Articles and Advice

Creativity through Learning

By Elizabeth M. Hawthorne, Ph.D.
Faculty/Chair Teacher Education
Ellis College of NYIT

As part of early childhood education, we seek to promote creative thinking in young children so that they can grow up to make reasoned life decisions for themselves and with their families, their work colleagues, and their friends.

How can you as a parent of young children promote thinking that will give your child the confidence and ability to make decisions based on their own creative analysis of issues and ideas?

Here are some simple do's and don'ts:

  • Don't focus on asking children questions that require a "yes" or "no" response. Ask open-ended questions that lead to fuller responses.
  • Do ask children questions that require them to solve problems and think about ideas.
    • Start with "Why?" "How?" and take it from there. "Why do you feel happy that Grandpa is coming to visit you?" "How do you dress the doll?" "What caused the blocks to fall down?" "Where can the puppy sleep?"
  • Do extend what the child is doing without directing them.
    • Ask "What happens when you mix blue and red paint?" "Show me how you can mix other colors and make new colors."
  • Don't use coloring books. Ever.
    • When children create their own pictures, they are using their ideas, not just mindlessly coloring.
  • Do give children raw materials to work with that don't predetermine the outcomes.
    • When you give them Lego®s, don't give them a pattern.
    • When you give them crayons or other marking instruments, give them blank paper and let them use their own ideas.
    • Give them a box of "beautiful junk"1 and some large sheets of paper/fabric or objects to serve as the base for their art and some non-toxic glue, and let them use their imaginations to create something of their own.
  • Don't ask children what they made.
  • Do ask them to tell you about their pictures.
    • Then write down their ideas to show that you value what they have to say.
  • Do ask their opinions.
    • "Do you like purple and green together?" "What colors do you like together?" "What did you like about this story?" "What makes you happy?" "What makes you sad?"
  • Do provide children with a set of blocks.
    • Blocks allow children to create their own structures and imagine how to use them. They also learn about space, balance, and size. Ask children working with blocks "What is happening here?"
  • Do encourage children to listen and move to music.
    • Ask them what the music makes them think about and how it makes them feel.
  • Don't buy toys that children cannot play with by themselves.
  • Do let children play with toys in their own way.
  • Don't direct their play beyond protecting their health and safety.
  • Do provide children simple props-capes, headpieces, etc.-that don't limit their ideas for dramatic play. Choose simple props.
  • Do invite them to make up stories about what they are doing or what they had done-and write them down again. If a child is fixated on a particular movie or TV character, e.g., Superman, ask the child what she would call herself if she were to have special powers. "What would you do if you could fly?"
  • Do read stories to children to expand their horizons, but sometimes ask the child to make up the ending. Or ask questions such as "What if it didn't snow that day?"
  • Do give children choices.
    • "Do you want to read a book or play dress up?"
    • "How do you want to arrange the trucks at cleanup time?"
  • Do ask their opinions.
    • "Do you agree with Tyrone's ideas? Do you have another way of doing this?"

Promoting creativity builds children's self-esteem, sense of independence, promotes higher order thinking skills, and can be joyful for you and for your children. You will be amazed to hear your children's ideas and learn how they see the world.

1 Bits of fabric, old keys, toilet paper rolls, string, yarn, old beads, buttons, used wrapping paper, old magazines-you get the idea!

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