What is creativity?
Creativity is about expressing ourselves. It is about trying new things and new ways of being - and being imaginative and original.
It is sometimes thought that only certain people are 'creative', and that to be creative you need to have an unusual talent. This is not true - each one of us is capable of expressing ourselves creatively in some way.
It is also thought that creativity is limited to the 'arts' - for example, music, drama, painting, craft, dance, writing, etc. But these artistic areas are not the only ways we can express creativity. Creativity is a way of thinking and being which can be expressed in many areas of life, for example, science, business, maths and cooking.
Creativity is the ability to challenge, question and explore. It involves taking risks, playing with ideas, keeping an open mind and making connections where none are obvious.
Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood
Creativity has been defined as having four characteristics:
- It involves thinking or behaving imaginatively.
- The imaginative activity has a purpose - you might have an imaginative idea but turning this idea into a story, a poem, a picture or a conversation, is being creative.
- The creative process is original - it involves ideas that are new to the person being creative or to others.
- The outcome of creativity is of value - it provides a solution to a problem or it is useful or it provides enjoyment.
Some people may make a more obvious difference to the world than others through the products of their creativity (like great actors, cooks, writers or scientists). But the benefits of creativity are often more about the process, rather than the actual product. The creative process is useful for: developing confidence in ourselves; developing good relationships with those with whom we are being creative; finding out what our talents and strengths are and increasing our positive emotion. In short, the creative process helps us flourish by teaching us about who we are, what we love and what we can give to the world.
With children and young people, it is particularly useful for us to focus on the importance of the creative process as opposed to the outcome. The important bit is the process of writing a story or coming up with an invention or creating a picture, etc. The outcome of a creative project is less important, although, of course, it may be very worthwhile!
What are the benefits of creativity?
Why should we all use our creative power? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate.
Being involved in creative activities is fun and absorbing for children and young people. Evidence suggests that it helps them have positive experiences and develop important characteristics and abilities such as:
- Appreciation - developing appreciation of different ways of looking at the world
- Collaboration - being keen to work together as a team
- Communication - developing better communication through talking, listening, writing or pictures
- Concentration - focusing on what they are doing
- Developing good relationships - working together and making new friends
- Discipline - developing self-control through a requirement to practice (for example: some artistic activities, such as playing a musical instrument, need practice)
- Emotional intelligence - being able to express emotions
- Empathy - understanding what it can feel like being someone else (particularly through role-play drama activities)
- Imagination - bringing ideas to life and adding excitement to their world
- Independence of thought - discovering things for themselves
- Interaction - being involved in a group and having peer support
- Intrinsic motivation - participating in something for pleasure rather than external reward, so wanting to do it for themselves
- Language - increasing vocabulary, reading and writing skills
- Open-mindedness - being open to new ideas
- Physical activity - participating in activities that encourage movement
- Positive emotion - having fun and enjoying what they are doing
- Problem-solving - being able to explore different solutions.
These characteristics and abilities have been shown to lead to the following important aspects of flourishing:
- A sense of purpose
- Development of strengths, talents and interest
- High aspirations
- Sense of belonging.
The benefits of music
Where words fail, music speaks.
Hans Christian Anderson
A number of studies have outlined specific benefits of music for babies’, children’s and young people’s wellbeing. For example:
- Music can build powerful connections between parents and babies. The joy experienced as they share the music helps strengthen their bond.
- Young children are attracted to musical patterns and structure. Music introduces children to the sounds and meanings of words and helps strengthen their memory skills.
- For young people, music makes a major contribution to the development of self-identity and is a useful source of support when they are feeling troubled or lonely.
- Playing a musical instrument can lead to a sense of achievement and increased confidence, persistence in overcoming difficulties and self-discipline.
- Singing has particular benefits on the immune system, due to deep breathing, good posture, improved mood and stress reduction.
The benefits of messy play
We can encourage children to be creative through messy play. Messy play, (e.g. sand pits, paddling pools, finger paint) has been found to be very beneficial for babies and young children’s development. In particular it helps to develop concentration and problem-solving, conversation skills, curiosity in the world, imagination and cooperation.
Play is our brain's favourite way of learning.
Messy play does not usually have a focus on making something. This leaves the child free to explore all possibilities and enjoy the creative process. It is important for us to watch and listen to the child’s explorations and inventions as this promotes a sense of security. It also gives them greater confidence to take risks if they know we are nearby.
