conditions are right
5. reinforces sterotypes such as certain people are naturally creative
6. limits creativity and imagination to a gifted few.

Another problem is that creativity is a term applied to individuals (who we are), a process (what we do) and products (what we make).


Defining Creativity
Many great minds have pondered this question and Duffy has come up with this list from her research. Creativity is:

1. the ability to see things in fresh ways
2. learning from past experiences and relating this learning to new situations
3. thinking along unorthodox lines and breaking barriers
4. using non-traditional approaches to solving problems
5. going further than the information given
6. creating something unique or original.

She goes on to say “For me creativity means connecting the previously unconnected in ways that are new and meaningful to the individual concerned.” Now I agree with that.


How to Support Creativity
Firstly children need the skills and abilities to be able to express their ideas. So they need to learn how to do things before they can become creative. For example, a child needs to know how to apply glue to something to make it stick. Until they know that they can’t be creative when they make collage.

Once a child has learnt and understands a wide range of processes then they can start to explore and find new combinations of using them. So, when appropriate, you can make materials available for the child to explore at will.

Children need some tenacity so they will continue with what they are doing until their ideas are fully realized. In my experience some children will become fully engrossed with an activity and will happily carry on with it for long periods of time – up to 40 minutes. Often the children want to try the processes over and over again. So, make sure you have enough materials to hand and time to let them.

Children need time and space so they can become fully immersed in the task they are doing. It’s not a good idea to start an activity just before lunch or sleep time for example.

And finally, I’m going to add one more to this list:

Children need to be allowed to get it wrong so they build up confidence in experimenting. Too often I see adults jumping in to stop a child from making a mistake at the art table. The children will soon find out that something doesn’t work and will probably learn more from their mistakes than they do by following instructions. And sometimes it leads to a great discovery!

I feel that the art projects I create for the children at Toddler Group help to teach them new processes and I give them a chance to practise these in subsequent activities. That way the children get the opportunity to be creative. And, if they want to do more I’m delighted I’ve provided an activity that excites and engages them.

Do check out my previous blogs for ideas. I tell you how to do an activity, which materials you’ll need and how the children got on. I hope they will inspire you.


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