My seven-year-old son is one of the best story-tellers I know. When he’s playing with his siblings, he creates his own world with a language that goes along with it. The details he includes is amazing. So, you can imagine my surprise when he came home from school the other day and told me how he hates writing. He said his project in class was to write a story about how to play baseball and he didn’t even know where to start. He was having a really tough time. And this is coming from someone who plays on a baseball team every Spring. So, what was getting in the way of his creative thinking? Some research studies would argue that it was his expectation of being evaluated.
Psychologist Theresa Amabile, a Harvard University professor, conducted an experiment where she would ask children to produce a creative product, such as a collage or a short story. She told some of the children that their work would be evaluated for creativity by a panel of experts, and that the most creative products would win a prize. Other participants were told nothing about the evaluation or about any consequences for creative or uncreative performance. In experiment after experiment, the participants who made the most creative products were those who did not know that their products would be evaluated. They were the ones just playing, not concerned about judgments or rewards.
CREATIVITY TIP: Stress and the fear of failure can get in the way of a child opening their mind to free thought. So, in order to bridge that gap, I asked my son to tell me a story about an octopus and an ant. I told him the scenario was that the octopus loved baseball and wanted the ant to play with him, but since the ant didn’t know anything about the game, the octopus would have to explain it to him. My son then had no problem reciting a story about how to play baseball within that context and he had fun telling it to me. I told him to take all the points he just came up with about baseball and use them in his story for class. By allowing him to be creative in a more relaxed environment, it gave him the tools he needed and the confidence to complete his project at school.