Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Children and Creativity

Creativity in childhood is typically assessed through paper-and-pencil measures such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. These tests are designed to measure divergent thinking, such as fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. Signification criticisms have been raised about these tests as measures of creativity. First is the general problem that there are no universally accepted definitions of creativity. Second, critics of creativity tests argue that these tests do not measure creativity per se but instead reflect the specific abilities that are assessed by the tests. Third, the scores on these tests often depend partly on speed, which is not necessarily a criterion for creativity. A final consistent concern relates to the scoring of creativity tests, which by definition are somewhat subjective. Thus, the reliability of such tests is commonly questioned.

From birth to 18 months, infants can be encouraged to engage in creativity by playing with a variety of safe household materials, such as margarine tubs, empty boxes, and large empty spools. Parents and caregivers can encourage experimentation by showing excitement and interest in what babies do.
Parents can encouraged infants to develop creativity by singing to the infant and playing music, moving the infant's hands to music, hanging a colorful mobile over the crib, placing pictures and photos where the baby can focus on them, and playing sound games with infants, such making up nonsense words or using rhyming words when talking to them.

From ages 18 months to four years, toddlers have progressively better hand and eye coordination. Caregivers should give them opportunities to develop this coordination by allowing them to draw with water-based paints, with chalk, and with crayons. Toddlers also can develop their creativity by pasting, tearing, cutting, printing, modeling with clay or play dough, or working with various materials to create collage, and for the older child, experimenting with fabric, tie dye, batik, printing, and simple woodwork. From around 12 months, children may begin to imitate things that adults do. Real fantasy play begins at around ages 18 to 21 months. This should not prevent caregivers from playing imaginatively from a younger age, since fantasy play is linked to creativity. Studies have shown that children with very active fantasies tend to have personality traits that contribute to creativity—originality, spontaneity, verbal fluency, and a higher degree of flexibility in adapting to new situations. Children who fantasize a lot have unusually good inner resources for amusing themselves. Parents can provide materials that lend themselves to fantasy play (dressing-up clothes, dolls, housecleaning sets, and stuffed animals), play pretending games with their children, and make suggestions and encourage new ideas when toddlers play alone. Adults should start involving toddlers with creative activities as soon as they feel the child will enjoy them. Adults need to remember that young toddlers are not skillful enough to consciously produce works of art. At 18 months they may be more ready for creative play and even at this age, they may spend no more than five minutes of concentration on any one activity.

Preschoolers can use the same materials as toddlers but can use them in more complex ways. By age five, many children start drawing recognizable objects. By age six, they are usually interested in explaining their art works. They also like to tell stories and can make books of their stories, including drawing pictures to accompany the writing. At this age fantasy play becomes more complex. Preschoolers often direct each other on what to do or say as they play "Let's pretend." Play is a critical part of developing creativity, according to Mary Mindess, a child psychology professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Play allows children to construct meaning for themselves," Mindess stated in an article in the August 2001 newsletter The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter. "Two children may share an experience, but each will process the experience differently. Very often during play, children take things they see in real life, or things they imagine they experience—like something they read in a book or saw on television—and make meaning of it," she wrote.

School Age
Early school-age children, six to nine years, incorporate lots of fantasy into their play, including action games with superheroes. Children of this age group spend much of their time daydreaming. Some daydreams become "real" as children begin to act them out in stories and plays. Many researchers believe that in order to foster creativity in schools, education should be based on the discovery of knowledge and the development of critical attitudes, rather than on the passive absorption of knowledge. They believe this applies whether the class is in art, history, science, or humanities. However, most school teaching in the United States is based on the child's ability to memorize. The highest marks are often given to those who merely studied their lessons well. The pupil whose creative side is more developed may be considered a disruptive member of the class. At ages nine to 12, children's creativity is greatly affected by peer influence. They increase the amount of detail and use of symbols in drawings. They also have expanded their individual creative differences and begin to develop their own set of creative values.

Teenagers are highly critical of the products they make and ideas they have. They try to express themselves creatively in a more adult-like way. Their creativity is influenced by their individual differences, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. In most high schools, classes that stress creativity, such as art, music, writing, and drama are electives and many may not be required. For many adolescents, high school is their last opportunity to take these creative classes.
Also, teens become more self-aware and self-conscious. This focus often causes them to conform to their peers, which stifles their creativity and makes their thoughts less flexible. Flexibility refers to the ability to consider various alternatives at the same time.

Common Problems & Parental Concerns
Rewards or incentives appear to interfere with creativity and reduce children's flexibility of thought. Studies show that any constraints such as structured instructions reduce creative flexibility in children. Many parents and teachers do not understand that children who are creative are often involved in imaginary play and are motivated by internal rather than external factors. Environment appears to play a greater role than heredity in the development of creativity: identical twins reared apart show greater differences in creativity than in intellectual ability. Family environments with certain characteristics have been found to be more conducive to creativity than others. One of these characteristics is a relaxed parental attitude rather than one that is overly anxious or authoritarian. On the whole, the families of creative children discipline them without rigid restrictions, teaching them respect for values above rules. Similarly, they emphasize achievement rather than grades. The parents in such homes generally lead active, fulfilling lives themselves and have many interests. Finally, they reinforce creativity in their children by a general attitude of respect and confidence toward them and by actively encouraging creative pursuits and praising the results. It has been found that creativity in both children and adults is affected by positive reinforcement. Schools as well as families can encourage creativity by offering children activities that give them an active role in their own learning, allow them freedom to explore within a loosely structured framework, and encourage them to participate in creative activities for the sheer enjoyment of it rather than for external rewards. (

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