Out of the box thinking – being creative

“Thinking out of the box” and “creative thinking” are buzz words which I seem to hear the whole time, particularly with respect to education. When I watch my kids I become more and more convinced that our education system is largely responsible for curbing their creativity with a good deal of influential help from parents too. Most of the year 1 activities in school seem to be adult led, prescriptive, and started out with a definite goal in mind. My kids show me the whole time how much more creative than me they are, but I wonder how long it will stay this way.

On Saturday we went into town to do a bit of shopping and the kids were fascinated by the sight of this:

Feet feeding fish

Feet feeding fish

Then today Hamish (3) came into the kitchen:

“You have to come in and sit down mummy, the fish are ready”

Here I am sitting having my treatment:Plastic feet eating fish

Children are creative and they make the most of what they have around them.  We on the other hand often see only reasons why not.  We want to be sure, we want to be right and we don’t want to experiment or take risks because we might be exposed….. see my post on Brene Brown and Vulnerability for much more on this one.

In this modern world we seem to like our lives to be certain, to know what is going to happen, to know what the “Learning outcomes” are in education for example.  Most of the breakthroughs in science and literature however, have been made by people who embrace ambiguity, those who understand that by playing outside the rules we can find new, different and better ways of doing things.  Einstein and Shakespere are both great because they did stuff which no one had done before.

Children understand this inherently.  They are masters of the ambiguous for their world is ambiguous – they still have all the rules to work out, they have all the learning to do, they do not know what is correct or incorrect and they can therefore examine things which we take to be incorrect and find value in them where we cannot.  Only gradually do they become concerned about conforming (and I’ll be posting more about helping teenagers and adults find value in creativity in another post).

So, when children are young it is more about helping them retain their creativity than helping them to find it.  There are lots of things we can do at this stage:

  • Allow them to be bored……  out of a dull moment comes the best game ever
  • Stand back and let them play on their own….. but listen in, sometimes it is very entertaining ;-)
  • When you do play with them be guided by them.
  • Provide them with neutral props – a sheet, cardboard box, paints, sand, play doh etc.
  • Allow them to get mucky…… young children tend to be much more guided by the sense of feeling than we are when we get older.
  • Ask open questions which require them to think of an answer… that is, questions which don’t have a yes/no answer; so, instead of “Do you like it?” you might say “What is the best thing about it?” or “What is it like?”
  • Give them responsibility, ask them what they think about things
  • Embrace failure (your’s and that of your children) – that’s brilliant because it means we can now look for a different way to do it and we’ve learnt a lot.
  • Foster a creative environment – be supportive, there is no such thing as a bad idea, use all your senses, allow curiosity and reflect back (answer the whys sometimes with an answer and sometimes with a reflection (what do you think?))
  • Allow (encourage) risk taking.  It is impossible to be creative without taking risks. (Do you agree? Let me know in the comments).
  • Play – allow your kids to play and play yourself…… without interfering in their games.

We can learn to play again and through doing so rediscover some of our own creativity by playing alongside our kids.  Our children can open up possibilities for us that we were blind to…. but equally on occasion they can opt out of the creativity game and bring us back down to earth with a bump…. “Mummy, Woody is only a toy you know”!.  In any event, enjoy being creative with your kids and you never know, they might unleash something in you that has been hidden for years.

If you like this post you might also like this one on Imagination or here’s my original post on Out of the box thinking.

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