Case study - Creativity in Scottish schools
Creativity Counts was a project aimed at supporting and fostering the development of creativity in classrooms in Scotland. The report, Portraits of Practice, describes 18 projects in schools across Scotland, giving details of the ages of children and aims of the project; how the project was organised and what happened; reflections on how creativity was encouraged; and the benefits of creativity found.
Examples of projects included: ‘Our Ideal School’ where children collaborated to think about, plan and build a 3D model of their ideal school, and ‘The Cool Project’ where children were encouraged to think about healthy eating and create an exciting and original healthy ice cream.
Some of the benefits of the projects were:
- showed motivation, enthusiasm and enjoyment
- gained confidence in using their imagination
- showed a positive attitude towards the project
- achieved success, with the understanding that mistakes are an inevitable and important part of learning.
- found significant changes in classroom dynamics
- were able to model creative behaviour
- enjoyed themselves.
Learning and Teaching Scotland & the IDES Network (2004). Creativity Counts - Portraits of Practice. Glasgow: Learning and Teaching Scotland.
How to encourage creativity in children
Encouraging creative thinking
- Be a creative role model. This means being open-minded and not being afraid of trying new ways of doing things. It also means being spontaneous and not always sticking to the same routines. Although it's generally important to have a routine, it is also important to show you can be flexible.
- Show children and young people what you are interested in or enthusiastic about, and do it with them. For example, if you love painting, paint with them, or if you love cooking, cook with them. Focus more on the fun of the activity, rather than on the result. By doing this you will encourage them to explore their own creative interests and passions without worrying about always getting it right.
- Allow plenty of free time for creativity. Organising too many structured activities may cut into the important time a child or young person needs to let their mind relax and explore.
- Don’t stifle creativity with too many rules. Children and young people need boundaries and rules to give them a sense of order and security, but they also need unstructured, free time to use their imaginations and be spontaneous.
- Encourage them to take risks when doing creative activities. To do this, begin by taking an interest in what they are doing. Let them know there are no wrong ideas and that people make things no one has ever made before. Let them know it’s ok if what they are creating didn’t work out the way they thought it would. Point out something positive about it, to give them confidence to carry on.
- Help children and young people to see the value of mistakes, and that they give us a chance to find alternative solutions to problems.
- Allow them to ask questions. They have a great sense of curiosity, because they want to think about things and learn new things. They don't just ask questions to annoy you! Answer their questions if you can, but don’t worry if you don’t know the answer - you can always get them to look it up!
- Appreciate and encourage their imagination. Don’t feel that you have to keep them grounded in your sense of reality. For example, a cloud may look like a blanket or a train to a young child. They may imagine that there are fairies living at the bottom of the garden. Discuss what the world looks like to them and encourage their creative ideas. Encourage their make-believe games too.
The world is but a canvas to our imaginations.
- Creativity involves the ability to come up with new and unusual answers to problems and questions. Praise surprising and unexpected ideas or ways of doing things.
- Being creative with school work, when possible, will encourage them to develop a love of learning which will set them up for life, more than just getting good grades. Give them plenty of opportunity and encouragement to explore subjects on their own, looking in depth at what their particular interest is.
- Allow children and young people to challenge what you say! This shows that they’re being creative.
- Keep an open mind - don’t have expectations about how you think a child or young person should solve a problem or present a project. Try not to jump in with your ideas. They need to be encouraged and supported to find their own ways of doing things, not given solutions. There is rarely one right answer or one way of doing things.
- Encourage them to think critically about what they’re doing. So ask questions like "is this going to be helpful?" or "will other people understand this" or "how could we make this even better?"
- Encourage brainstorming activities in groups to promote creative thinking.
- Creativity is brought alive when a child or young person has an intense experience with something new in their world. Encourage this by watching educational documentaries with them or, if possible, by organising outings and real life observations of objects, plants and animals.
- Create a safe environment where no one makes fun of new ideas. If a child or young person is worried about being teased, they are less likely to step out of their comfort zone and behave creatively.
- Offer opportunities for them to talk about what they are interested in by asking open-ended questions, like "What was the best thing that happened to you today?" or "How do you feel about that?"
- Have high, but realistic, expectations of what they are able to achieve. This will help them believe they can be creative and they will try harder.
