Friday, May 27, 2011

Creativity: A Process

Have you ever noticed that as adults, we are really concerned about the product of our endeavors? A clean house, a completed task, the perfect outfit, an interesting bulletin board....We tend to think less about the process we go through to achieve that final product.

The opposite is usually true for children in the early childhood years. The product doesn't really matter very much to them- what they enjoy is the process that they go through to create it. Take preschoolers for example. If you put them in front of a piece of paper and give them some paint, they will enjoy spreading the colors around on the paper, experiment with different movements of their hand, and maybe even form some recognizable shapes. You might ask them what they are painting, and they might give different answers each time you ask. They aren't so concerned with what it looks like. They just like going through the process. I've watched some preschool aged children become completely engaged in simply filling up sheets of white paper with colors, and once they are finished they toss the paper aside and start all over again.

Sometimes I wonder if as children get older, we stifle their creativity by focusing so much on a uniform product. Things like art projects that all look identical or following a prescriptive form of writing. Of course, there is a place for those types of activities, especially if you are encouraging students to learn how to follow step-by-step directions. But I think it's important to also foster the creativity that seems so natural for young children, because creativity can be a valuable tool throughout their life. Creativity can promote better problem solving skills and ingenuity in the work force. Similarly, it's the creative artists, writers, architects, etc. that are recognized for their work and contribution to society.

Creativity is defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.

I think we should celebrate and encourage individual creativity in kids. One way to do that is to promote the process of creating something by supporting unique approaches and ideas, and letting kids use their imagination. Sometimes I feel like teachers especially feel pressure to have their students produce "presentable" artwork that will look good on the bulletin board. Sadly, I think this leads to teachers taking too much control over student's artwork, and in that case it's no longer about art- it's about following directions. Unfortunately, I've observed this kind of scenario in classrooms before, where a student proudly brings a finished product up to the teacher, and the teacher criticizes it because it doesn't look like it should, or even worse, changes it so that it meets the teacher's standards. This sends the message to kids that creativity and uniqueness are not valued, and that their individual ideas don't matter. My question is, does it really hurt anybody if a student chooses to do an art project a little differently than you envisioned? So what if they want to paint the sky purple? If we focus too much on a perfect product, kids will be much less likely to take the risk of being creative.

In my experience, I have found that if I give kids room to be creative, they will often think of things that I never would have thought of. They create masterpieces that are more unique and creative than anything I could have done myself. I love it. I love witnessing that creative process, and seeing the confidence and satisfaction that children feel when their creativity is celebrated. We never know where their creativity may lead them someday. I, for one, would never want to hinder that journey.

"A worm hiding in the grass." By a Kindergarten student.

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