Creativity is more than a product — it’s a process. An interesting painting, a thought-provoking writing, a unique comment — these may be examples of creative work, but the decisions people make as they paint, sculpt, write, speak, play, and think are at the core of the creative process. Art and music are common examples of creativity, but creative thought appears in almost all aspects of life — from the way a parent calms a child that is upset, to the methods a scientist uses to come up with a new discovery.
The precursors of adult creativity can clearly be seen in young children. Children go through several Stages in the Creative Development Process. They are:
EXPLORATION – Baby/Toddler. The creative process starts even as a baby. Once they are able to crawl around and explore objects, they can start to creatively put various objects together – placing objects together, piling them up, making sounds with them, playing with them. It is important for parents to provide various textures and shapes and colors in the items their children play with.
IDEA GENERATION – Pre-School until Early Elementary. In dealing with young children, the focus should be on the PROCESS – developing and generating original ideas. Idea generation is the basis of creative potential and therefore a critical feature of the creative process. A four-year-old, when listing all the things that are red, will include not only wagons and apples, but also chicken pox and cold hands. In order to encourage this process, it is crucial for parents to show acceptance of multiple ideas in a non-evaluative atmosphere. This will help children generate more ideas. A non-evaluation atmosphere is critical in avoiding what Treffinger (1984) labels as the “right answer fixation”. Through the socialization process, children move toward conformity during the elementary school years. The percentage of original responses in idea generation tasks drops from about 50% on average for four-year-olds to 25% during elementary school. During this stage, parents should encourage and provide opportunities for their children to explore open-ended questions, like you would find in our Creative Mindflexor Cards. A few open-ended questions a week around the dinner table is all you need to keep the process going.
SELF-EVALUATION – Later Elementary to Early High School. Idea generation is still very important but children in this stage also start to realize that some of their ideas may work better than others. The outcome of the creative process becomes more important to them as well. They start to explore their abilities to generate and evaluate their hypotheses, and can now revise their ideas based on that evaluation. It is important for parents to allow their children to evaluate their own ideas and not evaluate their ideas for them. At this stage, parents should continue encouraging the exploration of open-ended questions but now also allow their children the space to evaluate the answers they come up with. Promoting Idea Generation is still very important, so keep up with the Creative Mindflexor Cards, but add on some fun problem-solving activities that have more than one creative solution, such as my post on creating a home-made marble run.
EVALUATION BY OTHERS – Later High School to Adulthood. Only in later adolescents and adulthood should there be evaluation of ideas by others for the creative development process to be as uninhibited and nurtured as much as possible.