Encouraging creative activities
- Some children or young people may need help and encouragement to develop their skills in creative activity. For example, one child may not engage in creative thinking because they lack self-confidence. Or another child may be anxious when given an open-ended task because it has several possible solutions. Through observation and conversation, you can try to find out what is causing their difficulty and encourage them to work through it. So, you could explain that there are no right answers or that sometimes it is useful to make mistakes to learn how to come up with better ideas.
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.
Joseph Chilton Pearce
- One of the key ideas in encouraging creativity in children and young people is to make sure their learning and play involves as many of the senses as possible. They are more likely to learn and remember more effectively if the activity involves touch, smell, hearing or tasting, as well as seeing.
- Offer young children lots of materials to make musical instruments, e.g. cereal packet drums, paper towel roll horns, rice-filled plastic bottles.
- If you are caring for a baby, sing or hum to them. No matter how you think you sound, the baby will love it! This shared experience will help strengthen your bond.
- Music is everywhere - in the clap of hands, in your voice, or in the sound of the wind in the trees. No special lessons or fancy equipment are necessary to enjoy music. It’s all about hearing the sounds of the world around us. You can encourage babies and children to listen to the sounds of the world and to enjoy making sounds of their own.
- Try to ensure that children and young people have physical space and time to play and work creatively.
- Encourage messy play. Dig in sand and soil, make sandcastles and mud-pies, splash in puddles and paddling pools, use finger paint, and whatever else you can think of that’s messy and fun!
- Encourage children and young people to help you in the garden or when cooking. These activities will engage all their senses and can help them learn how to create meals from ingredients and beautiful plants from seeds or seedlings.
- Be tolerant of noise and mess, at least some of the time. Creativity is generally not neat and tidy! It's a good idea to ensure that only one creative project is happening at a time, which has to be cleared up before the next one starts. You can also designate creative areas in your house or classroom which are allowed to be messier than other areas!
- Supply materials for creative activity, for example dressing-up clothes, musical instruments (or pots, pans and spoons!), paper, pens and paints.
- Display creative art and craft work, but avoid excessive evaluation. The end result is not the important part of creativity.
- When looking at children and young people’s art, genuinely take an interest in what they are doing and encourage them to talk about it. You don’t have to say it’s a great piece of art unless you think it is! But you can make positive comments to show you’re noticing what they’re doing, like, "what bright colours" or "that’s an interesting shape."
Resources and activities
Here are some resources and activities to help children and young people get creative:
CBeebies article on the importance of creativity:
Ideas for drama games:
Ideas to promote creativity in the classroom:
Ask children thought-provoking questions to help them to think creatively, for example:
- "what would happen if dogs could talk?"
- "what will our homes be like in 100 years time?"
- "can you make a list of things you can't do in this country?"
- "what are the similarities between a telephone and a lion?"
Ask ‘how many different ways’ questions. For example "how many ways can a button/paper cup/piece of plasticine be used?" Then hand round the object to help the children come up with ideas.
Invent a machine
Invent the machine that your family, class or group (and probably many other people) have always needed! ‘Dragon’s Den’ here we come!
What you need:
- Large sheets of plain white paper
- Pencils and erasers
- Felt-tipped pens, crayons and other art materials.
What you do:
- Think about a machine that your family, class or group really needs, but no one has invented yet! Maybe you could use a making-packed-lunches-machine, a helping-children-go-to-sleep-machine, or a finding-things machine…
- What would your machine look like and how would it work?
- Scribble all of your ideas down on the edges of a large piece of paper, or the back of an envelope. Doodle some of your ideas, like a real inventor.
- Then bring your best ideas together to design your machine.
- When everyone has finished designing their special machines, show each other what you’ve created and talk about how your machines will work.
Some things to talk about together:
- What will you call your special invention?
- What difference would this machine make to your lives?
- If you can’t have this machine, what other things could you do as a family, class or group to help solve the problems? Write or draw your ideas around your machines.
- Instead of using paper, make a model of your machine using construction-type toys, like K’nex or Lego.
- Or use all kinds of boxes and plastic packaging to build your machine out of junk. Include things like elastic bands, paper fasteners, string, and paper-clips and maybe you could find a way to make your model really move.
- Watch a funny film together about inventing - like one of Nick Park’s ‘Wallace and Gromit’ stories. What kind of machine might Wallace make for your family, class or group?