When you watch your toddler restack her teetering tower of blocks with the largest on the bottom – you just may be witnessing history in the making. As she rethinks her building strategy she is engaging in divergent thinking. It is the process used to generate many possible solutions to a problem. She joins the ranks of a long and distinguished list of divergent thinkers: Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart, Bob Dylan, Benjamin Franklin, Martha Graham, and Mahatma Gandhi, to name only a few. Divergent thinking is the backbone of creativity and one of the most important characteristics to cultivate in our children as they take their place in the 21st century.
Creativity Is A Necessary Skill For The 21st Century
Our world is changing at an unprecedented pace. Today’s Kindergarteners will be unleashed upon the world in 2026. We can scarcely imagine nor predict what our world will look like in five years from now, let alone a decade. Technology is changing the way we communicate, do business, and think. The economic landscape is continually shifting underneath our feet: it will require new solutions to new problems.
Creativity and divergent thinking are at the forefront of technology. Those whom will push technology are the curious – the nonconformists. Divergent thinkers are the “disrupters” that shape the cultural landscape of society. When we profess to care about the environment, poverty, overpopulation, social reform, hunger, freedom and peace we must acknowledge the role that creativity will play in providing solutions in a new world. It is a skill that we must foster in our children.
Education And Creativity
So, how are our schools preparing tomorrow’s leaders to creatively address the world that awaits them?
There has been much debate regarding the role of creativity in education. It is at the forefront of discussion among innovative educators advocating school reform. Educator, Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk, “How Schools Kill Creativity” is the most watched video on TED receiving over 26 million views. Yet, despite the compelling dialog, recent studies reveal that creativity is still on the decline among U.S. students: children in grades K-6 seem to be especially at risk. No Child Left Behind legislation requires districts and teachers to focus on “testing” and “results”. We are breeding behavior in American students that stresses “grades” over knowledge. This result-oriented educational environment discourages “out of the box” thinking and runs counter to the environment that promotes creativity in children.
Parents Can Help
How do we foster unbridled curiosity and promote creative risk-taking in our children when our educational system seems to champion institutionalized conformity? Creativity is not solely driven by IQ. What appears to matter the most are personality traits that promote divergent thinking. There are things parents can do to encourage these qualities:
Limit Screen Time For Children. Remember the aforementioned block-building toddler poised to join the world’s great divergent thinkers? Last month The Guardian published an article entitled, “Infants unable to use toy building blocks due to ipad addiction”. According to the British Association of Teachers and Lecturers, children 3-4 years of age have not developed the dexterity in their fingers to manipulate blocks because they’re too accustomed to swiping tablet screens. The inability to play with blocks robs children of those ever-important divergent thinking opportunities. Block building provides lessons in trial and error, persistence, and problem solving skills central to creativity. This may be indicative of troubling trends in the future.
Early childhood educators say it is easy to spot the kids who are media saturated, both in terms of their lack of dexterity and in their inability to entertain themselves in free play, (in other words: their lack of creativity). The National Association for the Education of Young Children states, “When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development”. They also warn the exposure to interactive media should be limited for young children.
Allow Time For Free Play. Play is important. So important, in fact, that the United Nations has declared free play as a “basic human right.” Are their human rights violations at your house?
Do Not Over-Schedule Academic Or Extra-Curricular Activities. In our quest to ensure our children “excel” well-intentioned parents may be burdening their progeny with additional academic tasks. Research has shown that excessive amounts of homework for K-5 students have no long-term effect on academic success. Furthermore, depriving pre-school children of play in favor of academic drilling correlates to a negative impact on their attitudes toward learning and academics later in life.
Another trap many a good parent falls into is the lure of organized youth activities. While these programs provide many positive benefits for children as they mature, too much time dedicated toward youth development programs, too soon, does not allow children the freedom to explore and discover their creative selves: there is little time nor opportunity for divergent thinking opportunities.
Provide Creative “Space”. As you facilitate free play opportunities for your children, create spaces that encourage problem-solving and creative thought. Opt for old boxes, sheets for fort building, blocks, legos, in short: items that do not lend themselves only to a prescribed method of play. Creative “space” also means distance from adult guidance. Avoid the temptation to “direct” their play. Let them lead: you follow.
Play facilitates physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Play-based learning lays the important foundation to support academic learning. The beauty of free play is the freedom it allows the brain to wander from one thought to another. This is one of the best ways to encourage creative thought. This free-flow stream of thoughts could be likened to your flash of inspiration in the shower: it is the freedom to think without outside interference. It is gift to be cultivated.
At The Growing Room we understand the importance of fostering creativity. We provide a safe and caring environment that encourages exploration, the sparking of imagination, and interest-driven activities. We recognize your children, whether building with blocks or building friendships, are the architects of the future.
Robin is a writer/blogger for The Growing Room Education Council. The Growing Room is a non-profit organization specializing in elementary school age enrichment programs through a unique 3-part curriculum: Growing Smart (Academics), Growing Fit (Health and Fitness) and Growing Tall (Character and Citizenship). Robin Stephens holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus on early childhood/adolescent development, family systems, and socio-cultural perspectives of the family. To learn more about The Growing Room, www.thegrowingroom.org.